The Sunset Theater is off to the auction block Thursday after more than a decade of withering away on the real estate market.
In a last-ditch effort to try to revive an area that once housed the only movie theater in town, mortgage brokers from Los Angeles-based Pacifica First National, Inc. will stand on the steps of the county courthouse in Stockton tomorrow to try to hand off the theater and the lot it sits on to the highest bidder — on a starting sum of $300,000.
"The (Sunset Theater) is certainly an eyesore and it has outlived its life there," said city spokesman Jeff Hood. "The market seems to have gone to favor large-screen theaters, and stadium seating is a thing a lot of people like. Honestly, I'm not sad to see it go."
With its infamous vertical sign, the theater has stood on West Lodi Avenue since it opened in 1950. But in 1998, the theater closed its doors after the owner at the time failed to keep up with mortgage payments. Since then, it has continued to languish into disrepair, eventually going into foreclosure in 2010.
According to Avi Bienenfeld, vice president of the company auctioning the building and the lot, purchasing protocol for the building will be a little different than normal auction purchases.
Bienenfeld said that, like other auctions, those who wish to bid on the building will need to have either the appropriate amount of cash on hand or a cashier's check to purchase the building.
But post-sale, the individual can call the company and make arrangements to conduct further investigations into the status of the property and what maintenance issues or repairs it may need.
"Whether people have moved on to other properties or if they have still have an appetite for this building is hard to say," he said. "We are the first bidder, and if the building doesn't sell then we can talk to people who are possibly interested and we can help them ... find what they would like to do with the property and what work needs to be done."
Local real estate agent Kerry Suess said the condition of the building — which is mostly stripped bare on the interior, according to Bienenfeld — is just one of two factors buyers will need to consider when purchasing the "reasonably priced" Sunset Theater.
"Condition and whether the buyer has a use for the theater are two key factors that will play into a purchase," he said. "There is potential there, but the theater needs to have someone with a vision to see the different possibilities."
Lodi City Councilman Larry Hansen, who remembers seeing films such as "Titanic" and the original "Star Wars" trilogy at the Sunset before it closed, said he did not think the building could be renovated and succeed as a theater again, as the Stadium 12 Cinemas on School Street attract a majority of moviegoers in town.
But Hansen said he thought with enough effort, the theater could possibly be changed into a small shopping area or possibly a couple of restaurants — something to possibly bring more jobs into Lodi.
"I think it's a good sign that hopefully someone has some interest in it as a property," he said. "To me, it's a landmark for Lodi. I've been here 40 years, and it was here before I even got here (in 1970)."
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.