With the veil lifted, theater buffs were some of the first to see inside the renovated Port Theater during the building’s sneak preview Saturday.
The historic Corona del Mar film house hosted filmmaking seminars during the annual Newport Beach Film Festival.
Audience members oohed and aahed as wood-paneled doors opened to the public for the first time since the theater closed in 1998. One of the few remaining single-screen cinemas, the Port was originally built in the 1950s.
The new Port Theater’s mid-century modern interior has angular and minimalist décor, giving the space a clean, breezy feel. Playing on the theater’s nautical theme, port holes connect the concession stand to the auditorium.
“It feels young and hip,” said Film Festival volunteer Rand Collis, 27, who was blocking people from entering the lobby after an afternoon seminar reached capacity.
The concrete building, at 2905 East Coast Hwy., blends into the staid street scene, while inside the glass, stone and wood converge in cool tones. Flat-screen TVs line the walls.
Inside the auditorium, purple retro rectangles are mounted on tall walls. For Saturday’s screenwriting seminar, 70 stand-alone brown leather seats were spaced generously in rows, with traditional movie theater seats lining the back wall.
The seating can be transformed into tables and bar stools for a more social atmosphere. There’s also has balcony, which has a full bar, but it was off-limits for the 1 p.m. discussion.
“I like the modern feel,” said screenwriter Elliot Feld, 25, one of the panelists. “It’s really cool and intimate.”
The lobby and the theater have uncovered concrete floors. But don’t mistake that for frugality; condiment counters are made of marble.
A company representative, who asked not to be named, said that they “spared no expense.”
Generating an air of mystery, Port Theater executives have kept silent during the years-long restoration. They confounded Corona del Mar residents, who wondered what was taking so long.
“We’re not intending to be secretive,” the representative said. “We want everything to be perfect.”
Theater executives hope to have a grand opening in coming months and wanted to accommodate the Film Festival, which seeks to be a long-term partner.