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Ken Cinema Closing As A Landmark Theatre

Landmark Theatres Confirms It Will Cease Running Single-Screen Venue On April 27

Above: The latest ritual at the Ken Cinema was the addition of midnight screenings of Tommy Wiseau's "The Room."

Aired 4/16/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.

GUEST:

Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts reporter

Aired 4/14/14 on KPBS News.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando spoke with Landmark president Ted Mundorff.

Transcript

UPDATE: Landmark Theatres, The Ken building owners and The Ken property management company have since renegotiated the lease and Landmark will continue to operate The Ken Cinema. For the latest news on The Ken Cinema click here.

•••

Landmark Theatres has confirmed that it will cease to run the Ken Cinema at the end of the month. But Barry Green, whose family has owned the theater for decades, said that does not mean the Ken Cinema will close as a movie venue.

The Latest

There seems to be a little of what Strother Martin (in “Cool Hand Luke” with Paul Newman) described as “a failure to communicate” surrounding the Ken Cinema.

I have been speaking individually with the three parties involved — Landmark Theatres, Torrey Pines Property Management and members of the Berkun Trust that own the building — and at times I feel like they all need to sit down in one room to talk.

Here’s some new information: Chip Crandall, owner of Torrey Pines Property Management, said in 2009 "the rent was reduced for Landmark to $2,100 a month, that’s below a $1-a-square-foot, that’s a sweet deal. But between 2009 and 2014, Landmark didn’t take any initiative to improve the theater and we want someone who will bring life into theater.”

Torrey Pines also manages the two restaurants that share the block with the Ken Cinema, properties that have seen a lot of visible improvements. Both Crandall and Barry Green, one of the Berkun Trust members, noted that they were disappointed that Landmark did not do more to fix up the space.

“It’s been a slow spiral down under Landmark’s care," Green said. "It doesn’t look like they’ve been keeping it up.”

Landmark Theatres President Ted Mundorff said that the theater chain wanted to install a new digital projection system (estimated to cost about $60,000) to allow the theater to keep pace with changes in how films currently are shown. But Mundorff said Landmark was unwilling to do that without a multiple-year lease in place. Since August, Landmark has been working under a 30-day, month-to-month lease.

And here’s where we get into some communication issues. For Landmark, 30 days is short term and one to two years is long term. To Crandall, a year-to-year lease is short term and he and the members of the Berkun Trust got tired never getting more than a two-year commitment from Landmark. That’s what prompted the change to a 30-day lease in August 2013.

Crandall said a long-term lease to him would be five to 10 years and he would only be willing to offer that to Landmark if it would be willing to present a plan for upgrades beyond the projection system. Crandall added, “the Ken is not going anywhere, we just need someone to embrace it.”

But Landmark’s Mundorff responded that he would be open to discussing a five- to 10-year lease if someone from the Berkun Trust or Torrey Pines Property Management would just call him. He even suggested I pass on his phone number to them.

That seems to be a common theme: Crandall claimed no one from Landmark’s upper management even called him, the Berkun Trust members claimed Landmark wanted out and never called to discuss terms.

Mundorff backed up his assertion that Torrey Pines and the Berkun Trust wanted Landmark out by forwarding an email to KPBS from Erik Karlson, vice president, commercial division of Torrey Pines Property Management. In the email to Landmark dated August 28, 2013 with the subject “Ken – Lease,” Karlson wrote:

“We are grateful for your long tenancy, however we feel that the building is being tremendously underutilized at this time. As a result, the owners have decided not to renew the lease term for another full year.

“Per the Lease dated July 24, 2009, paragraph 2.A and 2.B, the Lease will automatically roll over to a month-to-month tenancy on October 1, 2013. The rent will stay the same initially, and either party may terminate with 30-days written notice to the other according to language of paragraph 2.B.”

Green assessed the current situation as “Landmark very high powered, Mark Cuban owns it. We’re just a family.”

The family plans to meet on April 16 to discuss options. Crandall said since the news of Landmark leaving The Ken, he has been contacted by people who want to reinvent the theater.

Mundorff reiterated that Landmark does not want to leave and is not asking for a rent reduction to stay. But it does want at least a two-year lease in place before committing to the digital projection upgrade.

From Monday

Monday evening, Ted Mundorff, president of Landmark Theaters, told KPBS that its single screen venue of The Ken Cinema would be closing on April 27. He said that Landmark wanted to keep the theater and upgrade it to full digital projection but was unwilling to do that without a multiple year lease in place with the Torrey Pines management company that owns the building. Mundorff said Torrey Pines was only willing to give Landmark a 30-day, month-to-month lease, so the theater chain gave notice that it would not be renewing its lease next month. Landmark still owns the Hillcrest and La Jolla Village Theaters.

Mundorff said that Landmark will now look to improving its other theaters and will continue to keep its eyes open for other potential opportunities. He also noted that it was sad that San Diego might be losing both the opera and the Ken Cinema in the same month.

He added that single screen venues are a dying breed because they are harder to run at a profit. He said Landmark was able to keep the Ken Cinema, which is still capable of 35mm projection, because it looked at the venue as just an additional screen of the Hillcrest multiplex. But 35mm prints are a rarity these days, so Landmark said the Ken had to be upgraded for full digital projection in order to be able to screen new films.

Barry Green, grandson of Ken Cinema's original owner and operator, Robert Berkun, is a member of the Berkun Trust, which still owns the building in which the Ken Cinema is located. He told KPBS he wanted to make two points.

"First, the tenants are leaving but it's jumping ahead to say the Ken Cinema is closing. Second, we’d gladly sign a long term lease if terms are satisfactory," said Green.

Guy Hanford, who owns and runs Kensington Video next door to the Ken Cinema, said if the Ken were to close it would be "a great loss." His parents had the opportunity to buy the Ken Cinema decades ago but the cost was prohibitive. Hanford said he owns the building his video store is located in and noted that if his parents had bought the theater as well, "I would never let it close."

The Ken Cinema is near and dear to many in San Diego. When I was growing up, the Ken was a repertory house showing a different double bill every night. I have so many wonderful memories from this theater. My sister won a SPAM tossing contest once. I have "de-virginized" people at screenings of "Rocky Horror" and "The Room," and seen the expressions of shock and horror turn to glee. I introduced my young son to the Marx Brothers here and when Groucho broke the fourth wall and turned to the audience for a witty comment, my son grabbed my arm and said, "He's talking to me."

It's at midnight that the most rabid fans come out and when the theater is most fun. People come in costumes, they know the films backward and forward, and there's a sense of a real community of fans. The latest addition to the midnight repertoire was Tommy Wiseau's "The Room," which included the ritual of throwing spoons at the screen.

Sure the Ken has some eccentricities. The air conditioning used to go out now and again and the women's bathroom stall door will open when you sit because there is zero — and I mean ZERO — leg room in the first stall. But you put up with these small annoyances because the films are great and the people are fun. Its closure is truly a sad moment for the San Diego film community.

The Torrey Pines management company was not available for comment.

Barry Green, an accountant, spoke from his office where he was more concerned about filing tax forms for clients than the sudden news about Landmark ending their lease. He said, "It's all a function of economics. Everything is negotiable, but I can’t speak for Torrey Pines, they deal with the lease and the tenants."

Green said Torrey pines has been managing the property for only a few year and before that it was his mom. Landmark inherited the lease from Silver Cinema, so there has been a change in tenants at the theater before but it was a seamless one.

Landmark's notice that they would be leaving was forwarded to Green by Torrey Pines. He said he was "bummed" but looked at it as "another chapter" in the theater's history.

Green said, "I am upset about it because I don’t like change, and I am proud of the Ken. I would be happy if a new tenant would come in and run the Ken, and bring it back to its former glory, and people would come and patronize it." But he added that he would still be open to Landmark remaining as a tenant if a new lease could make everyone happy.

Torrey Pines Management Company still has not returned calls and Green said that they are the ones that handle all the business negotiations.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 15, 2014 at 8:19 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

"Mundorff said that Landmark will now look to improving its other theaters and will continue to keep its eyes open for other potential opportunities. He also noted that it was sad that San Diego might be losing both the opera and the Ken Cinema in the same month."

Welcome to Sin Diego, Amerikkka's biggest cow town.

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Avatar for user 'jimiangst'

jimiangst | April 15, 2014 at 8:24 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

This is a very disturbing development. Just what does Torrey Pines Management plan to do with an empty theater anyway?

Like so many in San Diego - I cut my cinematic teeth at the Ken. While I was a Graduate student at SDSU, I once rented Walter Cotton's Kensington house for the summer just so I could watch films sat the Ken nightly. To many of us - this is far more difficult to accept than the loss of the San Diego Opera...

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 15, 2014 at 8:36 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

With the Vogue gone over ten years ago, the Ken was the last in San Diego's movie theater history with the exception of the drive-in over on Coronado Blvd in the South Bay. (What happened to La Paloma?) My first personal memory goes back to the mid-70s. 2001 was the first film I saw there.

But let's face it, since the Ken ceased being a revival theater in the 90's and started showing domestic independent movies in single-week slots, it started to go downhill . . .

Of course the reconstruction there at the 15 exit of Adams, didn't help things with competition for parking space. In way I am surprised it lasted this long. Can't the City declare it a local historical site or something? You would think the building has a lot of meaning for the Kensington area. Are they just going to stand by and let it happen???

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 15, 2014 at 8:39 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Mr. Angst, you're 200@ about the opera!

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 15, 2014 at 9:11 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Tht's 200% right.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 15, 2014 at 9:25 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

It's sad to see arts and culture continue to wither in the anti-arts environment that is America's Largest Cow Town.

I don't want to read the news anymore as I'm afraid to hear about what's closing next.

Old Globe? Hillcrest Cinemas? La Jolla Playhouse? SD Symphony? SD Museum of Art?

Faulconer should be addressing these issues.

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Avatar for user 'Eddie89'

Eddie89 | April 15, 2014 at 9:59 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

So, what's at the core of this theater closing and San Diego Opera ceasing operations?

Is it a lack of interest by the public? How else are they going to keep operating without people paying money for their services? Since it takes money to pay for electricity, staff, etc., etc.

Yes, Government should provide a number of services to the public.

But theaters and opera? As Government sponsored programs? That's a little too much.

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Avatar for user 'jenjen'

jenjen | April 15, 2014 at 10:56 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

What's up with the orphan paragraph about Barry Green - it looks like you were going to add some info here from him about Landmark's request to reduce their rent to offset the $80K cost to upgrade to digital but then cut it? CityBeat has that part of the story. http://www.sdcitybeat.com/sandiego/blog-1544-landmark-theatres-ken-cinema-gives-30-day-notice.html

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Avatar for user 'johnlocke'

johnlocke | April 15, 2014 at 12:19 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

La Paloma is still open

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Avatar for user 'jenjen'

jenjen | April 15, 2014 at 12:55 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Folks tut-tutting that this is another symptom of San Diego being a cultural wasteland... nothing here says that folks weren't going to the Ken or supporting it. This is two corporations disagreeing about money - the cinema chain and the property management company. Landmark is not exactly some mom n pop operation.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 15, 2014 at 1:06 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

JEN JEN, it's BOTH.

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Avatar for user 'vpolichar'

vpolichar | April 15, 2014 at 1:53 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm sorry the management company didn't consider an alternative where they get a cheap lease for a year or two to recoup cost of equipment, then raised cost. Or something creative like that. I'm hoping some angel investor swoops in and buys it out as a theater.

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Avatar for user 'casualobserver'

casualobserver | April 16, 2014 at 8:07 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

...so it's not acceptable for San Diego government to sponsor The Ken, but it is somehow acceptable to use taxpayer money to fund a baseball stadium for the Padres, ticket sales guarantees for the Chargers and a never ending parade of taxpayer funded studies exploring how to bilk us out of even more money to build them a new stadium? And yes, San Diego is a creative wasteland whose idea of art is a bronze replica of "The Kiss."

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | April 16, 2014 at 9:24 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense. Simple as that.

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Avatar for user 'casualobserver'

casualobserver | April 16, 2014 at 9:45 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

If that's the case we should hire prostitutes to run our government and major businesses. Oh, wait...

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Avatar for user 'lvmovies14'

lvmovies14 | April 16, 2014 at 10:10 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

It would be a crime for the Ken Cinema to close. It should be designated as a historic landmark (no pun intended). Too many of San Diego's original "one-movie" theaters have already been destroyed. I have fond memories of many good times, going back decades, at the Ken Cinema. There has to be a way we can preserve this important piece of San Diego's history while upgrading it at the same time.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 16, 2014 at 10:23 a.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

casualobserver, you are so right. And, the way the on-the-take politicians sell their crackpot choices is by creating an atmosphere of misinformation making people think things like Petco Park are profitable.

San Diego paid $206 million for PETCO Park and the Redevelopment Agency contributed another $95 million. The Padres put in only $153 million.

As of 2010, according to a KPBS article I found, the city still owed ~$154 million on ballpark bonds. The "plan" crooked swindlers in political power and their development cronies put into place was that hotel taxes would "swiftly" pay off these bonds, but the city has seen a drop-off in the taxes it receives from hotels over the past 5+ years.

And now the powers that be want to put us in for more $$$$ with a Charger's stadium.

My point is that an ignorant public has this notion that these big sports deals are somehow so profitable because they go downtown for a day or two and see a big crowd.

I realize there are some people who prefer sports and some who prefer the visual and performance arts if it comes down to that choice for assistance from the city.

But the arts always get the short end of the stick in this Cow Town.

Politicians create false smokescreens that sports stadiums are profitable, but when a major arts venue is in trouble they shrug it off and say so what like Falconer and the council are doing with the Opera.

And if money is really tight, then maybe saving a beloved icon like the Ken is the way to go. The city can't afford to save huge organizations like the Opera OR the Chargers, so let them both go and put in smaller investments to save local, smaller cultural venues like this one.

I don't even go to this particular theater, but I would be happy if the city used tax money to save it. I do go to the Hillcrest Landmark Cinema on occasion, and the experience is so much richer than the big mainstream box theaters. I hate that people in another community of San Diego are losing such a treasure, because I know I would be upset if the Hillcrest Landmark was to close.

I just see the arts in general widdling away in San Diego, and the rank and file at city hall seems to NOT GIVE A RAT'S HAIRY BACKSIDE about it and it angers me.

If the Chargers just THREATEN to move to LA, the political charlatans start scrambling, having backroom deals, and writing checks with tax payer funds, and we are all supposed to be up in arms about a barely mediocre football team threatening to leave.

But let a major organization like the Opera or even a small iconic venue like this one announce more concrete plans to leave, and you see the mayor and city council say and do pretty much nothing.

It's not looking good for SD's creative class, we clearly have a city government that is hostile to the arts and that wants to pander to sports teams and circus parks like SeaWorld.

When you make these types of priorities, you get that kind of a city - A Cow Town.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | April 16, 2014 at 3:42 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Sorry but your personal nostalgia does not fit into the equation when property values or land usage efficiency.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | April 16, 2014 at 3:44 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

*when evaluating

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | April 16, 2014 at 4:09 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Based on the quotes in the article, the theatre isn't being demolished. Someone with a better business model could save it. Mark Cuban's interest in theatres waned when HDNet and Magnolia Pictures failed to live up to his expectations. No surprise that one of his companies is negotiating roughly. He knows a teeny bit about business and didn't become a billionaire by cutting checks indiscriminately.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | April 17, 2014 at 3:18 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I mostly agree with PDSD here, there is certainly no room to subsidize a sports arena if we can't do the same for other entertainment venues.
How much of any of it we need to pay for with tax money is still an interesting topic, but we should not treat sports teams preferentially.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | April 17, 2014 at 6:16 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

For you folks who feel the need to subsidize, write a check. Leave the rest of us out of it. Why do all of these failing ventures fall on the taxpayers. If a venue cannot exist on its' own, time for it to go.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 17, 2014 at 7:13 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

_cukkkapoop1, once again you prove your ignorance on a variety of subjects and issues. The Ken was NOT a failed venture. It was been around much longer than probably yourself, unless you happen to be a bitter octogenarian. Leases run out, the economy changes, and people fail to come to agreemnets, but it was NOT a failed venture.

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Avatar for user 'johnlocke'

johnlocke | April 17, 2014 at 10:08 p.m. ― 5 months, 2 weeks ago

"Mundorff reiterated that Landmark does not want to leave and is not asking for a rent reduction to stay. But it does want at least a two-year lease in place before committing to the digital projection upgrade."

The statement doesn't make sense considering they already upgraded to digital

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | April 21, 2014 at 3:16 p.m. ― 5 months, 1 week ago

If the Ken was a thriving business, there is no way it would be under threat of shutting down now. People do not shut down thriving businesses, they shut down failing ones.

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Avatar for user 'sdreefer21'

sdreefer21 | April 23, 2014 at 9:37 a.m. ― 5 months, 1 week ago

If it was really that profitable the company owning the ken would keep it open regardless of the circumstances. But you want to give public money to a business owned by billionaires? Put the crack pipe down.

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Avatar for user 'hopeheadsd'

hopeheadsd | April 23, 2014 at 3:02 p.m. ― 5 months, 1 week ago

Has anyone been open to the idea that another theater operator can take this over and improve on it?

The theater isnt closed yet and its a business. Nostaliga is nice, but if it doesnt pay the bills, then its just a sign that times have changed.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 24, 2014 at 10:36 p.m. ― 5 months, 1 week ago

Dopeheaded, well after some arm-twisting and a few drinks, they were able to work out a deal.

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