The final scene for Livingston's Court Theater played out much like a movie. First, suspense as the monster-like claw of the excavator crept closer and closer to the facade. Then, drama as the front of the building came crashing down.
Dozens of spectators stood and watched, clutching cell phones and cameras instead of popcorn. For many, it was not a happy ending. "Oh man it kind of saddens you to watch it come down," said Jimmy Ramirez, Livingston.
The iconic building has stood in this spot since 1945. Longtime residents have fond memories of everything from first dates to favorite films. Barbara Ratzlaff used to live nearby and also worked as an usher. "I went to a lot of movies and grew up walking back and forth, paying maybe 12, 15 cents to get in."
The theater closed in 1977 and has stayed empty ever since. The city bought it for $120-thousand in 2001 with hopes of restoring the dilapidated landmark to a modern masterpiece. "Over the years we tried everything possible to restore the project, get grant funding, but money is tight everywhere, and it's hard to put $7 million into a project when you're laying off city employees," said Gurpal Samra, Mayor Pro Tem.
So instead, the council voted last year to demolish the building because of safety concerns. Officials are now planning to remove the rubble and plant sod for a temporary park, but they have a bigger dream still in mind for the sequel. "This is a new chapter for the community. We would love to have a performing arts building here of some sort so we're going to see what the community would like to do and how we can achieve that," said Jose Ramirez, City Manager.
The city manager says any big plans to replace the theater would likely require a private-public partnership. Workers did save the marquee from the court theater in hopes it can be re-used in the future.