Century 21 Dome Theater Saved By City Council

San Jose City HallSupporters of Save The Domes gathered at the Tuesday evening session of the San Jose City Council to plead for the protection of the 50-year-old building from demolition. On a seven-to-four vote, the council designated the Century 21 as a historical landmark. The developer can file a demolition plan to raze the other dome theaters, but must incorporate the Century 21 into the new mixed-urban development. No guarantees that the developer will keep it as a working theater. That’s the short version.

My friend and I drove downtown to attend the 7:00PM council session, arriving at the nearby public parking garage where the city keeps it fleet of vehicles, and walking a block over from Fifth Street. This was my first visit to the “new” city hall building since opening in 2005. I previously visited the old city hall on North 1st Street, part of the county government civic center that the county plans to renovate in the future, when my older brother had a shotgun wedding at the hall of justice in the 1970’s.

While my friend walked over to Subway for a sandwich, I walked down memory lane while wandering around the plaza. As a college student living downtown in the mid-1990, I used to shop at Lucky’s and eat at Taco Bell that previously occupied this one-and-half block stretch on Santa Clara Street and Fifth Street. It’s now all gone. San Jose State University is a few blocks away, where the eight-story Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library is visible above the two-story buildings between city hall and the campus.

The city council chamber wasn’t in the rotunda building on the plaza, as one would imagine when pulling on the locked front doors. The circular floor space under the ten-story ceiling was empty. Not surprisingly, this space was reserved for private events. When the Bascom Avenue library opened last year, the library was smaller than I expected and the larger community center was available for private events as well. For a fee, of course. The city has to make a buck somewhere.

Walking past the rotunda building to the left will take you to a ground-level entrance for the restrooms and elevators. You can also walk up the narrow stairway next to the tower building that house the city bureaucracy or the broad stairway that borders the plaza to the second floor entrance. The public entrance to the city council opened to a university-style auditorium with seats sloping down from the second floor to the first floor.

The city council session opened light-heartedly with commendations by the mayor for several citizens who served the city in one way or another for 25 years, including a Boy Scout troop leader who brought out his troop. After pictures got taken and the boy scouts cleared out, more people came in to occupy the empty seats. The city council got down to business. We sat through two-hours of mind-numbing discussions about various public planning proposals. People got up to speak for or against, left the council chamber, and more people took their empty seats.

We left at 9:00PM to catch “The Wil Wheaton Project” on TV. On the way home we drove past the Century Domes on Winchester, where a single outdoor light illuminated the front doors of the Century 21 and the two other dome theaters shrouded in the darkness. The city council voted on the Century 21 historical landmark at about 10:30PM. After two mind-numbing hours watching democracy in action (sausage making would be more entertaining), I don’t think I could have survived another 90 minutes.