In a few months, 7611 Fay Ave. will be the site of a seven-venue cineplex, replete with what lessee Boffo Cinemas calls “warm and inviting finishes” and a “hospitality-type feel.” Online reservations and reserved seating will cater to everybody's inner VIP, and refinements in the menu promise to take the comfort food a couple cuts above popcorn and Coke. This high-end concept already has face time here (note the big ArcLight Cinemas complex on La Jolla Village Drive past Genesee Avenue, which also offers reserved seating and serves stuff like beer, sandwiches and carrot cake), and, everything else being equal, there's no reason it shouldn't work in the Village locale.
We wish Boffo every success in its venture, and we applaud Jonathan's owner Dallo Enterprises for its fortitude in what must have been a difficult business decision in many ways. But these days, such transactions carry a few less user-friendly elements, especially in permit-happy San Diego. The cost of building is through the roof; long-term movie demographics are never stable amid today's greater mobility; and politics dogs potential powder-keg issues like La Jolla's crumbling infrastructure. It's a jungle out there, and for all its outer beauty, the underbrush yields an indefinable threat.
Fade to a typical Saturday morning in late 1950s Toledo, Ohio. Our crotchety Ford Fairlane was the lead vehicle in what amounted to a presidential motorcade, and Toledo's dog-eared Colony Theatre would morph into the White House, its immaculate grounds and servant staff standing at attention just for us. For the next three hours, the Colony was my oyster, and woe betide the plebe who'd made his way inside by mistake or to get out of the weather. There was something intensely personal about the filmgoing experience – the single-screen environment, the vastness of the seating plan and the simple, indispensable Coke and popcorn (Milk Duds sometimes) assured my unilateral self-importance and joy, part of which would carry me through the next seven days.
I love the cinema just as much today (this from a stage-crazy live theater geek), and I'm always happy to download and fire up the titles that interest me (the Frencher and more obscure, the better). When the time comes, I'm sure I'll enjoy the Boffo experience as well. But for some, its debut will signal a fundamental change in the community, and not just in its commerce. While the new cineplex will likely be a delight, so was Jonathan's (the Colony, too, for that matter) – and it came with a one-on-one, howdy-neighbor connectedness that a multi-venue theater, no matter its level of trendiness, simply isn't designed to replicate.
The more youthful demographic (comprising groups of thirty- and fortysomethings who've never not known what a cineplex is) has declared its presence in La Jolla for at least the last ten years, and the neighborhood seems none the worse for wear. The new theater may help entrench that younger element, yield no effect or signal a social disconnect, however unintended, within the community's fabric. The latter option, I'm sure, is especially worrying to those who'll so dearly miss Jonathan's. Change is inevitable, even encouraged, but on a strictly human level, that doesn't mean it's always easily embraced.
Martin Jones Westlin is editor of La Jolla Village News.