Opinion: A Peek Inside the New Port Theater

The mystery behind the new Port Theater in Corona del Mar was finally revealed over the weekend, when its doors opened to a limited number of guests who enjoyed a filmmaker seminar as part of theĀ Newport Beach Film Festival.

I had been dying to see the unveiling of this iconic theater, probably more than anyone else because I grew up on Carnation and Marguerite avenues and the Port is perfectly sandwiched between the two streets. My grandma and I walked to the Port and watched foreign films after my school days at Harbor View Elementary. Yes, they mostly screened foreign films, but they were good films nonetheless and a bag of popcorn made up for the hard to read subtitles.

On Saturday the Port Theater showed off its fairytale makeover complete with a clean, modern interior with a friendly staff and a cool, local vibe. Before the seminar, Gregg Schwenk, CEO of the Newport Beach Film Festival, spoke to the audience and said he was impressed by the theater’s transformation.

“Thirteen years ago when we were all wondering what was going to become of the Port Theater,” Schwenk said. “Here we are now and this far exceeds anything we could have imagined.”

Although the Newport Beach Film Festival had teamed up with the Port for the week of the Festival to offer free programming at the theater, it was not hard to see that the big star that everyone was whispering about was the new Port Theater.

“The community has been waiting a long time to see what’s going to happen to the Port Theater,” Councilman Keith Curry said. “I think it looks great. I think they did a wonderful job and it’s going to be a great community asset. We should be very proud of it because it’s going to be a new gathering place for the community.”

A gathering place indeed. The lobby was filled Saturday with locals, filmmakers and media for nearly an hour before the doors opened for the seminar. No photography was allowed inside the theater, but I will tell you that even the Real Housewives of Orange County would be jealous of this facelift.

The lobby featured cement floors, a concession stand with beautiful marble countertops that served colorful pastries, fresh lemonade and fancy coffee drinks. I couldn’t pass up a lemonade, especially after the nice lady behind the counter announced that everything is half off for all the guests in the lobby.

Moments after I was sipping my lemonade the nice lady behind the counter announced that I was their first paying customer and the owner wanted to award me a gift. The owner, Fariborz Maseeh, said “Thank you” for being his first customer, took my picture, and said that I would be able to have half off everything for the first three months of opening. So this is what winning the lottery feels like!

The rest of the lobby features two flat screen televisions showing the Food Network, modern dinette seating, and mid-century modern type wood paneling behind the concession counter with stainless steel port holes. The bathrooms were styled with the same wood paneling and with modern chrome fixtures and sinks. The two water fountains outside the restrooms feature a backdrop of silver beads like the fringe from a Flapper girl’s dress. .

The actual theater featured main floor seating and a balcony, not currently open to the public, but will feature a full bar. There were seats for 70 people in brown leather rounded chairs that spread across the entire floor of the theater. The seating was very much like a classic supper club. The walls were filled with magenta squares that were nostalgic of a 60s hip Palm Springs house. There was still work that needed to be done inside the theater, but it was at least evident that the new Port theater was real and not a dream.

The new Port Theater will be closed until its grand opening which is scheduled for mid-summer. Plans for what type of programming have not been released yet, but whatever the plans are, this is a nice welcome back to an iconic piece of Corona del Mar history.