The downtown theatre battle

While poking around in the garage recently (and thinking how totally terrific it would be if the whole thing got blasted by lightning and went up in a roaring blaze), I came across an old bumper sticker from not that long ago. It read, “Green Space, Not Screen Space.” Ah yes, an artifact from the great grisly theater wars of the late ’90s.

Remember all that ill will and huffpuffery? I look back on that squabble in ’98-’99 and marvel at just how large of a hissy fit hundreds of us threw at the thought that where the river meets Sierra Street the city would build … a movie theater complex! Of all the cockamamie …

The forces of opposition to this downright zamgoogly notion of the City Council—imagine, wanting to build something that would actually entice people to come downtown—quickly congealed and mobilized, culminating in a rally in what is now Brick Park. I was there for that event, as were at least 400 other folks. (Compare that number to the number of protestors who dared to gather locally in public against the invasion of Iraq, a number that never once even sniffed at 400.)

Many of us initially opposed to the theaters wanted that area to be used for a grandiose art statement of some kind, something that would make San Franciscans, New Yorkers, and, of course, Vegasoids, drool with envy. (I was in this camp, persuaded by the passionate arguments of the late advocate of the Truckee, John Champion.) Others envisioned a merry green space, a park of family and frolic along our beloved stream. Whatever the reason for one’s opposition, we were determined to wrench with extreme prejudice the evil plans of the Council and then-Mayor Jeff Griffin.

After the rally had rallied and we plebians had had our moment in front of the Council to decry the stupendous villainy of it all, the Council politely said, “Thank you for your input, ladies and gentlemen. We promise we’ll be nice to the squirrels and the ducks and the winos. Now kindly buzz off while we get this thing built.” I asked myself if I was so against these theaters that I would lay down in front of the first bulldozer that clankered down Sierra Street. I answered to myself, “Uh … no.” Somewhere along the line, I realized that, you know, gee, there is a lot of river left for major art statements. (Art, schmart, at this point, I’d be happy with one decent outdoor riverside cafe.)

Since that time, I have to admit, I’ve gone to a whole lot of movies on the river. In fact, that particular hellplex is my favorite in town. So yeah, it got built, and … well, big deal. It was time to move on to the next municipal boondoggle that would bring financial ruin and civic madness to our town. Death to the train trench!