Historic domed former San Jose movie house may debut with new role

SAN JOSE — A historic former movie house in San Jose with a distinctive domed shape could make a debut with a new role under a very preliminary proposal that’s being floated at City Hall.

The revamp is being planned at the iconic Century 21 movie theater at 3161 Olsen Drive in San Jose, according to plans filed by Federal Realty Investment Trust, the developer and principal owner of the movie theater site, adjacent properties and the destination mixed-use village of Santana Row across the street.

“The proposed project is the renovation of the existing Century 21 theater,” Federal Realty stated in the proposal. “This project will include a seismic upgrade, new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, interior buildout, addition of skylights and the addition of an interior floor level.”

This is a very preliminary proposal that is being floated with San Jose officials and is a plan that might not necessarily become the actual development endeavor, officials with Federal Realty noted.

The interior of domed former Century 21 movie theater building at 3161 Olsen Drive in San Jose, concept. 

“We are starting a process to obtain approvals to bring the building into a condition where it may be considered for re-use in the future,” a spokesperson for Federal Realty stated in comments emailed to this news organization.

The precise nature of that eventual use for the movie house isn’t known at present, the real estate titan cautioned.

“We have no specific re-use plans for the building at this time,” the Federal Realty spokesperson said.

Still, the real estate firm described some possible future uses for the long-shuttered cinema complex, according to the proposal.

The renovations and upgrades will be conducted in a fashion to create plenty of flexibility for Federal Realty to choose a future role for the old building.

Cutaway view of domed former Century 21 movie theater building at 3161 Olsen Drive in San Jose, concept. 

“The design team will include provisions to accommodate the ability to support office, kitchen, cafeteria, gym and small data center” uses, according to the filing.

The possible scenarios also envision a performing arts center or a restaurant.

“The project will renovate the existing structure and convert it into a three-story space by adding two floors within the dome above the ground floor,” Ryan Joyce Structural Design stated in a description of the project, according to the filing.

Federal Realty envisions a building with a bright, airy and well-lit interior, according to concepts that are included in the proposal.

Interior view of domed former Century 21 movie theater building at 3161 Olsen Drive in San Jose, concept. 

“New skylights, located at the center of the dome, on the perimeter edges of level two, and above the lobby entrance, will provide a significant amount of daylight to the interior,” the proposal stated.

The domed theater was built in 1964 and is near the famed Winchester Mystery House. Over the decades, the one-time cinema palace screened blockbusters such as the original trio of “Star Wars” movies as well as some “Indiana Jones” movies, along with more recent hits such as “Frozen.”

The theater closed its doors in 2014. That same year, the Century 21 movie house was designated a city historic landmark.

Entry area of domed former Century 21 movie theater building at 3161 Olsen Drive in San Jose, concept. 

The domed building is next to a brand-new modern office building known as One Santana West. It’s also next to sites of future office buildings that represent later phases of the Santana West complex. Santana Row is on the other side of South Winchester Boulevard.

At present, the domed building totals 19,000 square feet, consisting primarily of 18,000 square feet on the ground floor and 1,000 square feet on the second floor where the projection booth was located.

The interior reconstruction effort that will produce three floors in the building is slated to total 29,000 to 34,500 square feet, depending on the ultimate configuration of the inside of the structure.

The old movie house structure is expected to be woven into the fabric of the evolving Santana West campus at the corner of Winchester Boulevard and Olsen Drive.

“Federal Realty intends to develop this historic building as part of a 13-acre mixed-use commercial development,” according to the filing.

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