After 90 years as a haven for movie buffs on Catalina Island, the Avalon Theatre in the Catalina Casino is ending its run as a traditional film venue.
The theater won’t be permanently closing its doors, but the Catalina Island Company announced the venue, located on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, is moving from a first-run theater into a repertory showcase.
“It’s just not a sustainable movie theater,” Catalina Casino CEO Randy Herrel told Variety. “Attendance is upside-down. It’s only gotten worse.”
In a town of 4,000 residents, it became increasingly difficult to routinely fill the theater of some 1,184 seats. Over the past year, Avalon Theatre found that 85% of movies shown had just 42 people in attendance per night.
Sparse attendance is not for lack of investment. In the last five years, the Catalina Island Company gave the theater a makeover, installed a new sound system and screen, and repaired the 43-foot high dome ceiling to enhance the moviegoing experience for its patrons. Avalon also started offering a wider range of dining and beverage options like pizza, hot dogs, and a bar in addition to traditional movie snacks. But Herrell points to the rise in streaming services for the direct decline in ticket sales.
“With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and now Disney coming out with a streaming service, a lot of locals are enjoying movies that way,” he said.
Avalon Theatre is considered a beloved landmark among patrons, who came to appreciate its Art Deco-style interior, elaborate murals and starry domed ceiling. The venue was sound insulated, so moviegoers weren’t disrupted by the noise from the ballroom located above the theater.
News of the recent closure prompted locals to rally behind a Change.org petition, urging Santa Catalina Island Company and city officials to keep the theater open. As of Tuesday morning, the petition has over 6,400 signatures.
“Though its historic significance is alone enough to justify its preservation, it is not the only — or even the most important — reason that we must save this theatre,” the petition says. “The picturesque, jewel-box town of Avalon on Catalina Island is not just a pretty postcard or a curated vision for visitors. Avalon is a real community made up of real people, working hard and raising their families in a small American town. Generations upon generations of Avalon locals have grown up going to the movies here and this planned closure has broken our hearts.”
Herrell says the theater isn’t shuttering for good and will still be a daily stop on tours through the Casino. The proprietors still plan to keep it open for special events like silent movie screenings and the annual Catalina Film Festival.
“We’re all about history while adapting our history to current times,” Herrell says, somberly adding, “Maybe the streaming services will go away, and people will quit watching in their homes and will come back to theaters. We hope that trend turns around.”