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By Shawn Raymundo
Efforts to restore San Clemente’s historic Miramar Theatre and Bowling Center by turning them into an event center is well underway, as fencing has been placed around the site while crews are working to remove hazardous materials from the facilities.
When the project is completed, the event center will be “a community attraction” for the city’s North Beach corridor, as well as a “culinary experience” for San Clemente residents and visitors, said Daniel Conrardy, the head of the architecture firm behind the project.
“Whether it’s the residents or people touring San Clemente, coming by train or by car, we want them to come to the North Beach area to create a great experience with these venues,” Conrardy said during a walking tour of North Beach on Friday, Feb. 28.
Dozens of community members attended the walking tour led by city officials and the San Clemente Historical Society. The tour highlighted the area’s historic structures, including the Miramar, bowling alley, Casino San Clemente and Ole Hanson Beach Club.
Conrardy presented the details of the restoration project outside the Miramar, explaining that the public couldn’t go inside because several areas contained lead-based paint, asbestos and mold. He added that remediation of the structures is taking place.
The two properties had been idle for several years before this past December, when San Diego restaurateur James Markham purchased the buildings for nearly $8 million, breathing new life into the project.
Based on the entitlements for the 61-acre property that city and state officials approved in 2017, the theater will be rehabilitated into a performance and event venue, while the bowling alley will be converted into a food court, with a new basement and outdoor courtyard for dining.
“We figured it would be better to have a food hall that can provide various types of food so you can come here two days a week, maybe three days a week if you decide so,” Conrardy said. “But also it supports the beach itself, it supports the other buildings, and that was our goal.”
As for the Miramar, Conrardy said he and his team didn’t think of it as just a theater, and instead asked themselves what they can do to serve the community and help the neighboring Casino, a historic dance hall and wedding venue.
“That’s why we called it an event center,” he said, later noting that it will be able to host weddings, dances and dinners. “When we talked to people in the community, the North Beach business community said, ‘We really need something that can help support what is being done at the Casino to help take on the load.’ ”
The Miramar was first opened in 1938 as the San Clemente Theatre. The Bowling Center was later opened next to the theatre in 1946. Conrardy noted that site became the hub for North Beach visitors.
“We still want to embrace people coming here,” Conrardy said, explaining that his team has been studying historic photographs of Miramar and will be restoring the building to its original state.
The original theater would accommodate 790 seats, but when restored, it will provide seating for about 460 people, according to Conrardy.
“So 460 people is still a large enough venue that we can do for the maximum volume of people in this area, and that way we can have comfortable seating if it is a theater or a play or a production or a dinner theater,” he said.
And to help celebrate some of the city’s historic aspects, the basement of the food hall will include a speakeasy, with a similar concept as The Blind Rabbit inside the Anaheim Packing District.
The local speakeasy, Conrardy said, will feature unique drinks, a nostalgic feel of the Roaring ’20s, and old photographs of San Clemente, making it a “historian gathering area for the city.”
Though parking availability could be a potential issue among residents, Jonathan Lightfoot, the city’s associate planner who led Friday’s walking tour, explained that there are currently no plans to create new parking stalls.
According to Lightfoot, there are just more than 500 parking stalls available at North Beach. At its peak, he said, the busiest the parking lot there ever gets is 50% of capacity. As a condition of entitlements for the event center project, the city is on the hook for building out additional parking when the lot gets to 90% capacity.
“Right now, there’s a good amount of capacity. Obviously, that can change when new business comes in,” Lightfoot said. “Once that 50% climbs up to 90%, then the city will be installing additional parking.”
Lightfoot said that city staff has looked at property the city owns, such as the dirt lot next to OC Fresca and space on the other side of El Camino Real. Both properties, he added, can be converted into parking lots.
“Based on our demand for parking for these use-types, all of that should be accommodated by the existing parking,” Lightfoot said. “If it’s not, then that triggers us to build more parking. But the assumption is that based on the uses that are here . . . that should be able to contain it.”
The city hosted the walking tour as part of its plan to nominate North Beach as a Historic District under the National Register of Historic Places.
Lightfoot has previously stated that the city is looking to have the supporting documents completed and ready to submit to the California Office of Historic Preservation, which can then forward the North Beach Historic District nomination to the National Register, by about August or September.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.