STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) — A group of Stockton residents is rallying around what’s left of the Empire Theatre.
About 20 people gathered Monday calling on residents to speak out and on Stockton officials to stop efforts to destroy the building.
“Really looking at it and like, do we need to completely demolish this or is part of the building salvageable? And how do we proceed from there?” said resident Garrett Daniells.
Daniells said he feels close to the building because he literally helped it become a beacon for so many years. His family owns a neon sign business that serviced the theater’s current sign.
A fire gutted the historic mixed-use space Friday and demolition on part of the beginning began almost immediately. The rear of the building was torn down, however, the recognizable facade, including the iconic marquee, still stands.
However, on the building front is a sign stating the intent of city officials to move forward with legal proceedings to demolish the building.
Those who rallied pointed to the building’s historical, cultural and nostalgic significance as reasons to try to preserve and restore it.
Orion Camero linked the structure to the Stockton Arts community. Though the building has been vacant since 2017 after being shut down by the city for code violations, Camero said the arts community has held out hope it could be revitalized.
“I think that people in this community need spaces of wellness, of creativity, of expression in order to be able to deal with social issues we deal with here in this community,” Camero said.
Camero and Daniells said they are also concerned about what would be constructed in its place if the building was torn down.
“They’re already putting up a Starbucks across the street,” Daniells said. “I don’t think we need more strip mall stuff here. It’s super unnecessary.”
The group is hoping to take their concerns to the Stockton City Council, which has their next regular meeting is May 25.
Stockton spokesperson Connie Cochran said what remains of the structure has been temporarily secured and the property owner has 30 days from May 14 to clean up the site.
Cochran says it is up to the building owner to preserve any of the theater’s structural elements.