FREMONT -- A Centerville district banquet hall that has hosted Afghan diplomats and countless weddings is shuttered while the landlord looks for a new tenant.
The Diamond Palace, formerly named the Flamingo Palace, went out business last month after its operator, Omar Amerie, filed for bankruptcy.
Amerie, who still owns the Afghan Village restaurant in Newark, blamed the poor economy for the closure and wouldn't talk further about the business he ran for several years.
The venue on Peralta Boulevard, in the heart of a largely Afghan business district, oozes nostalgia for Fremont's large Afghan-American community members, many of whom grew up going to weddings there.
"It was a very important cultural center for us," said Rona Popal, executive director of the Afghan Network, which has held events at the venue.
Farhad Azad, founder of Afghan Magazine, said he used to go to the venue to see touring Afghan musicians and to attend weddings.
"It was like the place to get married," he said.
Large weddings, often with more than 500 people, are part of traditional Afghan culture, so Afghan-Americans in the Bay Area often have opted for halls that could accommodate large crowds and provide traditional food.
In Fremont, the Flamingo Palace grabbed much of that business, with Afghan operators that catered to the community. Even the interior had sculptures resembling the fanciest hotel in Kabul. "It was a little bit of Vegas
and a little bit of Kabul," Azad said.
The venue has hosted leading Afghan political figures, including former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Nearly 1,000 Afghan-American community members from throughout the Bay Area convened there shortly after 9/11 to elect community spokesmen.
The banquet hall, which has a capacity of nearly 1,000, was owned and operated for years by David Siddiq, who also owns the nearby Center Theater. But nearly a decade ago, Siddiq sold it to the Tree of Life Lords Harvest Christian Church, which later leased the space to Amerie.
Diane Chang, a church board member, said the church recently had lowered rent for Amerie in hopes of helping him survive the recession, but was caught off-guard when he filed for bankruptcy.
"We feel very badly for him," she said. "We know he worked really hard to make the business work." The bankruptcy proceedings have complicated the church's effort to find a new operator for the banquet hall, which includes two party rooms.
It's unclear whether people who had booked weddings before the bankruptcy have gotten their deposits returned to them.
Zarmina Wahid, who co-owns the Century House and Gardens, another Centerville district banquet hall, said she had gotten several inquiries from people scrambling to find a venue for their weddings.
Wahid also said she was considering trying to lease the smaller party room at the Diamond Palace, which is bigger and better able to host large Afghan weddings than the Century House.
There are still several East Bay banquet halls that host a lot of Afghan weddings, including Mission Paradise in Hayward and Canyon View Dining Hall in San Ramon, said Masood Sattari, of the Society of Afghan Professionals.
The Fremont Marriott also has become a popular location for Afghan weddings, Sattari said.
Azad questioned whether a banquet hall that relied heavily on Afghan-American events still was viable.
He said many of the musicians who used to come to Fremont now are getting booked at more traditional music venues in San Francisco.
He also said Afghan satellite television has kept more people in their homes and that the younger generation is having smaller weddings.
"It's kind of sad to see that place go," he said.

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