Downtown San Jose is losing its only first-run movie theater. Camera 12 Cinemas, San Jose’s largest independently owned movieplex, announced today that it will punch its final tickets this Friday, Sep. 9. Camera Cinemas’ two other theater complexes—Camera 3, located just blocks from Camera 12, and Camera 7 in Campbell—will remain open.
“I’m really sad—really sad,” said Jack NyBlom, a managing partner of Camera Cinemas. However, he added, the closure simply could not be avoided. “A decade’s loss of revenue from a promised growing residential market, that’s just now coming online, coupled with the staggering costs of maintaining a large, aging, poorly designed building has led us to this decision to close.”
Camera Cinema’s spokesman, Dan Orloff, said that years of accumulated debt posed a challenge to the local ownership group. The “straw that broke the camel’s back,” Orloff says, was the tenant’s obligation to maintain and repair the roofs, escalators and other building elements, which were in serious disrepair.
Camera 12 took over the taxpayer-subsidized cinderblock building next to the federal courthouse and Fairmont Hotel in July 2004, several years after United Artists moved out of the complex without notice in the middle of the night. The $11 million, 70,000-square-foot complex received $4.4 million in city redevelopment funds after another national chain, AMC, abandoned its plans for a 16-screen complex as part of the Pavilion, a Redevelopment-sponsored retail mall that was eventually converted into a computer server farm.
In December 2000, just four years after the theater was built, Redevelopment Agency director Susan Shick tried to knock it down. “The theater is obsolete,” Shick said. “It’s not a theater built to modern-day standards.” Things turned around after the Cameras leased the facility, and both private and public money was poured into maintaining the operation.
And yet it was not enough. According to NyBlom, after a tile fell from the cieling a few weeks back, it was discovered that the building had some serious plumbing issues. Plus, he added, the theater’s escalators were proving to be both a hazard and a money pit. “It’s just not a safe environment for our customers anymore,” he said.
NyBlom is pleased that Camera Cinemas’ other two locations, Camera 3 and Camera 7, will be able to keep showing films. But even though both theaters are doing well, he believes the loss of the independent Camera 12 represents a major blow to downtown San Jose culture.
For starters, Camera Cinemas has always made it a priority to work with the local community in ways larger theater chains might not. At Camera 7, for instance, on the first and third Wednesday of every month, there are special showings for parents with infants—the idea being, if everyone in the crowd is bringing a baby, no one will object to a little crying.
Camera 12 has also been a major hub for screenings during the Cinequest Film Festival. “We’re going to try to continue to work with Cinequest,” NyBlom said, noting that Camera 3 will remain available as will Camera 7. However, that does leave a big vacuum when it comes to downtown screenings. “We have a 27-year relationship with those guys. We’ll try to get them placed wherever we can.”
Camera Cinemas has also served as a force for good in sticking up for other independent theaters. After moving into the Camera 12 building in 2004, Camera Cinemas sued the national Century Theater chain over their practice of creating “clearance agreements” with movie studios. These agreements would guarantee Century had exclusive rights to screen certain movies for a certain period of time within a given region—sort of like the radius clauses live music venues make bands sign, preventing many acts from playing both San Francisco and San Jose in succession.
Their legal action proved fruitful—at least in San Jose—after then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer launched an antitrust investigation into the practice of clearance agreements. Though no legal action was taken, Century backed off and Camera Cinemas won the rights to screen first-run films at Camera 12, a major coup for the independent theater.
The suit may have also played a role in spurring other independent theaters to take fight clearance agreements in their regions.
See below for the full Camera Cinemas news release.
DOWTOWN SAN JOSE’S CAMERA 12 CINEMAS TO CLOSE
SAN JOSE, Ca. September 7, 2016 Camera 12 Cinemas, which opened in 2004, announced today that it will cease operations this coming September 9.
“It is with much sadness that, in spite of our best efforts, we cannot keep Camera 12 open any longer,” said Jack NyBlom, Camera 12 Cinemas’ managing partner and managing partner of Camera Cinemas which operates Camera 3 in downtown San Jose and Camera 7 in Campbell (not affected by the closing of Camera 12), “a decade’s loss of revenue from a promised growing residential market, that’s just now coming online, coupled with the staggering costs of maintaining a large, aging, poorly designed building has led us to this decision to close.”
Camera Cinemas is one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in the downtown. In 1975, San Jose State University students Jack NyBlom, James Zuur, and Dennis Skaggs, incurable film buffs, rehabbed a former South First Street shoe store and turned it into Camera One. Tired of driving to Berkeley or San Francisco, they brought art, foreign and independent films to downtown San Jose.
In 1989, nationally renowned Cinequest Film Festival debuted at downtown San Jose’s Camera 3 (opened in1983) and grew into Camera 12 over the years. In 2004, Camera Cinemas reopened the failed United Artists 8-screen cineplex at Paseo de San Antonio, finally bringing first-run movies on a regular basis to downtown for the first time in 40 years. Camera Cinemas theaters have drawn an estimated 20 million moviegoers to downtown San Jose contributing over $200,000,000 to the downtown economy.
Camera 12 customers can get more information at cameracinemas.com, select Camera 12 under show times.