The only movie theater between Santa Rosa and Ukiah, located in a classic cinema dating from 1950, has gone dark. The Clover Theater, located on East First Street in downtown Cloverdale, ceased showing films in mid-October, as owner Ryan Hecht announced in an email to the theater’s owners and fans.
He said that poor attendance “put the nail in the coffin” of the theater’s operating capital.
In a follow-up email to the Tribune, Hecht wrote, “The Clover Theater was operated for 10 years with the utmost love and care, personal pride, and integrity. I ran the theater to the best of my ability given the resources available to me in Cloverdale, a global pandemic that shuttered the business for more than 18 months, and a shifting film industry.”
The theater, which was split into three screening rooms after Hecht purchased and remodeled it, features an old-fashioned move marquee above First Street, offering Cloverdale a sense of small-town America.
Cloverdale is the northernmost city in Sonoma County, but its population of around 10,000 was evidently not enough to support the traditional experience of going to the movies.
Since the introduction of cable TV and streaming channels, the habits of film-lovers have shifted to the at-home experience, with visits to neighborhood cinemas sharply reduced. The trend was exacerbated with the COVID pandemic, which temporarily closed almost every theater in the county.
The Clover closed during the pandemic in March, 2020, but reopened 18 months later, in October 2021. Healdsburg’s Raven Film Center also closed during the pandemic, but never reopened, announcing the Santa Rosa Entertainment Group’s departure from Healdsburg in September 2020.
The multi-screen Reading Cinema, in Rohnert Park, also closed for good just over a week ago, on Nov. 1. The 16-screen complex also closed for a year during the pandemic, but reopened in March 2021 with social distancing protocols.
“The closures of The Clover Theater and Rohnert Park Cinemas are a heartbreaking reality check for all who love movies,” said Kathryn Hecht in an email. “Both locations represent a former generation of cinema. These theaters were built decades ago to accommodate patrons of that time. Today, they are too big for contemporary audiences, too single-minded in their purpose, and their amenities are outdated. We mourn for them out of nostalgia, but the past does not serve us except as a reminder of what’s essential for the future.”
Ryan and Kathryn Hecht have been credited as the co-founders of the current iteration of the theater, which they began working on after they left New York and moved to California. According to a contemporary article in the Healdsburg Tribune, the idea to resurrect the theater was born when Ryan Hect was “Googling movie theaters for sale,” saw the theater and was attracted by its mid-century marquee.
“The duo had to pony up nearly $240,000 to upgrade the theater’s projectors, a project that culminated with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $60,000 in five days,” according to the article.
But Kathryn Hecht, the director of AVFilm, which had its origins in Cloverdale, emphasized that she is not an owner of the theater. “The Clover Theater was his business. I have never had any ownership of The Clover Theater,” she said recently.
AVFilm, meanwhile, is currently fundraising for its own multi-screen theater in Healdsburg, to be called the Plaza Film Center. It is nearing its goal of $2 million to construct three small screening rooms at 375 Healdsburg Ave.
Formerly known as the Alexander Valley Film Festival, the organization held several special events at The Clover, including Oscar Night screenings and film festival programming. But its focus is now on fundraising for the small cinema complex and its nonprofit “school” located upstairs at the same address.
“The suite above the theater will be developed as educational studios for the immediate use of young people throughout the county to gather, study and practice their skills in telling their own personal stories,” said Kathryn Hecht.
The filmgoing public expressed disappointment at the announcement of the theater closure, and not only at the loss of a place to go see a movie. Some people on social media voiced their dissatisfaction with the sudden shuttering of a theater that was assisted in its remodel by a public fundraising effort.
However, Laura Paine Carr, a board member of the Cloverdale Arts Alliance, said, “I’ve heard only heartbreak and disappointment. Much respect for the owners and all the events and creativity they brought to the community.”
“While I’m sad it’s over, I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish over the last 10 years,” Ryan Hecht said in a recent statement. “We showed a lot of movies, popped a lot of popcorn and hopefully gave people some really fun times.”