LONG BEACH — The embattled Lakewood Theater has been quietly turned over to new managers and was expected to begin showing family-oriented movies this weekend instead of its usual fare of sex films.
The new operator of the twin-screen cinema intends to feature motion pictures such as "Beetlejuice," which is rated PG.
But whether the change will become permanent depends largely on a lawsuit heading for the California Supreme Court, owner Jim Johnson said last week.
For 11 years, the City of Long Beach has been waging a legal battle to force the theater to stop showing X-rated movies, in part because of complaints from surrounding residents.
The state's high court recently agreed to hear the suit, which is based on a 1977 city ordinance that makes it unlawful to operate an adult entertainment business within 500 feet of any residence or within 1,000 feet of a school, park, playground, public building or church.
Last Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council toughened its position by fashioning a similar law to apply to businesses in place even before the 1977 ordinance was passed. The new law will eventually affect 11 other adult entertainment businesses.
In the Long Beach suit, a state Court of Appeal had ruled that the city's 1977 ordinance applies only to theaters that show "a preponderance" of X-rated movies.
The Lakewood Theater adjusted to the ruling by offering tamer R-rated films on one screen and more explicit X-rated films on the other. The city then appealed to the Supreme Court, asking that it clarify the meaning of preponderance --did it refer to the size of theaters, the amount of time that X-rated movies are shown or some other aspect?
Whether the theater, now called Lakewood Twin Cinemas, reverts to pornographic films will depend on the court's decision and whether the new operator makes money, said owner Johnson, president of Walnut Property Inc.
"I have not given up this case," Johnson said. "The case does not end because I leased out the theater." He called the Long Beach law, and a similar one in Los Angeles, "unconstitutional."
The theater, near the intersection of Carson Street and Lakewood Boulevard, has not been showing X-rated movies since earlier this year when Long Beach got a preliminary injunction pending the Supreme Court decision, according to Arthur Honda, the senior deputy city attorney. Until last week, both screens were playing R-rated movies, Johnson said.
Showing 'Good Movies'
For now, the "family entertainment" theater near the Lakewood Village residential area and Long Beach City College will show "some good movies," such as PG-rated "Big Business," said Gina Schapp, the cinema's assistant manager.
Mary Soth, president of Citizens Against Pornographic Movies at the Lakewood Theater, said, "We're very much excited and felt it was long overdue after all of the rotten films shown there."
Meanwhile, owners of the 11 other businesses affected by the new city law, which gives them two years to move, have told city officials that they are considering their options.
If the businesses--mostly adult motels and bookstores--meet certain criteria, they can request extensions that could give them up to five years to relocate.
A manager at the only other adult theater on the list, the Grand Prix Theater on Artesia Boulevard, said that closing down the theater won't make much of a difference in the neighborhood.
The owner "keeps the place up nice," said the manager, who did not want to give her name. "There's a lot more going on outside this theater than what goes on in here."