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A beloved Bay Area holiday tradition won’t go on this year

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The 97-year-old Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, which made a triumphant return in July after a two-year-long closure, announced it is shuttering again for ongoing renovations and won’t reopen until early 2023. 

That means their annual Christmas Eve screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life” – a longtime holiday tradition in the Bay Area that regularly sold out – will no longer go on as planned. It would have been the first chance for audiences to see the film at the storied venue in three years. 

“I just received word that sadly we will not be presenting It’s a Wonderful Life this year,” read a statement shared by the theater on Facebook. “We still have no heat, and hope to have a new heating system in place in 2023 (as well as other structural improvements to the theatre). I’m so sorry I couldn’t bring happier news.”

Theater manager Cyndi Mortensen told SFGATE the film had been a Christmas Eve tradition since 1989, though it was never formally scheduled this year because of construction plans. 

“In a large space with very high ceilings (we seat 1175 people), having no heat in December’s very cold temperatures made the decision for us to remain closed,” Mortensen said in an email. “Upgrading the theatre’s HVAC system (includes boiler and air conditioner replacement, among other things) has taken much longer than expected. Getting the heavy equipment has added months to our schedule.  We hope to have heat and be up and running again by March. There may still be issues with the air conditioning unit, but our concern at this time is to have heat for our late winter/spring schedule.” 

Hundreds lined up for the return of the storied Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto when it reopened in July. This photo of the historic movie palace was taken in 2019. 

Ariel J./Yelp

The news comes during the 75-year-anniversary of Frank Capra’s film starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, which is about to get a special re-release at over a thousand theaters across the U.S. as part of a collaborative effort between Turner Classic Movies, Paramount Pictures and Fathom Events. Beginning Sunday, it will be shown at Century and AMC theaters in San Francisco, Daly City, Walnut Creek, Redwood City and Pleasant Hill.   

But for many, it’s just not the same as seeing it at the Stanford Theatre.

The historic movie house has been lauded as a rare, inflation-defying gem, with $7 movie tickets for adults and $2.50 bags of popcorn. It’s also one of the few theaters left in the area that preserves the classic moviegoing experience, showing every film on 35mm with live organ music preceding each screening.  

When it reopened in July after undergoing a seismic retrofit and upgrading to a new ventilation system, hundreds of people waited in lines that snaked around the block for a double feature of the classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical comedies “Top Hat” and “The Gay Divorcee.”

Mortensen wants to assure audiences that the theater isn’t going anywhere.

“We are not changing what we do. Classic movies with nightly organ concerts in a beautiful restored movie palace has been our mission since 1989, and we have no plans to change,” she told SFGATE. “The only change we are making is to upgrade our heating, cooling and ventilation systems to ensure the Stanford Theatre is a comfortable and safe place to enjoy classic movies.”

For more information and updates, visit the Stanford Theatre’s website.




The 97-year-old Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, which made a triumphant return in July after a two-year-long closure, announced it is shuttering again for ongoing renovations and won’t reopen until early 2023. 

That means their annual Christmas Eve screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life” – a longtime holiday tradition in the Bay Area that regularly sold out – will no longer go on as planned. It would have been the first chance for audiences to see the film at the storied venue in three years. 

“I just received word that sadly we will not be presenting It’s a Wonderful Life this year,” read a statement shared by the theater on Facebook. “We still have no heat, and hope to have a new heating system in place in 2023 (as well as other structural improvements to the theatre). I’m so sorry I couldn’t bring happier news.”

Theater manager Cyndi Mortensen told SFGATE the film had been a Christmas Eve tradition since 1989, though it was never formally scheduled this year because of construction plans. 

“In a large space with very high ceilings (we seat 1175 people), having no heat in December’s very cold temperatures made the decision for us to remain closed,” Mortensen said in an email. “Upgrading the theatre’s HVAC system (includes boiler and air conditioner replacement, among other things) has taken much longer than expected. Getting the heavy equipment has added months to our schedule.  We hope to have heat and be up and running again by March. There may still be issues with the air conditioning unit, but our concern at this time is to have heat for our late winter/spring schedule.” 

Hundreds lined up for the return of the storied Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto when it reopened in July. This photo of the historic movie palace was taken in 2019. 

Hundreds lined up for the return of the storied Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto when it reopened in July. This photo of the historic movie palace was taken in 2019. 

Ariel J./Yelp

The news comes during the 75-year-anniversary of Frank Capra’s film starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, which is about to get a special re-release at over a thousand theaters across the U.S. as part of a collaborative effort between Turner Classic Movies, Paramount Pictures and Fathom Events. Beginning Sunday, it will be shown at Century and AMC theaters in San Francisco, Daly City, Walnut Creek, Redwood City and Pleasant Hill.   

But for many, it’s just not the same as seeing it at the Stanford Theatre.

The historic movie house has been lauded as a rare, inflation-defying gem, with $7 movie tickets for adults and $2.50 bags of popcorn. It’s also one of the few theaters left in the area that preserves the classic moviegoing experience, showing every film on 35mm with live organ music preceding each screening.  

When it reopened in July after undergoing a seismic retrofit and upgrading to a new ventilation system, hundreds of people waited in lines that snaked around the block for a double feature of the classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical comedies “Top Hat” and “The Gay Divorcee.”

Mortensen wants to assure audiences that the theater isn’t going anywhere.

“We are not changing what we do. Classic movies with nightly organ concerts in a beautiful restored movie palace has been our mission since 1989, and we have no plans to change,” she told SFGATE. “The only change we are making is to upgrade our heating, cooling and ventilation systems to ensure the Stanford Theatre is a comfortable and safe place to enjoy classic movies.”

For more information and updates, visit the Stanford Theatre’s website.



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