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Ken Cinema Closing As A Landmark Theatre

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

The latest ritual at the Ken Cinema was the addition of midnight screenings o...

Credit: Beth Accomando

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

GUEST:

Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts reporter

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.

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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.

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