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Novato Theater Gets $25K Boost; Resident Launches Online Drive to Encourage Donations

With a fresh infusion of cash and a new online campaign, Novato Theater backers say the momentum is building to begin work on the long-vacant downtown landmark

Novato Theater
Novato Theater
“Build it and they will come.”

That’s the rallying cry of the group working to restore Novato Theater, downtown’s one-screen movie house that has sat vacant for more than 20 years and become Novato’s own “Field of Dreams.”

The nonprofit Novato Theater already has approximately $600,000 in assets, but needs another $3 million to demolish and rebuild the historic theater. But because the venue has languished for years, backers want to start interior demolition as soon as they hit the $1.4 million mark, which they hope will happen by early next year.

“The more the community supports this project, the faster it will happen,” said June Haugen, a Novato Theater board member. “We want to get it funded, get it built and open.”

Last week, the effort received a sizeable boost from the Marin Community Foundation, which gave the theater $25,000 towards the achieving its vision. Locals have also thrown themselves into the fundraising effort, including resident Brian Woodson who recently started a GoFundMe campaign to help the theater raise $10,000.

If and when it opens, the new Novato Theater will have two theaters where visitors can watch independent and foreign films and stage for local music, dance and theater productions. When no movies are playing, local companies, schools and residents will be able to rent the theater (some seats will be removable), generating revenue for its day-to-day operations.

“This is going to be the most unique theater in the North Bay,” said Deborah Rawson, a spokeswoman for Novato Theater. “Not only will it have state of the art sound, but it will also have dressing rooms and a stage equipped for live production. Virtually anything and everything people want to use it for—themed birthdays, plays, corporate meetings, watching televised events—will be possible.”

The original Novato Theater opened in 1945 and for years was the entertainment centerpiece of the town. But when Rowland Plaza multiplex rolled into Novato in 1991, the mom and pop movie theater could not compete, following the fate of hundreds of other independent movie theaters in the United States. Some, like the Lark Theater in Larkspur and the Castro Theater in San Francisco have had new life breathed into them, but most have withered while new developments took shape around them.

There have been many starts and stops in the quest to reopen Novato Theater.

In 1995, the Novato Theater Restoration Company acquired the theater, but lacked enough money to renovate. Then in 2004, the theater was sold to the city of Novato in 2004, which hoped to figure out a way to save the piece of Novato history. Last year, the city sold it to the Novato Theater group after the nonprofit raised money toward the reconstruction, a move supporters hope will be the final, and triumphant, move for the beleaguered venue.

If Novato Theater is not able to raise $3.5 million, the group will donate all funds to charitable art and educational programs in Novato because California law bars the group from returning the money to private donors.

Anyone who wants to donate to the restoration efforts can now pledge a monthly installment of between $10 and $100 or make a one-time payment on the group’s website.

What kind of entertainment would you like to see at Novato Theater?

JAN July 03, 2013 at 11:39 AM
This little theater is a real gem and enhancement for our whole community. The city fathers and mothers need to insure that this project keeps moving and not let it slide into oblivion. It will be a spark plug for early dinners and after movie drinks. Don't give up!
Pam Russo July 03, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Numerous attempts over what feels like a century have not been successful. Even if the theatre is restored where will people park. You will need a shuttle service to accommodate patrons. At some point I think reality needs to set in. This is not something other than a few really want.
Me Ma !! July 04, 2013 at 01:08 PM
This will be like the church building as the foundation and walls are crumbling . If this city would just tear it down and build a new building it would cost a Million or two less . The church building was over six million and a total waste of money as could have rebuilt it and added the city offices for less than that six million. Your councils choice

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