Historic Burbank Theater might become part of San Jose housing project

SAN JOSE — The historic Burbank Theater in San Jose, a long-shuttered cinema palace whose past dates back to a bygone era of movies but whose future is murky at best, may become part of a housing development.

The housing project would renovate the movie house, including preserving the vertical “Burbank” sign, and then incorporate residences on top of the revamped and existing structure, plans on file at San Jose City Hall show.

An affordable housing development that would incorporate the historic Burbank Theater at 552 South Bascom Avenue in San Jose, concept. (CORBeL Architects)

The Burbank Theater opened as a movie house in 1951 but ceased showing films in 2000. The showings included first-run double features and eventually adult movies.

The potential development would be located at 552 South Bascom Avenue in San Jose on a site just north of Interstate 280.

Lobby of Burbank Theater at 552 S. Bascom Ave. in San Jose. (Preservation Action Council San Jose)

The proposal envisions a five-story building by adding several stories atop as well as next to the structure where the old movie palace once operated.

The development features 62 residences that would be constructed within the new building, the proposal on file with the city shows.

The housing would be built on floors two, three, four and five. The residences would consist of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.

The ground floor would consist of commercial spaces such as retail. The first floor would also contain some parking.

The proposal would use the existing basement space for underground parking.

The existing theater is deemed by some experts to be an important historic resource.

Preservation of the theater would be beneficial, according to a view espoused in a 2018 report to Santa Clara County officials that was produced by Kara Brunzell, a historic preservation consultant.

“The Burbank Theater is eligible as a Santa Clara County historic landmark because it is over 50 years old, is an excellent example of Cantin & Cantin’s Streamline Moderne theater architecture, and retains sufficient integrity to convey its historic identity,” Brunzell wrote in her report.

The Burbank Theater began operating in 1951. However, in its latter years as a movie house, the theater shifted away from mainstream films and began showing pornographic movies.

“It continued showing adult content for decades, cementing a reputation in the surrounding neighborhood as a pornographic venue,” Brunzell stated in its report. “Occasionally, the theater’s adult content included nude or partially nude dancers.”

In 1991, a neighborhood group launched a campaign to shut the theater over concerns about on-site sexual activity. In 2000, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office forced the theater to close its doors.

Since then, entrepreneurs have crafted or launched an array of proposals to bring new endeavors to the theater. The proposals have included a revival of film showings, a mosque, and most recently a dance, drama and fitness studio.

A Milpitas-based group called Tru Investments Inc. that’s linked to South Bay business executives owns the theater, Santa Clara County property records show. In 2022, Tru Investments paid $1.6 million to buy the movie theater site.

At one point, the new owner floated plans to restore the site as a movie palace.

Those plans appear stalled, and the theater is up for sale, according to the Preservation Action Council of San Jose.

It’s possible that a housing development that also preserves the theater could mollify local activists.

“While it may have once been seen as a nuisance, today the theater is widely loved by the surrounding community,” the Preservation Action Council stated in a post on its website. “Residents see it as an important landmark, and the sign, in particular, has become an iconic symbol of Burbank.”

 

 

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