Laemmle deal not done yet: vote with your feet

by Mick Rhodes |

At the Q and A following the November 19 Laemmle Claremont 5 screening of “Only in Theaters,” the surprisingly moving documentary about the Laemmle family’s long history in the film industry, third generation CEO Greg Laemmle told a near capacity crowd the Village theater’s fate was unknown.

“Vote with your feet,” “Only in Theaters” director Raphael Sbarge told the crowd. It’s great advice.

It’s also a good look. If we as a community really want to keep a treasured cultural resource like the Laemmle Claremont 5, we need to get off the couch and show our support. It’s the only sliver of hope we have. Whether it’s too late is yet to be determined.

As we have been reporting since 2021, the property at 450 W. Second St. is in escrow.

“Staff has reviewed two project concepts for the property since November of 2021,” Claremont Public Information Officer Bevin Handel told the COURIER. “The revised application for the mixed-use hotel and dining project was received by staff in September of 2022. The proposed project would require Architectural Commission review for exterior changes, as well as an amended Conditional Use Permit for the sale of alcohol, outdoor dining, and roof top use from the Planning Commission.”

I for one hope this deal falls apart.

If there’s one thing the Village doesn’t need, it’s another restaurant. And if there’s one thing the City of Claremont does need, it’s more culture. We lost the Candlelight Pavilion in March and Rhino Records in April, and the fate of the city’s last standing full-time live music venue, The Press — closed since March 2020 — remains a mystery. I had been getting text updates from Press owner Steve Rudicel on what might become of the venue/restaurant, but in November 2021 he stopped responding to my queries.

We are all extremely lucky and grateful the Claremont Colleges continue to bring world class art and artists, thinkers, writers and political figures to town. Other gems include Claremont Heritage’s occasional music and art events, and of course the sparkling Benton Museum of Art and the newly expanded Claremont Lewis Museum of Art are wonderful resources for visual art.

But for independent film we are entirely dependent on the Laemmle Claremont 5 for sustenance. And since the next closest Laemmle theater in Pasadena closed in June, without it we will have to drive to Los Angeles or Santa Monica for non-mainstream fare.

Going to the movies may be a throwback to kids who came of age with streaming, but it’s nostalgia worth keeping. Experiencing a great film in a theater, like my 12-year-old son Everett and I did last month at Laemmle’s screening of one of the greatest of all time, 1962’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” makes clear the case for nurturing the tradition. Everett leaned over about halfway through Gregory Peck’s career-defining performance and whispered, “This is really great.” This coming from a kid who spends most of his free time gaming with friends in his room I’ve dubbed, “the cave,” because it’s dark and smells like pre-teen boy. But for Claremont’s Laemmle theater, I doubt I’d have been able to get him to sit still for a two-plus hour, 60-year-old black and white film.

As Greg Laemmle explained at the screening, and “Only in Theaters” makes plain, the decision to give up the Claremont property was purely financial; people just didn’t support the theater in numbers large enough to make it sustainable.

I count myself among those who dropped the ball. I adore the theater, but I was there only about once a month before the choice was made to offer it up for sale.

I get it, streaming is convenient. But it’s no match for the collective grandeur of the big screen, big sound, fresh popcorn model, even with a massive TV and surround sound. Going to the movies is an event. Communing with strangers and suspending disbelief en masse is one of life’s treasures, whether it’s in a theater, arena, stadium, or coffee house.

Yes, Montclair’s new AMC is nearby. Yes, it’s fancy. But if you’re like me and enjoy film outside the mainstream, you’re out of luck. The Laemmle is all we have.

Laemmle lovers have one last ditch, hail Mary chance to keep it in Claremont: we need to get off our couches and go to the theater.

Strange things can happen with real estate deals. Let’s show the Laemmle Corporation that Claremont cares about independent film, so in the unlikely event the deal falls through, it might just decide to stay in town.

It’s a longshot, but you never know: a hero may emerge in the third act.


Good grief

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about grief. I’ve found it helpful, and have tried to frame it in a way that may be useful for others. In my research, I’ve recently found a most helpful tool in Anderson Cooper’s fantastic new podcast, “All There Is.” I recommend it to anyone who, like me, is “sitting in grief.”

I was skeptical about the respected broadcast journalist’s bona fides to explore the topic. He was raised with unimaginable privilege, a member of the Vanderbilt family, son of a famous artist/clothing designer/socialite, and of course now a star himself. But as the first episode makes clear, wealth and status are no buffer against trauma.

It’s a wonderful, cathartic podcast for anyone who’s experienced loss, which is to say, all of us.


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