The Inevitable ‘Revive the Varsity’ conversation in downtown Palo Alto

| August 10, 2011 | 4 Comments

When I was growing up in Palo Alto, the New Varsity Theatre was pretty much the heart of downtown. A good chunk of my high school social and dating life revolved around that building. The theater’s closing and conversion to a chain book store was not initially well-received around town.

Borders eventually became a part of the fabric of downtown, and its closing has many worried about the hole it will leave there. It was probably inevitable that talk would turn to restoring the building to its past use. The property owner has, however, made it clear that this is not viable (and the comparison to Redwood City’s Fox Theatre, roughly half the size of the Borders building, don’t make a lot of sense), and there is no reference to any group that has expressed an interest in leasing the property with such a use in mind.

Property owner Chop Keenan has done a lot of really interesting projects in and around Palo Alto. I’m confident that the building’s eventual re-use will be an asset to downtown.

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  1. Mark Weiss says:

    Hi, Mike.
    Thanks for writing about this. I gave Tom Fehrenbach a list of eight pretty knowledgeable people in the concert and film business who would have the ability to make a go at running the Varsity Theatre; I trust he will do a good faith effort in sorting their interest and ideas.
    Why do you think the property manager is so close-minded about this?
    I am thinking of making little buttons that read “renewVarsity” like the “renewal” buttons the $5 billion dollar hospital re-builders made. If we have $5 billion for 200 more hospital beds (or whatever the figure was), why don’t we (loosely speaking, mixing Stanford, Palo Alto, philanthropists, the pre-IPO new rich) have $20 million for 900 seat theatre? We gave $20 million to Enron, for Pete’s sake.

    Not to mix apples and orangutangs, but I recall Gary Fazzino saying that letting down 8,000 people to let the landlord have his way in 1995, with the variance, meant that we could try harder to make better use of Cubberley, which is only now being talked about in earnest. I don’t think the Varsity competes with Cubberley, I say we can do both. But 900 seats downtown is better than 300 seats at Cubberley, in terms of the potential for culture.

  2. Mark Weiss says:

    I think I have you confused with another Mike Cobb — are you related to the former mayor of Palo Alto?
    But I will stand by my previous post.
    Note: I produced 150 concerts at Cubberley Community Center plus ran for Palo Alto City Council in 2009. I spoke at the 1995 public hearing about the Varsity. I have written a couple posts on this topic on my blog, plus was the source for one of the links you provide.

  3. Mark Weiss says:

    checking in here a year later it is a crying shame that Chop has let this languish. the city meanwhile barely gave lip service to the idea of finding a qualified operator to bring concerts. adding insult to injury, they took the gist of this — that downtown would benefit from a cultural amenity — and gave it to Arrillaga to help his office tower fantasy.

    and i ran for city council and spent absolutely no money on my campaign other than to say “developers are going too far” and got 4,000 votes.

    maybe if each of the 4,000 people of the new residentialist movement put up a thousand bucks we could take it off chop’s hands…

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