Cinema in Silicon Valley Faces Uncertain Future with Closure of Camera 3, BlueLight in Cupertino

The closure of Camera 3 leaves downtown San Jose without a single movie theater—a disgrace for a city so insecure about its cultural profile. One mitigating factor: it’s a temporary closure.

Near the end of this year, the 33-year old Camera 3 will transform into a hybrid movie and live theater known as Three Below, where sing-alongs like The Rocky Horror Picture Show will still play alongside more modern favorites like Harry Potter, in addition to live events such as Q&As for Cinequest. San Jose’s world champion ComedySportz improv team will continue using the facility throughout the fall, but Psycho Donuts has vacated the space for what will become a “new café concept.”

“We’ve been working with Jack Nyblom of the Camera Cinemas for a long time, offering programs downtown ever since the Retro Dome closed down on Winchester,” says Shannon Guggenheim. “We thought it was important to keep the ‘three’ in there.”

Three Below expects to be up and running by December, but the demise of Camera 12 last year leaves downtown theater-less, and plans have still not been announced on the fate of the three-story albatross at Paseo de San Antonio. Meanwhile, another local film house is in peril. With five screens and 600 seats, the BlueLight Cinemas in Cupertino has been a cozy home for the smallest movies yet still big enough to host indie film festivals. Now the discount multiplex expects to go dark for good.

In a letter to San Jose Inside, BlueLight’s founder Art Cohen noted that “the financial burden of the rent combined with the lack of building maintenance has made it impossible for me to continue.”

BlueLight stands on an eight-acre spread slated for a shopping center development by KT Urban, which was founded by the Tersini brothers Ken and Mark. KT Urban has built several high-rise developments throughout the valley, as well as a pair of towers ( the 22-and 20-story Silvery Towers) going up opposite San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose.

The Oaks will replace BlueLight with a plaza for walking, high-end retail space and three- to four-story residential buildings, but it’s not certain when. Cupertino’s City Council rejected the design in 4-1 vote this summer, and it’ll be a year until KT Urban can resubmit a new plan. Regardless, the end is nigh for BlueLight.

“We have done everything we can to work with BlueLight Cinemas and would have liked them to have stayed,” Mark Tersini wrote in an email. “But they were delinquent on their rent and they notified us of their desire to terminate the lease and vacate the premises. They made a business decision and we respect that.”

A protest was held earlier this month to oppose the theater’s closure, which particularly hurts Dan Mart, a preservationist who has long advocated for saving the Domes on Winchester as mid-century monuments.

“If we allow this theater to be torn down, what does that say about us, our values?” Mart asks.

In the meantime, a petition is circulating on Change.org to request KT Urban to preserve the theater until the bulldozers arrive.

7 Comments

    • Neither did I though I am not surprised. During my visits I saw that the facility wasn’t being maintained well and was in a downward spiral. Add to that the industry has shifted and many movie houses are investing in a dinner theater which includes a bar. This would probably not have worked in downtown San Jose since it would compete with so many full service restaurants. I do hope they find a new use for the space that is fitting, perhaps an extension space for the convention center ? With theater seating in place tech companies could have some great prezo’s and attendee’s could be comfortable…

  1. When I first moved to California in 1987, I would see movies in the space that is now the BlueLight; it was in considerably better shape then. (Afterwards, we’d browse next door at A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books. Remember bookstores? Am I aging myself?) I also used to be a regular at both Camera 3 and Camera 1.

    Years later, I find myself living within walking distance of the BlueLight. I gave up going there, tho. Decrepit seats, negligible sound insulation, haphazard projection quality. I don’t know what maintenance issues the theater had with the mall, but they had plenty of work to do on their own part and, as a discount second-run house, they were never going to have the budget to do it. Lobbying for the preservation of this theater makes preservationism look bad.

  2. Neither did I though I am not surprised. During my visits I saw that the facility wasn’t being maintained well and was in a downward spiral. Add to that the industry has shifted and many movie houses are investing in a dinner theater which includes a bar. This would probably not have worked in downtown San Jose since it would compete with so many full service restaurants. I do hope they find a new use for the space that is fitting, perhaps an extension space for the convention center ? With theater seating in place tech companies could have some great prezo’s and attendee’s could be comfortable…

  3. “Cultural profile”? San Jose politicians and planners of surrounding communities had long ago decided to turn our communities into a vast wasteland of condos, apartments, and shopping malls void of any entertainment or cultural values. Welcome to Americana dreamed up by low level, uneducated politicians and planners who unfortunately sold out cheaply to developers and big money.

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