El Rey Theater to Close, Faces Destruction
CHICO, CA – Eric Hart, the new owner of Chico’s El Rey Theater, has disclosed plans to convert the century-old building to an office, retail and parking complex. The building will be gutted and the interior completely reconstructed.
This historic house opened in 1905 as the Majestic Theater. Operating first as a vaudeville house, it soon began showing movies, becoming Chico’s first cinema. In 1925, it was remodeled by the architectural firm of Stark and Flanders, and was renamed the National Theater. Closed briefly in 1939 for another remodeling, it re-opened as the American Theater. The final re-naming came in 1946, when the building was reconstructed after being gutted by a fire. In recent decades, the El Rey has been operated as a first-run house by United Artists and Regal Cinemas. It is one of the last large single-screen houses in Northern California.
Hart, who owns and has partly renovated the nearby Senator Theater, said that he would like to save the El Rey as a theater, but that the financial prospects for a large single screen cinema in this market were too poor. (Two older multiplex cinemas in Chico have recently closed, leaving the town with only Cinemark’s 14 screen Tinseltown complex and the small art film-oriented Pageant Theater downtown.)