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Cupertino’s BlueLight Cinema In Peril

In Culture
BYE BYE BLUE? The BlueLight Cinema in Cupertino may be razed to make way for a mixed use development.

BYE BYE BLUE? The BlueLight Cinema in Cupertino may be razed to make way for a mixed use development.

With five screens and 600 seats, the BlueLight Cinemas in Cupertino is cozy enough for the smallest movie and yet big enough to host indie film festivals. On the opposite side of Stevens Creek from De Anza College and the school’s superb film department, it is a natural place for moving-image fanatics to gather. But now the discount multiplex is in danger of going dark for good.

In a letter to Metro, the BlueLight’s founder, Art Cohen, noted the highlights of his time running the theater, beyond the many mainstream, foreign films and documentaries shown over the years: “Some notable fundraising events include our LunaFest annual fundraiser to find a cure for women’s breast cancer and a fundraising event for College of Adaptive Arts that services adult students with physical and mental challenges.  As a 25 year resident in Cupertino, having kids attending CUSD, and serving on multiple non-profit boards and as a small business owner, I am very sad to have to consider its closing. However, the financial burden of the rent combined with the lack of building maintenance has made it impossible for me to continue.”

The eight-acre surrounding shopping center that the BlueLight stands on was purchased in spring 2015 by the developers KT Urban—founded by the Tersini Brothers, Ken and Mark. Mark was last year’s winner of the SJ Chamber of Commerce Businessman of the Year. KT Urban has built several high-rise developments throughout the valley, as well as a pair of towers (22 and 20 stories, respectively) proposed to rise up opposite San Pedro Square.

If the future of downtown San Jose is tall glass boxes with apartments renting in the $2000-4000 range, KT Urban is into that future, and into it deep. The plan for The Oaks shopping center—home to BlueLight—shows something that looks like a wider, less mock-Parisian version of Santana Row. There’s a plaza for walking, high-end retail space and three to four story residential buildings. Even this design was too much for the Cupertino city council, which voted 4-1 this summer to reject the design. It’ll be a year until KT Urban can resubmit a new plan for the land they own.

Formerly the Oaks Theater, the BlueLight had been shuttered for several years before its reopened in 2009.  Back then, Art Cohen told Metro that the BlueLight Cinemas had its name for two reasons—one was to recall the police car turret light “blue light special” at K-Mart, the other was to sum up Blu-Ray-like visuals. (While they have digital equipment, BlueLight is also one of the only valley theaters left with an actual 35mm projector.)

The theater’s closure was protested last weekend during the Farmer’s Market at The Oaks shopping center. To those who feel that a movie theater is a different kind of thing than a grocery store or a boutique—as a gathering place, a light to draw people out of their solitude—the closure particularly hurts.

Dan Mart, who has been working tirelessly to keep the Domes on Winchester preserved as mid-century monuments, has been publicly supporting the BlueLight.

“If we allow this theater to be torn down, what does that say about us? Our values?” he asks. “We need history because we need romance. Art Cohen, KT Urban and the city council have a real opportunity here: to stand up for what truly matters. We need leaders who are willing to look decades down the road. None of the movie houses and drive-ins that have been saved were rescued by a single person. It would have been impossible. Many were dying. Now, many are thriving because everyone chipped in.”

We reached out for further comment to both Cohen and KT Urban, with no results. The Cupertino City Council will deliver a certificate of appreciation for the BlueLight Cinemas at their Oct 17 meeting. Meanwhile, a petition is circulating on Change.org to request KT Urban to preserve the theater at least until the point, perhaps as soon as a year from now, when the bulldozers arrive.

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