Senator needs saviors

Those fighting to preserve and restore the 76-year-old Senator Theatre have worked so hard and have so much heart we can’t help pulling for them.

But the cash-strapped Right Now Foundation says it will cost $2 million to restore the downtown theater to its 1930s glory, and that figure is probably low.

The city of Chico has already promised $200,000 in the form of a forgivable loan to be put toward a down payment on the building. But now foundation leaders say they need more, such as money to prepay part of the mortgage. It’s easy to see why the city would balk at offering up cash, with the state’s economy threatening its coffers.

In a better world, former owners United Artists wouldn’t have been such horrible stewards of a piece of history, painting over art deco murals and wrecking the acoustics with a four-plex chop job.

In a better world, building owner Eric Hart would be satisfied with the rents generated from the rest of the block he purchased three years ago for a half-million dollars and forgo the huge profit he would turn if someone met his $750,000 asking price for the theater alone.

What the Senator needs is a private benefactor like Steve Nettleton (who built and donated the Chico Heat stadium to Chico State University and then gave a half-million dollars to the Boys & Girls Club). But a lot of little people with the same community spirit would do. It’s happened in other cities to other historic theaters.

If Chico wants to see the Senator restored, the entire community should invest in the dream. It can happen in piecemeal, low-dollar fund-raisers or in large lumps from history-minded philanthropists. But to lay the burden entirely on the city’s doorstep would be irresponsible.