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Center Theatre, Centerville, Ca.

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  • hawaiiguy123155
    Theater deal ignites town identity crisis LINKS TO INFLUX OF AFGHAN EXILES STIRS UP NOSTALGIA FOR DISTRICT S PAST By Matthai Chakko Kuruvila Mercury News By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 23, 2004
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      Theater deal ignites town identity crisis
      By Matthai Chakko Kuruvila
      Mercury News

      By buying the only single-screen theater in Fremont, Jawid Siddiq
      ignited a cultural controversy.

      Siddiq says his only goal is to transform a virtually abandoned
      cinema in the heart of town into a venue for dinner theater, movies,
      plays and social events.

      But as the most influential Afghan-American businessman in the most
      famous Afghan business district in the Western world, Siddiq's plan
      is being viewed with suspicion because of two words, later crossed
      out, that he wrote on a business license application:

      ``Kabul Cinema.''

      Changing identity

      In this historic district on Fremont Boulevard that for 150 years was
      called Centerville, many residents resent the fact that across the
      globe their neighborhood came to be known in post-Sept. 11 vernacular
      as ``Little Kabul.'' So the idea that an Afghan businessman would buy
      the neighborhood's most prominent landmark -- and its only marquee --
      has revived rumblings of discontent about the changing of a
      neighborhood's traditional identity.

      ``We're in Centerville,'' said Bruce Young, president of the
      Centerville Business Association. ``We're not in Kabul.''

      ``If they're coming here to be Americans, they need to mix with us
      just like we mix with them. To draw a line and say this is our town,
      `Little Kabul,' . . . it sends mixed messages to everybody.''

      But Siddiq says his business will be called ``the Palace,'' the name
      he wrote beside the crossed-out ``Kabul Cinema'' on the business

      Siddiq, whom some call ``David,'' says his theater will cater to all
      groups and will help revitalize this somewhat beleaguered
      neighborhood just as his nearby Mercedes dealership and banquet halls

      ``Show me one person who has improved this area more than me,''
      Siddiq demands, alluding to how he renovated his banquet halls, the
      Flamingo Palace and Mirage. ``None.

      ``The people of Fremont should be very excited.''

      Scattered throughout Southern Alameda County are an estimated 10,000
      Afghans, the largest concentration in the country. But it is here, on
      Fremont Boulevard next to an Altamont Commuter Express train stop,
      where a score of Afghan businesses cluster.

      With bombs raining on the Taliban after Sept. 11, 2001, this enclave
      of exiles was besieged by television crews and reporters from around
      the globe.

      But this is Centerville, one of five historic towns that in 1956 came
      together to form Fremont. And the heart of this town used to be the
      Center Theater, the building Siddiq now owns.

      As multiplexes rose, single-screen cinemas like the Center Theater
      saw a slow demise. Once a first-run theater, the building has in
      recent years been used by various churches as well as the first
      incarnation of the Naz, a ``Bollywood'' cinema house that has gone on
      to become its own multiplex. It paralleled the economic decline of
      Centerville, which once had a thriving auto row but is now a
      redevelopment area dotted by vacant lots and abandoned buildings.

      Renovation efforts

      In recent years, the city has plunked down money to build a plaza,
      put up new street signs and lights and rehabilitate the former train

      The next step, thought Dirk Lorenz, was to reopen the theater to make
      it the center of Centerville once again.

      Leasing it for two months two years ago0, Lorenz showed movies
      including ``Casablanca,'' ``Hoosiers'' and ``The Music Man.'' When a
      local mechanic broke his leg, the business association threw a
      fundraiser at the theater, showing ``American Graffiti.''

      Lorenz, who owns Fremont Flowers, said he was trying to create ``a
      sense of nostalgia, a kind of `the way it was.' These single-screen
      theaters, it brought the community together in one room as opposed to
      how they do it now, with the multiplexes.''

      But Lorenz's group never had the money to buy the theater.

      Now the hopes for the theater lie in the hands of Siddiq, whose
      application to start up the business is wending its way through city
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