Downtown San Jose’s Camera 12 Movie Theater to Close

Downtown San Jose is losing its only first-run movie theater. Camera 12 Cinemas, San Jose’s largest independently owned movieplex, announced today that it will punch its final tickets this Friday, Sep. 9. Camera Cinemas’ two other theater complexes—Camera 3, located just blocks from Camera 12, and Camera 7 in Campbell—will remain open.

“I’m really sad—really sad,” said Jack NyBlom, a managing partner of Camera Cinemas. However, he added, the closure simply could not be avoided. “A decade’s loss of revenue from a promised growing residential market, that’s just now coming online, coupled with the staggering costs of maintaining a large, aging, poorly designed building has led us to this decision to close.”

Camera Cinema’s spokesman, Dan Orloff, said that years of accumulated debt posed a challenge to the local ownership group. The “straw that broke the camel’s back,” Orloff says, was the tenant’s obligation to maintain and repair the roofs, escalators and other building elements, which were in serious disrepair.

Camera 12 took over the taxpayer-subsidized cinderblock building next to the federal courthouse and Fairmont Hotel in July 2004, several years after United Artists moved out of the complex without notice in the middle of the night. The $11 million, 70,000-square-foot complex  received $4.4 million in city redevelopment funds after another national chain, AMC, abandoned its plans for a 16-screen complex as part of the Pavilion, a Redevelopment-sponsored retail mall that was eventually converted into a computer server farm.

In December 2000, just four years after the theater was built, Redevelopment Agency director Susan Shick tried to knock it down. “The theater is obsolete,” Shick said. “It’s not a theater built to modern-day standards.” Things turned around after the Cameras leased the facility, and both private and public money was poured into maintaining the operation.

And yet it was not enough. According to NyBlom, after a tile fell from the cieling a few weeks back, it was discovered that the building had some serious plumbing issues. Plus, he added, the theater’s escalators were proving to be both a hazard and a money pit. “It’s just not a safe environment for our customers anymore,” he said.

NyBlom is pleased that Camera Cinemas’ other two locations, Camera 3 and Camera 7, will be able to keep showing films. But even though both theaters are doing well, he believes the loss of the independent Camera 12 represents a major blow to downtown San Jose culture.

For starters, Camera Cinemas has always made it a priority to work with the local community in ways larger theater chains might not. At Camera 7, for instance, on the first and third Wednesday of every month, there are special showings for parents with infants—the idea being, if everyone in the crowd is bringing a baby, no one will object to a little crying.

Camera 12 has also been a major hub for screenings during the Cinequest Film Festival. “We’re going to try to continue to work with Cinequest,” NyBlom said, noting that Camera 3 will remain available as will Camera 7. However, that does leave a big vacuum when it comes to downtown screenings. “We have a 27-year relationship with those guys. We’ll try to get them placed wherever we can.”

Camera Cinemas has also served as a force for good in sticking up for other independent theaters. After moving into the Camera 12 building in 2004, Camera Cinemas sued the national Century Theater chain over their practice of creating “clearance agreements” with movie studios. These agreements would guarantee Century had exclusive rights to screen certain movies for a certain period of time within a given region—sort of like the radius clauses live music venues make bands sign, preventing many acts from playing both San Francisco and San Jose in succession.

Their legal action proved fruitful—at least in San Jose—after then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer launched an antitrust investigation into the practice of clearance agreements. Though no legal action was taken, Century backed off and Camera Cinemas won the rights to screen first-run films at Camera 12, a major coup for the independent theater.

The suit may have also played a role in spurring other independent theaters to take fight clearance agreements in their regions.

See below for the full Camera Cinemas news release.

DOWTOWN SAN JOSE’S CAMERA 12 CINEMAS TO CLOSE

SAN JOSE, Ca. September 7, 2016 Camera 12 Cinemas, which opened in 2004, announced today that it will cease operations this coming September 9.

“It is with much sadness that, in spite of our best efforts, we cannot keep Camera 12 open any longer,” said Jack NyBlom, Camera 12 Cinemas’ managing partner and managing partner of Camera Cinemas which operates Camera 3 in downtown San Jose and Camera 7 in Campbell (not affected by the closing of Camera 12), “a decade’s loss of revenue from a promised growing residential market, that’s just now coming online, coupled with the staggering costs of maintaining a large, aging, poorly designed building has led us to this decision to close.”

Camera Cinemas is one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in the downtown. In 1975, San Jose State University students Jack NyBlom, James Zuur, and Dennis Skaggs, incurable film buffs, rehabbed a former South First Street shoe store and turned it into Camera One. Tired of driving to Berkeley or San Francisco, they brought art, foreign and independent films to downtown San Jose.

In 1989, nationally renowned Cinequest Film Festival debuted at downtown San Jose’s Camera 3 (opened in1983) and grew into Camera 12 over the years. In 2004, Camera Cinemas reopened the failed United Artists 8-screen cineplex at Paseo de San Antonio, finally bringing first-run movies on a regular basis to downtown for the first time in 40 years. Camera Cinemas theaters have drawn an estimated 20 million moviegoers to downtown San Jose contributing over $200,000,000 to the downtown economy.

Camera 12 customers can get more information at cameracinemas.com, select Camera 12 under show times. 

32 Comments

  1. The one constant in life is change. The business of entertainment – music and movies – was forever changed by the Internet, piracy and millenials’ emerging lifestyles and tastes. ‘Sad to see but reality is a cold truth …

  2. Please stay open I need keep using open captions so deaf or hearing impaired and old person need to read captions everyday stay open

  3. Why would anyone want to go to a movie theater where they have to dodge panhandlers and drug addled crackheads in DTSJ when they can go to one of many much nicer venues out in the burbs? No matter how much money we throw at DTSJ, it will never be the DTSJ it was in the 30’s, for many many reasons. Personally, I like to blame AP Hammans heavy handed incorporating the many unincorporated pockets of San Jose. Result?

    Now San Jose has multiple “Downtowns” with some nicer than others. DTWG is a prime example of one such downtown nestled within our city limits. Cambrian has the “Cambrian Plaza” Alum Rock has it’s own downtown (although it’s about as crappy as our main one)

    You can throw all the money you want at real estate development, but it’s still not going to fix the underlying problems in downtown. I don’t live there, and have no desire to. It’s been run into the ground. It’s jumped the shark. It’s out of my way to go there. It’s more expensive to go there. No thanks.

    • Nothing it wrong with it and who wants to pay $15 for a movie? Camera 12 is affordable and they have great deals on snacks too. Enjoy your overpriced movies!

      • Almaden Cinelux is cheaper than Camera 12, even on snacks, and I don’t pay a dime for parking.

        • Movie prices before 5pm are $5.50, and after 5pm they are $7.50 with student I.D. and San Jose Public Library card. Oh, and they do offer patking validation. You can’t beat that.

        • Camera 12’s parking across 4th street was free too! They validated up to four hours if you saw a movie.

        • Camera 12 was $6.00 before 5:00 p.m. daily, same as Almaden Cinelux, and Camera 12 validated parking at the nearby City lot above Camera 3, so parking was free there, as well. Camera 12 had more than it’s share of insecure millenials who could not avoid texting, or even talking on the phone, for 5 minutes without suffering from severe separation anxiety. How could one nation go from The Greatest Generation to f**king millenials in so short a span of time? Cinelux Almaden auditoriums were exceedingly small, some smaller even than Camera 3’s, and often populated with families whose kids were rarely quiet, and whose parents couldn’t care less. You make the call. Either way, cheap has a cost.

  4. I live downtown and I love it. I would not live any where else but downtown in this city. I loved Camera 12, always riding my bicycle or walking to the movies. That I will deeply miss. I detest having to drive to do things in what should be a vibrant downtown. I am also an avid Cinequest patron, and it is hard to imagine how they will be able to have this wonderful festival without the C12 as the central hub.

  5. Practically every Friday since 2004, we have made a movie at Camera 12. While I understand why it must close, it is a huge blow to downtown. PS to Robert Cortese. Downtown is not pristine, but it’s fun, and there are lots of activities for families, couples and singl s of any age. KAthleen Cohen

  6. WTF! This is not the appropriate way to receive this news. I just happened to catch this news release, completely by accident, and I AM DUMBFOUNDED! Not to mention COMPLETELY BLINDSIDED! We are part Owners in this Partnership Group AND Venture!

    • Camera 7 in Campbell, Jack NyBlom’s favorite child, is doing quite nicely; while Camera 12 suffered from significant deferred maintenance. Follow the money!

      • JMC: I’m an investor in nearly every Cameras’ venture including Camera 12 and Camera 7 and work very closely with Jack on a number of fronts including serving as a spokesperson for C12 and C7. Please stick to commenting on subjects you know something about. There’s enough real pain going around for investors like me and Cindy, C12 employees, Cinequest and others. No need for wild speculation from you and others.

  7. I live in Campbell but often go to Downtown San Jose for variety of reasons. Go to Camera 12 on occasion and Camera 3 often. Go to restaurants, visit museum and South of Market area, take in music in parks, San Pedro Market area, Center for Performing Arts. Mr. Cortese above, has a limited view of things in the area. Yes, Willow Glen is nice, and it would be nice if other areas of SJ had nice districts like WG, but it is suburban sprawl in most other areas and San Jose needs a vibrant downtown. Losing SJ Rep, and now Camera 12 is setback, but there is much to appreciate. As far as the homelessness go, based on my experiences in SF and Oakland, which both have vibrant downtown areas, San Jose has far less problems on this issue, and is also much cleaner and safer. City needs to keep pushing for more and better. And find way to replace Camera 12.

    • Have you heard the term ‘mixed use?” If you’ve been downtown, you’ve seen it. You’re about to see more of it. ‘Just wait …

    • “The City should find a way to replace Camera 12?” Camera 12 was “the City’s” response to the failure of the United Artists theater at that location. It’s not “The City” Zisser, it’s the taxpayers. Camera 3 and Camera 12 have been heavily subsidized by the taxpayers for their entire existence, and yet Camera 12 has failed. Camera 3 is a dump, on a dumpy block, with small auditoriums and lousy seats, but the artsy movie crowd cares not. For them I guess rubbing elbows with the Skid Row derelicts adds to the ambience.

      • In 2008 I migrated over to the Camera 3 from the Camera 12 due to the art house and documentary film programming. My fellow film goers were interested in seeing films that expanded their horizons and challenged them to look at the world in new ways. It is rare to have such an experience in a suburban megaplex, where too many patrons are checking their smartphones and serve as an annoying distraction, owned by either AMC or Century, both of which use their considerable marketplace clout to extract tax concessions from local governments. Tax concessions are a form of government subsidy.

  8. More downtown urban blight, what a great opportunity to move the homeless and crazies out out from freeway, neighborhoods, underpasses and bus stops. Only a few block from city hall and light rail making daily protests a possibility for George Soro’s rent a mob foundation. Just think of how much medicine could be grown in a location that size and close to the patients too! Public restrooms for the cruisers. You guys just are not thinking very positive about this.

  9. Sadly I doubt another cineplex will replace the Camera 12. After two failures, who would want to invest? There are already enough cookie-cutter megaplexes in suburban shopping centers. The Camera 12 was special due to the unique architecture and the ability to see a film without having to traverse miles of parking lot sprawl. The building, however, looked high maintenance with both elevators and escalators. Along with the hefty rent increases it was an impossible business model. I would expect the structure will be torn down, like the UA Galaxy in San Francisco, and replaced with something else.

  10. “Camera 3 and Camera 12 have been heavily subsidized by the taxpayers for their entire existence.”

    That’s one reason I do not mourn the loss of C12. Sad fact is that I have not been to any movie theater in years. The movie experience is just too awful with overpriced tickets, snacks and unpleasant people talking to checking their cell phones. I’d rather pop down to the library and just check out a DVD.

  11. As you can see from the above comments, ‘going to the movies’ has changed across-the-board, for older and younger: skyrocketing ticket prices. paying to park, concessions that are overpriced and mostly not worth it if they were free, etc., etc. Why go through that when you can see most everything you want at home in your own living room? Now factor in that we’re talking here about downtown San Jose with all its ‘distractions’ and it’s no wonder boomers and millennials have lost interest. The business of movies has changed and so has consumer interest in going to the movies, especially in downtown San Jose. When AMC suggested adding a screen where texting during a movie would be OK, you know the landscape has changed. That was an attempt to attract a new audience. Their concept died but the reality it was based on has not. And will not …

  12. Good observations Ray. My partners and management did all we could to keep the Cameras rolling in downtown San Jose. In addition to your observations, the building was a flawed design and a maintenance nightmare. That coupled with the loss of a DTSJ residential population that was suppose to be in place a decade ago, and just now coming online, was too much for us.

    • The other problem, and it was especially evident during Cinequest, is that the parking lots that accept validation have to reserve so many spots for downtown residents who have bought monthly passes. You pull in and there’s the orange cone blocking the entrance, forcing film goers into lots that don’t accept validation. Once I asked to come out and pull back in so I could see several Cinequest films without paying by using the validations provided on a per film basis. The man at the gate said, “OK, but do it quick because my boss will be back soon.” When the Camera 12 first opened, there was no need for evening and weekend validation at all. Downtown now has a lot of new residents but who knows how many go out to see movies?

      Nonetheless, I have many fine memories of seeing films at the Camera 12 and being warmly welcomed by Nathan Louie. It was a special place. I will continue to patronize the Camera 3.

      • Yes. It was very frustrating for us that while we had agreements with the city for validated parking at nearby parking lots, they were also committing spaces to residents moving into the downtown. Ironic, in that we needed those downtown residents as regular customers and needed the validated parking as an inducement for moviegoers who might opt for cineplex out in the burbs. I know that a lot will be learned through our experience in downtown San Jose hopefully for the better as we should be developing plans to attract modern cineplex downtown.

  13. I loved going to Camera 12 theater. It was affordable. They kept it reasonably clean. I live 20 blocks from downtown and don’t drive, so it was reasonable for me. I could catch a show on the spur of the moment without having to go to a crushing mall and walk forever. There were special events, movie club. For many years a Chinese gentlemen would dress in historic costumes and greet attendees. San Jose’s Cinequest has been showing there each year. Just because Downtown is the poorer child, doesn’t mean that you abandon him.

  14. The question now is – what to do with an empty building? One suggestion would be a mixed use of movie theaters and art museum. Cut down the number of movie theaters to 2 or 3 – the rest of the building could serve as new home for the SJ Art Museum which would leave the present historic building at Market/San Fernando as the home for a San Jose/SCC History Museum.

    San Jose cannot compete in the art museum market w/ SF – just can’t. San Jose however does have a lot of rich history, there are warehouses filled w/ a large array of historical items that are never viewed by the public due to lack of exhibit space. The current art museum building would be a big draw for residents and visitors as a history museum. San Jose (the oldest city in CA) has a lot more good history than we have art.

    Granted the current C-21 site will need rehab – however the cost would not be that significant when considering we are adding a whole new museum to downtown.

  15. Just now learning of Camera 12’s demise. Very sad. It was my favorite theater around, and it gave me an opportunity to escape the burbs and get downtown. Parking was close, had validation and was plentiful. Just try finding parking at Camera 7 on a Friday or Saturday night! Lots of restaurants and bars nearby. Homeless people? What urban area in the U.S. doesn’t? Ever go out in San Francisco on a Friday or Saturday night? Or even an afternoon? San Jose is pretty tame by comparison. Really sad to see it go. Thanks to owners for the effort they made to bring some semblance of culture to techie wasteland of San Jose.

    • Thanks Carl,
      You made some very good points, as to why I can’t stand going down town.

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