Not Heading Into the Sunset

Features - PMP in the News

After only a few months of retirement, Terry Clark of Clark Pest Control decided to renovate the Sunset Theater in Lodi, Calif., into a performing arts center, a project that has shown him how to have a fulfilling life after pest control.

October 1, 2020

Terry Clark, former vice president of Clark Pest Control, Lodi, Calif., comes from a family of pest control operators. His uncle, Charles Delk, founded Delk Pest Control, the largest pest control firm in California before he sold to Terminix in 1969. Terry’s father, Charlie Clark, was brought into his brother-in-law’s business when he was 13 years old and helped Delk expand its service offerings from the basic sugar and arsenic ant traps commonly used at the time.

After returning from World War II, Charlie Clark recognized pest control had a promising future in California. Along with his brother, the elder Clark established his own pest control firm, and the office they opened in Stockton, Calif., became the first branch in the Clark Pest Control empire.

“I started at age 15 working on the termite crew,” Terry Clark recalled. His first 20 years in the business were a big expansion time for Clark Pest Control. As the company spread into the Bay Area, Clark held a number of different roles, both in the field and on the corporate side.

“It’s been 41 years doing everything from termite inspections, working the pest control route, managing various departments, and eventually opening more branches,” Clark said. Working alongside his father Charlie (chairman of the board) and brother Joe (company president), Terry Clark said he learned the right way to treat employees and customers, in addition to best practices.

Charlie Clark worked almost every day in the business that he founded in 1950 until 2018, when he was slowed by health issues. He passed away in September 2018, at 91. In 2019, Clark Pest Control sold to Rollins. At the time of the sale Clark was the largest independent pest control company in California.

“It was a very fitting end that the Rollins family came to be the one to carry on the Clark name,” Terry Clark said.

RETIREMENT PROJECT. Soon after Clark Pest Control was sold, Clark retired. “I was happily retired for about two months, but my wife apparently wasn’t as happy,” Clark jokingly said. “She told me that I needed to find something to do.”

After more than 40 years in the pest control industry, Clark was enjoying the down time of retirement but knew his wife was right. With a few calls to his financial advisor, it was decided that Clark would spend some of his newfound free time diversifying his holdings by purchasing some commercial real estate.

Pictured (clockwise, from top right) the Sunset Theater back in its heyday; the building next to the Sunset that will become a restaurant and bar; and an architect’s rendering of the Sunset Theater with a sign announcing a 2021 grand opening (image courtesy of NJA Architecture).

“In July 2019, we started closing on our first commercial property, a little surfer house in Santa Cruz. We also bought a dog food store with some warehousing behind it,” Clark said.

Then one day, as he was driving through his hometown of Lodi, Calif., he saw a building for sale: the Sunset Theater, a gem of the past that opened in 1950 and had been sitting in disrepair for the last 21 years. The lot next door was also available for purchase.

“I used to go to that movie theater, and my wife and I went when we were dating. We enjoyed the time we spent there. We had good memories there,” Clark said. “When we saw that both were available at the same time, I called a friend of mine in real estate and asked him if we could take a look at them.”

After contacting an architect and brainstorming a few ideas, Clark bought the theater and the lot next door and decided to convert the 1,000-seat movie theater into a performing arts center to be used for everything from local band performances, to comedy acts, to musicals.

Renovation of the Sunset Theater is currently underway and is projected to take at least two years. Despite the long road and hard work ahead, Clark said his time at Clark Pest Control has made him confident that he can tackle such a formidable project.

“I put together many an office over the course of my employment with Clark Pest Control, doing some ground-up builds. There was a corporate office, which was a two-year build, and I managed that build on a day-to-day basis,” Clark said. “So I thought this was something I could tackle, and it would be a good challenge. And it would keep me out of trouble for a couple years.”

RESTORING THE PAST. Part of what makes this project so special, Clark said, is that it resonates deeply with the Lodi community. While now viewed as an eyesore, back in the day, the Sunset Theater was considered the best theater in the small town, an icon of Lodi in the days before multiplex movie theaters.

“Everyone in town has memories of the theater with their first date, their spouse,” Clark said. “Everybody who lives here went there, so it tugs at the heartstrings of a lot of people.”

That is why Clark is taking painstaking measures to ensure his renovation maintains the rich history of the Sunset Theater that residents have such fond memories of. “We documented every square inch inside because we are doing a historical restoration,” Clark said. This included using a high-definition laser system to scan the entire building, inside and out, so Clark and his team can “bring it back to millimeter precision when we plaster back up.”

“While there will be some changes — we’re adding some additional seating in the balcony and making a VIP section — I want it to look exactly like the old plaster,” Clark said. “We’ve got a restoration specialist coming to take samples of the the seats, of the cloth of the draperies, everything. We obviously have new materials that are fire resistant and not laden with lead and asbestos.”

And to ensure he is restoring the Sunset Theater that lives on in Lodi residents’ memories, Clark is using the Facebook page The Sunset Theater Lodi (@LodiSunset) as an open line of communication to keep the people of Lodi updated on the project and to receive any suggestions, tips, or historical Sunset Theater facts the public wants to share.

“The people of Lodi have really helped me form this plan through Facebook. We had some really neat ideas. Some people wanted to have a rock climbing center in it,” Clark said. But it is the heartfelt and historical stories from Lodi residents that Clark believes will truly bring the Sunset Theater back to life.

“I just came in contact with a lady who was a worker there in 1950. She met her husband there when he was working at the theater also,” Clark said. “We’re doing some interviews with people who worked there back in the day because we want to have their memories as part of the future.”

One woman mailed Clark the ticket stubs to a movie she saw at Sunset Theater back in the 1990s. Others have submitted photos and shared stories of the theater’s former glory. One story even claims the existence of a ghost, a mysterious man in a top hat. “We want to try to highlight as much of the history as we can throughout the building. That’s what’s been the fun part of it, is turning over all these old stones,” Clark said.

A NEW BEGINNING. With a timeline of two years and an estimated budget of $5 to $6 million, Clark is hopeful that the project will be completed on time.

“As anyone who has done a termite job knows, you don’t know what the patient has until you open them up,” Clark said. “But with what we see, we have really strong structure and minimal work has to be done to actually turn back the clock on 70 years of use.”

NJA Architecture’s rendering of the interior of the Sunset Theater, complete with dinner tables.

However, one big challenge that Clark said he will be facing in the future is finding someone to manage the new performing arts center once renovation is complete.

Kurt Kvam with HDLSS laser scanning service scans the inside of the Sunset Theater as part of the theater’s ongoing renovation.

“There’s a lot of logistics that I haven’t accounted for yet,” Clark said. In addition to reaching out to promoters; doing research on soundboards; and getting estimates on sound and video production, installation and training, Clark is planning to convert the lot next door to the Sunset Theater into a restaurant and bar.

“It’s going be a nice little performing arts block, I hope.” Clark said. “So my real challenge is finding people that can manage it and bring in the proper shows to make it attractive to Lodi.”

From what he has gathered at town hall meetings, Clark said many of the residents seem eager for this project to be complete, expressing excitement about having something to do within walking distance of their houses.

“I think if Lodi appreciates it and opens the doors to some good shows, and we’re able to rent out the hall, I see it being a place for fundraisers, or community activities, for parties, wedding anniversaries, birthday parties,” Clark said.

The Sunset Theater will not only be a new beginning for the town of Lodi, but Clark said it has shown him he can have a new beginning as well. And he wants to share his revelation with other PCOs thinking about retiring as well.

“For 41 years, I didn’t know anything else, and I was wondering what I would do when I retired,” Clark said. “I want people to know there are other things that they can do to help their community and help themselves. That’s what I really want to say. That there is life after pest control. Don’t be afraid to try.”

The author is a New York City-based freelancer.