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Martinez’s first movie theater undergoes reconstruction

The inside of 714, 716 and 718 Main Street as it undergoes reconstruction. The arches on the building’s eastern-most wall (seen at left) are part of the original construction and will be utilized in the remodel. (E. CLARK / Martinez Tribune)
The inside of 714, 716 and 718 Main Street as it undergoes reconstruction. The arches on the building’s eastern-most wall (seen at left) are part of the original construction and will be utilized in the remodel. (E. CLARK / Martinez Tribune)

MARTINEZ, Calif. – The building that once housed Martinez’s first movie theater is now under construction and will be reborn this fall as retail and residential space.

The Martinez Tribune recently caught up with the new owner of 714-718 Main Street, Brandon Varise, who told us of his plans for the location.

“I’ll be moving my company down here. We sell GPS (global positioning system) devices – marine, aviation, trail fitness, health and wellness-type devices – and we’ll be in one of the spaces. Two will be leased out, and we’re looking at three liveables up above,” Varise said. “There’s a lot of room in there, but it’s going to be pretty packed in, in terms of getting the most bang for our buck here.”

Varise said he acquired the Main Street building after a bid to relocate his business to a rental unit failed to go through.

“I wanted to lease the (Castro Street) Post Office building. They showed it to me, I made a good offer, they liked my offer. I offered them a secure contract, but they said, ‘No, we don’t want retail here. We want a wine bar or something along those lines.’ They let me get that far with them. So I was like, no one’s going to tell me no!” Varise said with a laugh. “I’m gonna go find something and I’ll go buy it and move my company there.”

He found the Main Street location and was able to purchase it “at a good price” from the Casale family. He’ll move his business, GPS Nation that’s currently located in Alhambra Plaza, as early as November, if construction plans stay on target.

“My current lease runs out in January, so I want to at least have my area ready to go,” Varise said.

Varise, a longtime Martinez resident, was aware of the building’s history as a movie theater, but only vaguely.

“The arches mean something in regard to the design of it. Those were there,” Varise said, pointing to several exposed brick arches in the eastern-most wall of the building. “After that, it was a lighting shop. They had leased some of the space, but it’s been several other iterations over the years.”

The building was constructed alongside others on its block after a devastating fire in 1904 took most of the structures within a two-block area. It opened as the Novelty Theatre around 1910, and was used as a movie house until around 1929. While it’s been noted in the City’s Historical Resource Inventory as a building with both architectural and historical merit, it’s never been entered into any official registries as such, and has been remodeled several times throughout its history.

As reconstruction began, Varise said contractors found a decorative sign on the building’s facade that turned out to be a historic storefront signed by its artist.

“We thought (the sign) was on glass and we thought we were going to have trouble getting it out, but it was actually on some type of board material. The family of the man who painted it came down and we gave it to them,” Varise said. “That was kind of a cool thing, because we had no idea it was under there.”

Varise said the building’s reconstruction has stirred more than just historical interest. As many as 12 prospective renters have already approached him about leasing the available space, some with already-established businesses, and some with big dreams.

He said the best case scenario would see the space available for rent in November, with the worst-case scenario being December or January. Either way, the recent activity in the long-vacant building appears to be a positive sign for the downtown.

“I love Martinez and my business is in Martinez,” Varise said. “I’ve always wanted to come down here.”

3 comments

  1. Nice story but the name is Kassels if I not mistaken.

  2. kristin henderson

    i have the “goods” on this building somewhere…remind me someday to pull it out.

  3. What a great story, and how awesome that Brandon gave the sign to the family of the artist! I hope this project helps revitalize the downtown and draws in some great retail tenants.

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