The Dome is the Dome: Appeal filed in effort to save local landmark

Over the weekend, some others with Save the Pleasant Hill Dome and I finalized an appeal of the Pleasant Hill Planning Commission’s March 26, 2013 decision to approve a developer’s proposal to demolish the 46-year-old CineArts Dome Theater in the Crossroads Shopping Center, and replace it with a big box-style chain retail store.

We filed the appeal with the city’s planning department on Monday but SyWest Development received a demolition permit (right) and, technically, could start knocking down the theater before then, public information officer Martin Nelis told Pleasant Hill Patch.

The appeal basically says that SyWest Development’s proposal to replace the Dome Theater with a Dick’s Sporting Goods is inconsistent with the city’s own laws, policies and goals on historical and cultural preservation, promoting the arts and quality of life in Pleasant Hill, providing services for seniors, and creating an economically vibrant

Here is the appeal’s introduction:

As it states in its 2003 General Plan, Pleasant Hill is a vital, progressive, suburban community. The many admirable goals stated in this plan, drafted with the consensus of a citizens’ task force, express a desire to promote an image of a city that offers a high quality of life, nurtures a thriving economy, promotes diverse cultural offerings, supports the arts, cares for its seniors and honors and celebrates its past.
 We of Save the Pleasant Hill Dome believe that the historically rich, culturally vibrant and iconic 46-year-old CineArts Dome Theater satisfies a number of these General Plan goals and policies. 

On the other hand, the proposed SyWest Development to demolish the Dome Theater and replace it with a big box-style retail store is inconsistent with many of these goals, programs, strategies and objectives. A Dick’s Sporting Goods is simply the wrong project for that location. We also raise serious questions about whether the city violated its own General Plan and Municipal Code in its process for determining whether the Dome merits designation as a historical resource. We also show that numerous relevant General Plan goals, policies, and programs, including some with which the project is inconsistent, were not considered as part of the Planning Decision’s March 26, 2013 approval of the project. For these reasons, we contend that the commission’s approval should be overturned. 

As we consider the many ways the Dome enriches the community, as it approaches its half-century mark, we can consider the General Plan’s concept of the Gateway. 

Gateways, the General Plan states, are important to establishing the image of this 8.2-square-mile suburban town. Gateways “give people a sense that they have left one place and come into another,” the Plan reads. 

There is no more visible gateway for Pleasant Hill than the CineArts Dome Theater. The dome rises nearly 50 feet on the eastern side of town, above Interstate 680. It is at the confluence of the two main freeway entrances to Pleasant Hill’s downtown, Contra Costa and Monument boulevards. Pleasant Hill’s other great landmark, the World War I Monument, rises on the left as you enter the city from the south. 

The Dome is the Dome. Among residents of Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities, it has a singular identity, whether they only saw big-blockbuster movies in its 895-seat stadium Theater or they are among the growing number of educated and discerning film-goers and arts lovers who are making Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities their home. 

Like any notable feature of a landscape, such Mount Diablo, the Dome helps people situate themselves in place. You often hear people around Pleasant Hill using the Dome in conversations as a guidepost, or to give directions: “I live in the neighborhood behind the Dome,” “Meet me at the Starbucks at the Dome,” “City Hall is across the freeway from the Dome.” 

We who care about saving the CineArts Dome Theater agree it could use a makeover. Yes, it’s looking a little funky and it’s not quite at the peak of its style, as it was when a champagne gala was held on Feb. 21, 1967, to commemorate its opening, with a screening of the screen epic Dr. Zhivago. But architectural consultants hired by the city say the building possesses physical integrity and merits serious consideration as a local landmark. 

And, it could be a state-of-the-art beauty again – a retro chic Mad Men-esque homage to the aesthetics of an age that was guided by Apollo space travel, the post-World War II suburbanization of the American dream, and the figurative and pop art visions of artists as varied as David Hockney, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. 

Of the goals outlined in the General Plan, the building can satisfy a fair number of them, as we describe in the following document. The Dome could be the answer to several of Pleasant Hill’s concerns about creating a culturally and economically vibrant community. 

Meanwhile, Dick’s Sporting Goods may be a fine addition to the city, but not in that location and not at the cost of the Dome Theater. 

We also have genuine concerns about the number of ways that the SyWest development proposal is inconsistent with the General Plan, and how the process for considering this development and the Dome’s historical value was not carried out in accordance with the city’s Municipal Code. 

We are submitting this appeal not just because we want to save a venue where we can see our favorite foreign movies or documentaries that only show during Academy Award season. We believe Pleasant Hill and its neighbors are losing an incredible opportunity to embrace a true treasure in their midst, a treasure that has long-term cultural and economic value to the community. 

The Dome is a landmark of culture and cool, and it can continue to put Pleasant Hill on the map and make it a destination for people who live and work here, or visit, wanting to enjoy a kind of cinematic and cultural experience they can’t get anywhere else in the East Bay suburbs.  

The full text of the appeal is about 22 pages long, but cites numerous General Plan goals, programs, policies and strategies and city Municipal Code sections that, we believe, were insufficiently considered by city leaders in considering this development proposal.

Among issues we cite: the Planning Commissioners commissioners failed to engage in any thoughtful discussion regarding the city-commissioned architectural study, which concluded that the theater “retains a good degree of physical integrity” and is eligible for consideration as a historical resource.

The architectural study states:

… the Dome theater is associated with an important period of development in Pleasant Hill’s history, and is one of a diminishing number of buildings that serve as visible reminders of that period. With few alterations, the functioning theater is also the best remaining example of the distinctive domed movie theater building type in the East Bay. For these reasons, the Dome Theater at Pleasant Hill appears potentially eligible for local listing. 

6 thoughts on “The Dome is the Dome: Appeal filed in effort to save local landmark

  1. Thank you for doing the research on the General Plan and the time consuming effort of the appeal. Once again you have shown how much the area means to you with your wonderful prose. I hope your arguments don't fall on “tin ears”. Save the Dome is a noble cause!


  2. Martha,
    You give me hope, and you express my own feelings better than I can. I hope the decision makers are reading this– and recognize the truth of your words.


  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you Martha. If I knew you I would mail a huge, fancy but beautiful thank you card that would arrive in your mailbox at home. It would contain the perfect words to tell you how much you and your efforts to push forward in these matters are appreciated by us, the citizens. We don't always know how to communicate with “city hall” about our concerns, it seems overwhelming. But you make it happen. I can't thank you enough.


  4. It's amazing to see how many people like Martha and the other lunatics insist on trying to tell people what they should do with their property, this is clearly an example of Berkeley style politics on steroids.

    If you read unbiased publications such as 'Claycord', their are clearly a lot of people who share the desire to see the Dome crushed into a pile of rubble. We would rather have an asset that benefits the entire community, not something just a few vocal nut cases who can't seem to accept that the DOME will never show movies again and is closed FOREVER.


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