Monday, September 12, 2016

Phil reminisces and says goodbye to the Camera 12 Cinemas Downtown San Jose - September 8, 2016

Having been born and raised in San Jose, over the years I have watched the South Bay transform into the Silicon Valley. During this time, I also watched Downtown San Jose change as well. But for the past 12 years, I would frequent the Camera 12 Cinemas, one of my favorite movie theaters in town. I saw a plethora of films from all genres here. It was also the home for the Cinequest Film Festival, the then called San Francisco Asian American Film Festival (now CAAMFest at the Camera 3), the Camera Cinema Club, the Midnight Movie series which I hosted, special advance screenings and so forth. It was my home away from home. When I moved to the Sacramento area about a year ago, I thought that I'd come back to visit one day and see a movie there. However, I read the terrible news on Facebook this morning: The Camera 12 Cinemas was closing on September 9, 2016.

I visited the Camera Cinemas' website, looking for more information about the closing. Here is what Jack NyBlom, co-founder of the Camera Cinemas, wrote on the website:

"A message to our Camera 12 family,

It is with much sadness that, in spite of our best efforts, we cannot keep Camera 12 open any longer. A decade’s loss of revenue from a promised growing downtown residential market, that’s just now coming online, coupled with the staggering costs of maintaining a large, aging, poorly designed building has led us to this decision to close.

This closure does not affect our thriving Camera 3 and Camera 7 cineplexes.

I’m proud to say that Camera Cinemas is one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in the downtown. In 1975, my partners, fellow San Jose State University students and incurable film buffs Jim Zuur and Dennis Skaggs, and I rehabbed a former South First Street shoe store and turned it into Camera One. We were tired of driving to Berkeley or San Francisco for art, foreign and independent films. A few years later, we opened Camera 3 in downtown San Jose. In 1989, nationally renowned Cinequest Film Festival debuted at Camera 3 and grew into Camera 12 over the years.

In 2004, Camera Cinemas reopened the failed United Artists 8-screen cineplex at Paseo de San Antonio as Camera 12 Cinemas, finally bringing first-run movies on a regular basis to downtown for the first time in 40 years. It’s estimated we’ve drawn an estimated 20 million moviegoers to downtown San Jose, contributing more than $200,000,000 to its economy.

On behalf of my partners and investors, I wish to thank our staff for their dedicated service, and the community leaders and tens of thousands of patrons who’ve kept the Cameras rolling for so many years.

To customers holding Camera Cinemas gift and discount cards they will be honored at Camera 3 and Camera 7.

In time, I’m confident that downtown San Jose will be home to a new cinema experience. Thank you for your understanding and support.

Jack NyBlom" 

I can't explain to you all just how devastating this news means to not only me, but to those who work there, the patrons who've been coming there for years, the film festivals and events, this changes the downtown landscape drastically. The Camera 12 Cinemas was a place that people would gather to see extraordinary films, commerce with friends, meet local and independent filmmakers and just celebrate life through art. 

It is now Monday, September 12, 2016 and the Camera 12 is now closed forever. If I was still living in San Jose, I would've left work early on that Friday, went to the first mantine show and stayed till the very last frame of film went through their projector. Then I would've made sure I was the last patrons there, walked around the theater, taken a few pictures of the place, said goodbye to the people working there, and then stood out front and waited till they turned off the lights. I didn't do that though, but over the years I've done just that. Plus I was smart enough to take a plethora of pictures of the theater and all the festivals I attended. Below are some of my favorite pictures I took.

The Camera 12 Cinemas (2012)
Upstairs lobby during the Cinequest 22 Film Festival (2012)
My friend Nate at the 27th Annual SFIAFF (2009)
The Camera 12 Box Office for Cinequest 22 (2012)
The cast of ETERNITY: THE MOVIE at Cinequest 24 (2014)
The upstairs lobby during Cinequest 23 (2013)
The Camera 12 Cinemas Marquee (2012)
It's sad to think that the landscape of Downtown San Jose will never look the same. The Camera 12 will forever hold a special place in my heart, as well as everybody else who paid for a ticket to see some of the greatest films ever screened there. However, like NyBlom said, there's still the Camera 3 on the corner of San Carlos and 2nd Street and the Camera 7 in the Pruneyard Campbell (visit their website at But the Camera 12 leaves a big hole in the downtown area. Maybe someday it will re-open again, and if it does, I'll definitely be back for that. But right now I just want to say thank you for the memories, for all the fun times, for all the friends I made there, and last but not least, thanks for all the wonderful movies that I got to see. Goodbye my old friend!! 

Thanks for reading, and long live the Camera 12 Cinemas!!