by G. Wayne Eggleston
After 25 years of driving past the Miramar Theatre and bowling alley in North Beach and being dismayed by the deteriorated appearance of this hulk of a building, there is now a glimmer of hope for restoration and re-use of both iconic buildings.
Rendering of the Miramar.
On December 15, 2017 an early Christmas present was given to all of us who wish to see this area of North Beach revitalized. The approval vote by the Coastal Commissioners was unanimous! They did put a set of conditions on their approval, however, requiring the owners and city to devise a transportation plan, monitoring parking, and reviewing additional future parking needs. The city has agreed to provide additional future parking if needed.
Congratulations go to the owners who have struggled with the many layers of approvals, special appreciation to Amber Gregg and Jim Pechous from San Clemente Community Development Department. Very special thanks goes to Jim Holloway, former Director of that city Department for being instrumental in guiding the project through many layers of tough governmental process.
As a former planning commissioner, I made many visual screen presentations to city civic groups with a set of plans. Many made their opinions known that these plans would never get through the web of city and state approvals, and that the buildings should be leveled. But all of us did not give up and took it step by step through a very difficult process.
What was approved is the very first project that had a chance of success. Originally the theatre was a 750 seat cinema, but the current plans call for a 435 seat performance and event center. The bowling alley will be restored and converted into a culinary food court with up to seven restaurants, and 50 chairs inside. A beautiful outdoor courtyard will have seating for 150 patrons.
So what is next in the process after the approvals from the Planning Commission, City Council and now the California Coastal Commission?
It will be helpful to back up a bit and get some perspective on these historic buildings which are on the City’s designated Historic Structures List and considered eligible for an individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places as well as being designated a possible historic district.
The Miramar, initially known as the San Clemente Theatre opened in 1938, designed by architect Clifford Balch who drew plans for many California theatres in the style of Art Décor. The Miramar was designed with a blend of modern Mediterranean style and Spanish Colonial Revival style, the exterior dominated by a 44-ft tower. Exterior detailing included the use of ornamental balconies, and rough-hewed timber beams with wrought-iron accents with arched openings. Exposed roofing elements were clad with a red tapered-barrel clay tile and it actually had an evaporation cooling system.
Over the years there have been a number of owners. In 1969-70 a newly redecorated Miramar Theatre opened under new ownership, Herb Copland, who retired in 1980. Ownership passed to Mike and Ann Madigan and it hosted live music performances. I remember going to surf movies there in the 1980s until it closed in 1992. Since then the exterior and interior have deteriorated quite a bit, although the original structure is deemed to be solid.
The bowling alley, named the San Clemente Bowling Center was built and opened to the public in 1946. The 5200 sq. ft. structure was also built in the Spanish Colonial style but with a much more minimal approach to ornament than the Miramar. In 1947 a Texaco gas station opened to the north of the Bowling Alley. In 1971 the Bowling alley closed and re-opened as the El Toro Frame Company. From 1972-1992 it housed a furniture store, Elks Lodge, Dana Point Sail Makers, Kindred Associates graphic design firm, (1981) the ESA South County center, Big City Scuba, the Episcopal SVC Alliance and closed permanently in 1992.
Walking into the bowling alley interior structure today, one needs to have a vision of what it can become. But the great architectural feature is the wood support structure for the roof which is spectacular. One is absolutely awe-stricken by the defining feature of a beautiful and magnificent exposed bowstring wood trussed ceiling-very 1940s. Honoring its original construction theme, perhaps it should hold retro 1940s themed restaurants instead of just another vanilla series of restaurants.
After all the lengthy governmental approvals what’s next for these two historic buildings? The current owners do not plan on operating the Event and Performing Center, nor the culinary food courts projected for the Bowling Alley. They are property owners, not operators. Therefore, leasing signs will go up very shortly soliciting bids for both operations. According to the owners, they have already received a fair amount of interest and will go through a deliberate process of choosing lessees.
Stay tuned. There is yet another phase to come in the long and colorful history of both these landmark properties that have been a part of San Clemente’s 90-year history.
Wayne Eggleston, former Mayor, city councilmember, and planning commissioner, was involved with Casa Romantica becoming a Cultural Center and is the creator of The Marine Monument at Park Semper Fi.