STOCKTON, Calif. — A piece of Stockton's history, the Empire Theatre, is set to be completely demolished, marking the end of an era for the once iconic landmark. The decision, as reported by Angelaydet Rocha of The Stockton Record, comes after the realization that the deterioration and damage to the building were more extensive than initially thought.
Allen Sawyer, co-owner of the former Empire Theatre, initially believed that half of the building could be salvaged. However, this plan changed when demolition began. “Once we demolished 50% of the building, we had a lot more access to the mechanicals, the plumbing, the structure of the remaining building,” Sawyer explained. “It became really clear that there was a lot more deterioration and damage to the remaining part of the building than we felt was acceptable to try to keep.”
The north half of the theater was the first to be torn down, with efforts quickly shifting to demolish the rest of the building. The decision was driven by concerns over public safety, structural integrity, and the building becoming a nuisance to the neighborhood, particularly with issues related to the unhoused population.
The Empire Theatre, which opened in 1945 and had been vacant since June 2017, had a history of fires that contributed to its current state. In 2021, a five-alarm fire significantly damaged part of the building, leading to the demolition of its west wall. Earlier, in 2018, the lobby and auditorium were burned in a two-alarm fire.
Despite the theater's full demolition, Sawyer’s vision for the site remains focused on a mixed-use design. “It's going to be 100% decided that there will be a major retail restaurant component on the main floor,” he said, adding that parking and housing are also being considered. Demolition is expected to be completed within the next 30 days, with proposals to be submitted to the city after the holidays.
This development is a significant change for the Miracle Mile, with the community eager to see the revitalization of this historic spot. “Everybody's looking to bring that back, and they know the only way to do that is to revitalize that property,” Sawyer noted.
This article is based on Angelaydet Rocha's report for The Stockton Record on the full demolition of the historic Stockton Empire Theatre.