Big screen, big sound, beer and 'historic value -- you can’t match that.'
Layer upon layer of nicotine stain and old paint were removed from the interior of the Woodland’s historic State Theatre, so that its original palette of aquamarines and reds could be uncovered, and re-created. Moldings and chandeliers original to the art deco building were painstakingly restored.
If you train your eyes on the auditorium’s ceiling, with its colorful mural at the center, it still could be 1937, the year the State was built. But what sits below are unmistakable signs of the 2017 movie-going experience – a 60-foot-wide, wall-to-wall screen and electric recliners featuring wooden trays to hold beer, wine and sandwiches and salads from the theater’s in-house cafe.
When it was built as a single-screen theater, the State held about 1,000 seats. After a just-completed, nearly $15 million restoration, renovation and expansion project, the new State complex holds the same number of seats but dispersed differently. The main, historic house now holds fewer than 300 seats (recliners consume a lot of space), with nine smaller auditoriums – eight of them newly built as part of an addition to the original building – accounting for the rest.
A new lobby, at 332 Main St., on the western edge of Woodland’s historic downtown, pulls together old and new physically and also visually, its deco-style lettering and other design features creating a through-line to the multiplex’s older section.
The State’s impressive transformation aims to present the historic theater not as artifact but a place to see Hollywood movies every day.
“Our goal obviously was to protect as much of the historical (aspects) as we could, but make it a viable business,” said Dave Corkill, owner of the Cinema West theater chain, which partnered with the city of Woodland on the State Theatre and Multiplex project. “Otherwise, you can’t afford to even restore what was here.”
The new multiplex, with its replica of the original “State” neon sign jutting proudly toward the sky, will open its doors for the first time on the evening of Wednesday, June 28, for a sold-out, $100-per-person gala and charity fundraiser. The State officially will reopen to the public July 6, with preview showings of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the latest reboot of the comic-book-movie franchise.
Announced in 2014, the city’s deal with Cinema West – the 14-theater Petaluma-based chain behind Folsom’s Palladio 16 Cinemas and Palladio LUXE – capped years of discussion about what to do with the State.
Unlike many 1930s theaters that by the 1990s had either been turned into churches, performing-arts theaters or simply razed, the State operated as a daily movie house until 2010, when its game but broke operator was forced to close it. By then, the theater had suffered decades of “improvements” that included a design-obscuring white interior paint job and a plain exterior façade that hid the building’s deco curves.
Corkill specialized in restoring and renovating vintage Northern California theaters before moving into new-construction multiplexes. He saw potential for a hybrid of his specialties at the State, which he said was unusually well-suited to a state-of-the-art renovation.
“Anyone can build a new theater,” he said. “But being able to take an old theater, that has an auditorium with the right dimensions to be able to accommodate today’s presentation quality that the customers prefer, such as a big screen and big sound, yet also have the historic value – you can’t match that.”
Though older movie theaters in the Sacramento region, such at Davis’ Varsity, have undergone substantial renovation/restoration projects, no other local daily movie house matches the new State’s combination of historical detail and up-to-the-minute presentation. The closest comparison might be San Francisco’s Alamo Drafthouse New Mission Theater.
The city of Woodland, which devoted $4.75 million to the project – including $2 million to improve the street and sidewalk outside it (complete with mature palm trees) – is banking on the new multiplex to draw film lovers from among this agriculturally rooted town’s 57,000 residents, and beyond.
The new multiplex will be “a great resource for downtown Woodland, and for folks from nearby communities, and Natomas, to see a film and grab a meal,” said Ken Hiatt, Woodland’s community and economic development director.
The State originally was supposed to reopen in 2015, but a switch in contractors slowed construction. In the meantime, the modern movie-going experience and downtown Woodland continued to evolve.
Beer and wine at the movies – still a new concept locally in 2014 – has become almost the norm. Rocklin’s Studio Movie Grill, which offers in-seat food and booze service, opened in late 2014, with Cinema West’s similarly themed but more handsomely appointed Palladio LUXE following suit in late 2016. In Sacramento, the Century 14 and XD opened late last year with recliners and beer and wine. Even the Tower Theatre, the careworn but beloved art deco neighborhood movie house in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood, now serves liquor, beer and wine.
Downtown Woodland, mostly notable in recent years for the empty storefronts dotting Main Street, might be experiencing a renaissance. The fine-dining restaurant Morgan’s on Main, Irish pub Father Paddy’s and Blue Note brewery all opened while the new State was in the works.
“There has been a tremendous amount of investment in downtown,” Hiatt said. “I think a lot of the confidence for these projects has been supported by (the prospect of) this 10-screen movie theater.”
Moviesgoers accustomed to suburban multiplex parking lots will have to adjust to (free) parking on the street or in city lots.
“It is an urban place, an urban theater – we are hoping people don’t just come to the movie but make an evening of it,” Hiatt said, and perhaps patronize some of those new Main Street businesses.
Though the main auditorium features recliners throughout, many of the seats in the smaller houses do not recline. State patrons can take sandwiches and beers purchased from the State’s cafe to their seats, but the Woodland theater will not offer in-seat service like the Palladio LUXE does.
“Folsom has more people (about 18,000 more, but the LUXE also draws from nearby El Dorado Hills), which gives you the flexibility to have a theater where you just serve people in the seat because you have one segment of the population that prefers to patronize that type of business,” Corkill said. “We don’t feel there is a large enough population to do that in Woodland.”
Corkill did not directly address economic differences between Woodland and Folsom, but per-capita income for the former, at $55,893, is far below the $100,978 figure for the latter, according to 2015 Census Bureau numbers.
Corkill said standard ticket prices in Woodland will be $10.25 – 25 cents less than at the Palladio 16 and nearly $5 less than at the swank LUXE.
“We look at our competition charges, and you obviously have to fit in so it does not stand out as something that is overpriced,” Corkill said.
The State’s most immediate competition is Woodland Cinemark Movies 5, which usually charges $8.50 per ticket and offers $5.50 ticket specials on Tuesdays. The Palladio 16 offers its own, wildly successful $5 Tuesday special, which it began in response to local competition.
“We’re not doing that here,” Corkill said of $5 Tuesdays.
Not with the paint barely dry on those carefully restored moldings.
The Bee’s Phillip Reese contributed to this story.