A marquee event: Oceanside’s Star Theatre Company celebrates restored landmark sign

The Stare Theatre’s restored marquee is lit July 3 in Oceanside. (Photo by Troy Orem)

Susan Whaley

An oldie but goodie, the historic neon marquee of Oceanside’s Star Theatre lit up again on July 3.

The day before Fourth of July, the $110,000 newly restored marquee illuminated Coast Highway surrounded by a crowd of friends and family of the theater community. Some passersby even stopped to join the party on the sidewalk outside the theater. Live music and food built the momentum leading up to the lighting at 7:33 p.m. The sign is 6 feet tall and the cascading stars project 48 feet high, making it one of the tallest of its kind on the West Coast.

The marquee’s restoration has been a long time coming since the theater was bought by Ann Schulz in 2000.

“The sign has been a dream of ours since 2000 … and the sign was broken then,” said David Schulz, 45, managing artistic director and son of Ann Schulz.

The nonprofit theater began its “second life” when Ann Schulz (and her nonprofit organization) bought the building, board of directors President William Ims said at the lighting event.

The Schulz family moved from Chicago to Encinitas in 1978 when David’s father, Kris Schulz, bought a McDonald’s franchise. The vision of being his own boss drove him and the family to California.

Ann Schulz was a teacher back in Chicago, always involved in theater and music, David Schulz said. Since there were no musical theater programs for kids in the schools, Ann Schulz founded Coast Kids Theatre in 1981 with partner Bobbi Janikas.

Once the Star Theatre came on the market, Ann Schulz secured a loan with the city of Oceanside and the building eventually became the home of the Star Theatre Company.

Finally, in 2009, Ann Schulz felt comfortable “passing the torch” to her son. David Schulz moved back to North County from Los Angeles with his wife and two children and began working at the Star. He said he couldn’t be going out of town for performances so much because of his family. The Star became more a family affair than ever.

The project to restore the marquee took roughly two-and-a-half years. It seemed to work out just in time because in 2010-11 only about 10 percent of the sign was working anymore.

Taking the sign down was not an option because not only would the integrity of it be jeopardized, but the city wouldn’t let them put it back up. So the only realistic option was to work on it from up top.

The restoration includes all-new glass and paint, which stayed true to the same colors of the original sign from 1956, when the theater was built. Even the neon was kept, although using LED lighting would’ve been cheaper. But David Schulz said there is something about neon that captures the imagination that modern technology can’t beat.

Money was raised and donated to pay for the restoration along with profits from shows at the theater.

“We did it all ourselves,” he said.

Families come from all over to be part of the Star community. The Star Theatre Company produces six performances every year and then it rents the space for outside shows. It also offers classes for music and acting.

This isn’t the end for the theater’s renovations, however.

“Just because the sign’s done, doesn’t mean we’re done,” Schulz said.

The next big plan is to fix all the air conditioning, and that should be a $60,000 project, Schulz said. He also wants to update the lighting and sound system, make sure the stage is always in good shape, and then build a second story to the existing green room for a cabaret space, offices and changing rooms.

“Peter Pan,” directed by David Schulz and musically directed by Sandra Kopitzke, opens July 17.

“I’ll make a deal with you right now,” Ims, the theater board president, told the crowd during the lighting event. He said he would buy an “adult beverage” (for those of age, of course) for anyone who comes opening night. Let’s see how many drinks he will have to buy.

Visit www.startheatreco.com or call 760-721-9983 for more information on upcoming shows, tickets and classes. The theater is located on 402 N. Coast Highway in Oceanside.

Susan Whaley is a North County freelance writer