When Laura “Sid” Garcia-Heberger began working at Sacramento’s Crest Theatre in 1986, the historic venue had for years been open only sporadically, for events such as punk rock shows.
Garcia-Heberger, then 21, was put in charge of spiffing up the theater for reopening. But even she, who deemed herself “Sid” after Mr. Vicious and performed at “Rocky Horror Picture Show” events, couldn’t take the smell of the Crest’s derelict auditorium, which combined punk-show funk with the results of years of movie patrons’ cigarette smoke. The carpet had to be shampooed before she could start cleaning.
Over the subsequent 28 years, Garcia-Heberger moved from scrub-up specialist to candy-counter manager to general manager and co-owner of CSLM, the business that operates the Crest. She has shepherded renovations, restorations and the daily running of the longtime venue for film, live music and school graduations.
The ol’ girl on K Street, which has been the Crest since 1949 and some form of theater since 1913, has, for the past few decades, reflected the not-so-old woman running it.
Like Garcia-Heberger, the place has smoothed most, but not all, of its edges.
The theater’s lower lobby holds a display case of historic garbage – vintage candy wrappers and other ephemera found among the seat cushions during various renovations. And the theater’s angelic-faced, gracious steward by day becomes the villainous “Sid the Evil Crest Manager” on stage at late-night Trash Film Orgy events.
A faint air of punk rock still sticks to Garcia-Heberger. So she’s not going to cry when discussing how she will be gone from the Crest, along with CSLM partners Bill Heberger (her husband), Andy Field and Gary Schroeder, as of Nov. 1.
“I want to leave on a high note,” Garcia-Heberger, 49, said last week in her cramped office filled with Crest memorabilia, including a flier from a 1990 Sonic Youth-Nirvana show and a French-language movie poster for Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
On Nov. 1, building owner Robert Emerick, with whom CSLM failed to come to terms on a lease, is taking over. He and his fiancée, Yulya Borroum, who are engineers by profession, will assume the theater’s operation, with Borroum managing and booking events.
But Friday Garcia-Heberger is having a party. She is screening “Singin’ in the Rain.” The 1952 musical, which she calls a “a happy movie,” also played in 1986, when then-theater operators Charlie Soderquist and Linda McDonagh reopened the Crest. (The company still carries the original partners’ initials.)
“I want to celebrate what we have done,” Garcia-Heberger said. “I want everybody to reflect and to reminisce with me, and be happy about this wonderful thing we have had for all these years.”
If only the people around her were not working so hard to make her cry. Like Sacramento French Film Festival executive director Cecile Mouette Downs, who has scheduled a “Mini Fall French Film Festival” on Sunday, in part to honor Garcia-Heberger and the SFFF’s many years at the Crest under CSLM management.
“She is such a dear,” Garcia-Heberger said of Downs. “She has booked my favorite film of all time, ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.’” The 1964 Jacques Demy musical starring Catherine Deneuve will play at 6 p.m., after a double feature of the romances “Marius” and “Fanny.”
“We are going to distribute tissues at the door, because it is a sad film, but it is also sad circumstances,” Downs said of Sunday’s “Umbrellas” screening.
Downs and other film festival insiders who have worked closely with the CSLM Crest for many years expressed concern on social media when word of CSLM’s impasse with Emerick – partly about who would pay for what regarding the building – reached the public in August.
But Downs has talked to the new operators about working out a deal to stay at the Crest. The Sacramento Japanese Film Festival, also a Crest staple, has committed to stay in 2015, and the Sacramento International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has booked there through 2016.
On Sunday, though, Downs wants to “pay homage” to Garcia-Heberger and CSLM, she said. They always stretched to meet her needs.
“It was always flawless services,” she said. “Every time we had a last-minute idea to make something more fun, she would always do it for us.”
When the SFFF decided last year to have singer Peter Petty perform as part of a screening of the musical biopic “Cloclo,” Garcia-Heberger accommodated her, Downs said. The event required extra lighting and other staging considerations. Garcia-Heberger “not only made it happen, but she made it happen for free for us,” Downs said.
Garcia-Heberger played a vital role in getting the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the city’s longest-running film event, off the ground in 1992.
“There was a time when I was attending their film-committee meetings,” Garcia-Heberger said.
She also taught Japanese Film Festival committee chairwoman Barbara Kado about acquiring films when Kado and others from the Japanese United Methodist Church decided put on their first film event in 2005.
“I felt that part of the role of the Crest was not only bringing big national live comedy shows and music shows to the region, but also fostering the arts scene of Sacramento,” Garcia-Heberger said.
To that end, Garcia-Heberger now is in her second term serving on the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.
Kado said leaving the Crest is not an option for the Japanese festival. The annual July event draws 600 people for some showings and needs the Crest’s large, 900-plus seat capacity.
But Kado said she will go through “a grieving process” regarding Garcia-Heberger’s departure. “She is a very remarkable person in terms of her ability to meet the needs of each film festival. Each one of the festivals is completely different, and she met our quirks.”
The least conventional festival – the multi-week summer late-night movie exploitation fest Trash Film Orgy – will not stay at the Crest, co-founder Christy Savage said. The TFO, which starts each July with a popular downtown zombie walk, is co-produced by CSLM. It differs from festivals such as the Japanese, French and Gay and Lesbian, which are run by organizations that rent the Crest.
“We are very sad about losing such a venue to work out of,” Savage said. “But we have talked with (Emerick and Borroum), and it is just not going to work. … Sid has brought just a wealth of knowledge. I think it is going to be really sad for the theater to lose that management.”
Savage said TFO is looking for a new venue. In the meantime, Savage and Sid the Evil Crest Manager will get a last horrific hurrah Oct. 24 at “Trash Film Orgy Halloween.” The event will feature a screening of “Beetlejuice.”
The Sacramento Jewish Film Festival, which Garcia-Heberger co-founded with Margi Park and produces through CSLM each March, also is seeking a new home, Garcia-Heberger said.
The Sacramento Film & Music Festival, which happens each August, is not produced by, but is closely tied to, CSLM. Festival co-director Tony Sheppard, a close friend of Garcia-Heberger’s, said he is not sure if the festival will continue at the Crest, or at all.
“We couldn’t have done what we’ve done without Sid and the Crest,” he said. “Even if we stay, it’s still likely to feel like starting over in a new location. We’re losing 28 years of hard-won knowledge and experience.”
Tying the end of Garcia-Heberger’s run at the Crest – for years a lone, neon-lit beacon of hope on dingy K Street – to the street’s recent renaissance and forthcoming arena project would make for a tidy, movie-style narrative. But things are not that neat.
“I had really hoped we would be able to participate in this new era of K Street,” Garcia-Heberger said. “But I don’t think there is a cause and effect between the improvements and us leaving. It’s more complicated than that.”
For instance, the K Street renaissance coincided with changes in movie delivery methods. With more people now streaming movies, fewer came to see independent films at the Crest’s two downstairs theaters. CSLM closed them in 2013. (Emerick, in partnership with Mother chef Michael Thiemann, is putting a restaurant called Empress Tavern in the space.)
Garcia-Heberger has formed close ties while running the Crest with event producers like Sheppard and longtime staff members such as office manager Laura Coulter, hired at first to help care for the Hebergers’ son, Nicolas, when his parents brought him to work.
Cinema has colored much of Garcia-Heberger’s life. A Sutter Creek native and old-movie buff, she moved to Sacramento to attend college, working at the UA Arden Fair theater before the Crest.
She had met Matias Bombal, who would become the reopened Crest’s first manager, at a poetry reading. When Soderquist and McDonagh were considering whom to hire at the theater, Bombal insisted on Garcia-Heberger.
“In an attempt to lure her, I told her she would be the head of the candy department,” Bombal said with a chuckle. “She always held that against me, because not only was she the head of the candy department, she was the only person in the candy department.”
But Bombal had made a great match.
“Growing up in Sutter Creek, I spent a lot of time around historic buildings, and I have always had a fascination with architecture,” Garcia-Heberger said. So working at the Crest “is a pretty good combination” of her interests, she said.
Garcia-Heberger, who is not sure what she will do next, still speaks in the present about the Crest. Because she’s focusing on the movies, not the credits.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
What: Crest general manager Sid Garcia-Heberger is celebrating 28 years at the Crest with a screening of the 1952 Gene Kelly musical.
When: 7:30 Friday; doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento
MINI FALL FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL
When: 1 p.m. Sunday, the romantic film “Marius”; 2:55 p.m., “Fanny,” the companion piece to “Marius”; 5 p.m., champagne and cream-puff reception; 6 p.m, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” the 1964 musical and Garcia-Heberger’s favorite film.
Cost: $20 “Marius” and “Fanny”; $15 “Umbrellas”; $30 all day.
TRASH FILM ORGY HALLOWEEN: ‘BEETLEJUICE’
When: 9 p.m. Oct. 24; doors open 8 p.m.