Future of El Sereno’s Mazatlan Theatre Uncertain

Campaign to ‘save’ the commercial property fails; foreclosure on the horizon.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Update:  Iris De Anda has confirmed that the Mazatlan Theatre foreclosure will proceed.

Last month, Iris De Anda launched a campaign on Indeigogo, an international fundraising website, and asked for help to bring the family’s mortgage payments on the Mazatlan Theatre in El Sereno up to date.

But the campaign failed, and De Anda now says the property could soon be foreclosed on and put up for auction, perhaps as early as next week.

Lea esta nota en ESPAÑOL: El Futuro del Teatro Mazatlán Esta Incierto

“This historical landmark building is on the verge of being auctioned to developers that may tear it down,” De Anda wrote in her plea for online donations.

While De Anda doesn’t know for sure that there is a developer out there waiting to tear down the one-time theater, she says it’s a fear that hangs over her family, which bought the building in 1982 when she was three-years-old.

De Anda and her siblings grew up helping to run the family’s business, which has included hundreds of quinceañeras, weddings and birthday parties held at the site, converted years ago into a banquet hall.

The Mazatlan Theatre in El Sereno (pictured) is facing foreclosure, according to the daughter of the property owner. The former movie theater turned banquet hall could be auctioned off early next week. EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

Her father, Jose De Anda, owns the Mazatlan Theatre proprerty. His other business, De Anda Construction Co., is housed there as well. My father does not wish to comment on the situation, Jose’s daughter Iris told EGP.

She blames the bad economy for her family being $50,000 behind on their mortage payments. And while they had already scraped together $25,000, putting together the other half has so far eluded them, she said.

The Indeigogo campaign raised a little over $1,100, about 4 percent of what they need, De Anda told EGP on Monday.

“If the foreclosure goes through, I will refund the [donor’s] money,” De Anda told EGP. “It’s a humbling, vulnerable place to be and a learning experience. I don’t regret it,” she said.

The property could be auctioned off as soon as July 17, according to De Anda, who explained that the lender has already granted them one extension. The original auction date was in June, she said.

With her family’s privacy in mind, De Anda declined to provide information on the private lender that may foreclose on the commercial property. She also declined to say how much it would take to pay off the mortgage in its entirety, but did say, “It is worth more than we owe.”

Responses on the web have been supportive but also less than kind, De Anda said.

“Some people feel it’s been a blight to the community…‘We are all having hard times, why are you so special, why should we help you?’” are some of the comments De Anda says she has heard. “My response is: ‘if it does speak to you and you can dream, you are more than welcome to help.’”

She said the banquet hall business has fallen on hard times because the poor economy is pushing people to change how they celebrate their special occasions. At the same time, her father’s construction company has also seen a big drop in business, she said.

If De Anda had her way, she would try to repurpose the Mazatlan Theatre for use as a community space, like the Eastside Café collective in El Sereno or el Corazon del Pueblo in Boyle Heights. The Eastside Café collective supports this vision, according to Angela Flores, one of several of the café’s co-founders. Flores called Iris a friend and fellow activist.

De Anda believes the “landmark” building will be slated for development if auctioned off, and transformed into something ordinary, just like the other one-time theaters on Huntington Drive that are now discount stores.

It’s unclear, however, whether the Mazatlan Theatre building is actually deserving of the “historical” or  “landmark” designation. While the theater was built in the 1940s, it does not currently fall under any historical preservation protection guidelines, nor has it been designated a historical landmark, according to the nonprofit Los Angeles Conservancy, which keeps track of such things.

In the meantime, the De Anda family is continuing to rent out the Mazatlan Theatre for special events and concerts, even though the venue’s future remains uncertain.

Councilmember Jose Huizar’s office has met with De Anda and put her in touch with the Valley Economic Development Center, which helps small businesses, as well as historic preservationists, according to Huizar spokesperson, Rick Coca.

De Anda hasn’t ruled out taking a loan to keep the doors open, but admits she has little faith in the banking industry.

Lifelong El Sereno resident Mario Polendo, 51, hasn’t been a fan of the building’s use as a rental hall for parties. He can still remember when the Mazatlan Theatre was used as an American Legion Post during the 1960s. Today, he would like to see the building used for the community’s benefit, as a Boys & Girls Club or a place to offer drug and alcohol recovery support meetings.

But 45-year-old Hilda Fernandez, who has lived in El Sereno for 23 years, disagrees, and says there is not a need for another place providing community services. She said Barrio Action Youth and Family Center, located just down the street on Huntington Drive, already offers a lot of community programming and resources. Fernandez would rather see the Mazatlan Theatre used as a movie theatre once again.

Late Tuesday, De Anda told EGP by email that she is continuing to talk to the lender and hopes they will be able to come to an agreement that will allow them to keep ownership of the property.

“I’m taking it one day at a time step by step.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated the name of the construction company wass Ramirez Construction.

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July 12, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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