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Does anybody know what became of the Mermac Theatre at West Bend? Long operated by August Berkholtz, owner of the West Bend Theatre, it was a ca.1913 house, remodeled in 1938, and fitted with CinemaScope in 1954. After that it vanishes. here’s an article about the remodeling in Boxoffice of October 15, 1938.
Jerry: The scan is a bit blurry, but Boxoffice Magazine of October 15, 1938, ran an article about the conversion of the Grand Opera House into the RKO 23rd Street, and it has a pair of before-and-after photos showing the foyer and the auditorium.
Do Jim’s files cite a specific source for the demolition date of 1962? The Google satellite view of the area shows the corner lot covered mostly in asphalt with two lighter concrete sections that might be former building pads, though only one of them is large enough to have held the Vista, and that one fronts on Haley Street, not California Avenue.
Of course the building might have been given a California Avenue address if that side of its parcel had been its parking lot, even if the theater’s entrance was closer to Haley Street. If that was indeed the location of the Vista, and it was (as I suspect) a quonset structure, then there were three large quonset hut buildings in a group at this corner.
The classification of the Vista (and now the Virginia as well) as African American theaters remains puzzling. People of Mexican ancestry have long been Bakersfield’s largest minority population, and though the San Joaquin Valley has been fairly cosmopolitan for ages I don’t think the percentage of the population that was of African American ancestry in the Bakersfield area approached double digits until recent decades.
Although Manuel Carnakis was a well-known public official in Kern County (Bakersfield City Councilman, Mayor of Bakersfield, and member of the County Board of Supervisors) there’s very little about him on the Internet. Aside from the multiple references in Boxoffice, most mentions of him appear on sites about powerboat racing. He was a boat racer himself, and he is credited with being the driving force behind the development of Ming Lake, a Kern County Parks and Recreation Department facility dedicated in 1959 which has become a popular venue for boat racing events.
The October 30, 1937, issue of Boxoffice said that the new Harris DuBois Theatre had opened the previous Wednesday. The architect of the Harris DuBois Theatre was Victor A. Rigaumont. A photo of the marquee appears in an ad for the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in Boxoffice of October 15, 1938.
The Rex might have been finished off by the 1952 Tehachapi earthquake. An item about the nearby Virginia Theatre in Boxoffice of January 31, 1953, said that the Virginia had reopened just before Christmas, but that the Rex was still surrounded by steel scaffolding while engineers continued to inspect it. Perhaps the damage to the Rex turned out to be too costly to repair.
Boxoffice of April 17, 1948, had said that Fox West Coast had renewed its long-term lease on the Rex and several other theaters. The length of the lease was not mentioned. I haven’t found the Rex mentioned in Boxoffice after the 1953 item.
I’ve found the Cherokee Theatre mentioned in Boxoffice as early as the issue of January 6, 1940. It was operated by the Cherokee Amusement Company
I’ve found mentions of other theaters in LaFollette as well. According to the May 22, 1937 issue of Boxoffice, W.H. Parrott was operating the Capitol and Novelty theaters there, and planning to build a new theater in the town. Parrott is mentioned in later Boxoffice items as president of the Cherokee Amusement Company.
An October 30, 1937, item said that H.A. Johnson and A.J. Anderson would open their new A&P Theatre at LaFollette on November 1. I’ve been unable to find any other mentions of an A&P Theatre. I haven’t found anything about the opening of the proposed new theater of Parrott’s Cherokee Amusement Company, either. It’s possible that Parrott’s announcement was merely intended to intimidate Johnson & Anderson into not building their theater, and when that failed Cherokee eventually bought them out and took over the A&P, either before or after it opened. If that’s the case, it must have become the Cherokee Theatre.
There was also a 600-seat Leach Theatre opened in LaFollette by Nolan Leach in early October, 1945, reported in Boxoffice of the 27th that month. It, too, passed into the hands of the Cherokee circuit, and was closed for a while. Boxoffice of June 5, 1954, said that the Leach Theatre had been taken over by Joe Martin, who had renamed it the Fox Theatre. That’s the only mention I can find of Joe Martin or of a theater called the Fox in LaFollette.
A November 27, 1978, Boxoffice item mentions the twin theater then being built at LaFollette. It was owned by Earl Carroll and Rob Woodson.
The Vista was opened by the Carnakis family, long-time Bakersfield theater operators who owned the Virginia Theatre there. The announcement of the opening of the Vista was made in Boxoffice of May 21, 1949. Boxoffice said nothing about the house being an African American theater.
More interesting is an item in Boxoffice of September 11, 1948, announcing the plans for the theater. This item said that the house was designed by Peacock & Belongia. This was the Milwaukee firm that had designed the prototypes for the Poblocki Sign Company’s quonset hut theaters. Architect Myles Belongia designed quite a few quonset hut houses in the Midwest, but this is the first I’ve heard of any theater of his design being built in California.
More interesting still is that Google Street view shows not one but two large quonset hut buildings adjacent to the lots on the corner of California Avenue and Haley Street, the location given in Boxoffice for the Vista. One of these, at 405 S. Haley Street, is now a church called Catedral de Amor. The other, at 1414 E. California Avenue, is occupied by an Elks Lodge (or was at the time the Google camera truck went by.) Somebody in Bakersfield must have been collecting quonset huts.
I’m wondering about the original source of the information that the Vista Theatre was demolished in 1962. Although it isn’t on the corner, the Elks Lodge building looks about the right size to have been a theater, though the building may have been altered at some time (it looks as though part of the quonset structure might have been replaced by an extension rearward of the boxy front section of the building.) I’m wondering if the source of the 1962 demolition date could have been mistaken and the Vista became the Elks Lodge.
I’m also a bit puzzled by the claim that this was an African American theater. Bakersfield is now a city of close to a third of a million, and center of a vast metropolitan area with a population of over a million, and its population is still less than 10% black. But in the late 1940s it was still a fairly small city of about 35,000 with a very small African American population. I doubt if that small population could have supported so large a segregated theater, and I don’t think the neighborhood around California and Haley is predominantly black even today, so this would have been an odd location for such a theater.
The West Bend Theatre opened November 16, 1929, to be exact (or so said Movie Age of December 7 that year.) Appropriately enough for a theater that ended up selling beer, the president of Community Theatres, Inc., the original owners, was named William Pabst.
The installation of the “Swiss” marquee at the Goetz Theatre was the subject of an item in Boxoffice of September 13, 1965. The item said that the marquee being replaced had been on the theater since its opening in 1931.
Plans for the Goetz Theatre Company’s new drive-in on route 69 were being prepared by architect Myles Belongia as early as June, 1952, as reported in the issue of Boxoffice published the seventh of that month. The start of construction was long delayed, and construction itself took nearly a year. Boxoffice of June 5, 1954, reported that the Sky-Vue Drive-In had finally opened on May 28.
Boxoffice of May 27, 1950, reported that construction was progressing rapidly. The new house was a replacement for a theatre destroyed by fire the previous year. The architect for the project was Myles Belongia.
Boxoffice of May 28, 1949, said that the Atlas Theatre in Milwaukee was being remodeled, and would have a new floor, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and a new front, among other changes. The architect for the project was Myles Belongia.
The architect field at top currently misspells Belongia.
Boxoffice of May 7, 1949, provides a page about the Airway, with photos. The house opened on January 18, 1949.
Myles Belongia had been a pioneer in using quonset huts for theaters, and had designed the Middleton Theatre at Middleton, Wisconsin, the first such theater in the state. It was opened in 1946.
The Poblocki Sign Company erected a number of pre-fabricated quonset hut theaters throughout the region in the late 1940s, and advertised its services as a design-build company in Boxoffice for several years. Architect Belongia’s relationship with the Poblocki company went back at least as far as 1937. In that year he was one of the partners founding a company called Porcelain Fronts, Inc., which specialized in theater modernization. Bernard Poblocki was another of the partners, according to the item about the company in Boxoffice of September 4, 1937.
Here is an ad for Poblocki and Sons in Boxoffice of May 24, 1947. It attributes the design of its prefabricated quonset hut theaters to the firm of Peacock & Belongia. The Peacock in the firm was, of course, Urban F. Peacock. I’m not sure how long the partnership existed, but it’s only ever mentioned in Boxoffice in the year 1947.
There’s a typo in the middle paragraph in my comment above. The Boxoffice item cited was in the August 19, 1944, issue.
The name State Theatre was restored to this house in 1951, according to the July 28 issue of Boxoffice that year.
I found a September 16, 1968, Boxoffice item mentioning that the Cinema Showcase in El Segundo had been reopened. This is the only reference to the name in Boxoffice, and a Cinema Showcase in El Segundo isn’t listed in any of my old copies of the L.A. Times from that period. Has anybody else ever heard of it?
The L.A. County Assessor’s office says that this building was built in 1921, with an effectively-built date (indicating major alterations) of 1923. Southwest Builder and Contractor had items in its issue of June 11, 1920, saying that Edward L. Mayberry Jr. was designing a brick moving picture theater at El Segundo for E.L. McMurry.
The State Theatre apparently closed in the mid-1930s, and remained dark for almost nine years. Boxoffice of August 19, 194, said that Norman W. Rowell had renovated and reopened the 350-seat house as the El Segundo Theatre.
Both an architect and an engineer, E.L. Mayberry is most closely associated with Long Beach, but worked throughout Southern California. He is credited as the engineer for architect George Washington Smith’s second Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, a legitimate house which later presented movies. The Lobero today is primarily a music venue, though it also serves as a venue for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Boxoffice of May 3, 1965, said that the Colony Theatre had reopened after a major remodeling. The house was now equipped to show 70mm, Cinerama, and all other film types then available. A November 22, 1977, Boxoffice item said that the Colony had originally opened in 1941.
A photo of the Colony’s auditorium was featured in an ad for the American Seating Company in Boxoffice of October 7, 1950. The text said the installation of American’s Bodiform chairs at the Colony was completed in 1942.
The September 13, 1971, issue of Boxoffice reported that the Jerry Lewis Cinema at Burnsville was nearing completion and expected to open within a couple of weeks.
The Movies at Burnsville was slated to open soon, according to Boxoffice of October 10, 1977. The April 11, 1977, issue of Boxoffice had said that The Movies at Burnsville would have 1,304 seats.
An item in Boxoffice of October 10, 1977, indicates that the Trail 4 Theatre didn’t last very long. An item about recent activity in the Twin Cities market said that owner/operator Harry Lind had closed the Trail 4 permanently after performances on September 25, and that the house was being dismantled and its equipment sold.
The same item said that United Artists would soon open a four-screen theater at Burnsville. It was speculated that Lind had closed the Trail 4 in anticipation of the difficulty his operation would face competing with the United Artists circuit’s greater negotiating power in dealing with movie distributors.
A couple of 1972 Boxoffice items had given the seating capacity of the Trail 4 Theatre as 1,100. The 1977 item said it was about 1,200.
Various issues of Boxoffice place the Studio 97 Theatre in Bloomington, Oxboro, and Anoka. The January 28, 1974, issue has an item saying that the Engler Brothers circuit had gotten approval from the Anoka City Council to show “mild” X-rated movies at the Studio 97 Theatre. To add more confusion, a Boxoffice item of November 28, 1953, gives the location of the Oxboro Theatre as Richfield. Somebody at Boxoffice was geographically challenged.
A brief item in Boxoffice of October 21, 1950, announcing the recent opening of the Oxboro Theatre gave the address as 9711 Lyndale Avenue. Boxoffice spells the original owner’s name as Otto Kobs. A September 23, 1950, Boxoffice item gave the Oxboro’s seating capacity as 424.
Boxoffice of March, 1991, has an item about the reopening of the Anoka twin the previous Christmas. It says: “Built in 1949 and twinned in 1982, it now plays first-run films.”
An item from the December 10, 1949, issue of Boxoffice said the Anoka Theatre was nearing completion. The 1,044-seat house was being built by E.J. Bauhr, who ran a small circuit that also operated the State Theatre in Anoka.
Well, I guess it’s not a good idea to leave an unposted comment on an open browser tab overnight. The theater across the street must have been the one Lloyd Palmer took over in 1924.
This was another very early theater. Lloyd Palmer, who in 1924 took over the Iris Theatre in Postville, Iowa, had his start in show business as a musician at the Green Theatre in Anoka in 1915, according to a brief item about him in Boxoffice of November 5, 1955.
The Green Theatre was redecorated and got a new front in 1946, as reported in Boxoffice of June 1 that year.
Unless it was rebuilt or the name was moved at some time (I can’t find any indication that either of these took place) this was a very old theater. Lloyd Palmer took over the Iris in 1924, according to a brief article about him (center column, right page) in Boxoffice, November 5, 1955.
Mr.Palmer was not a big fan of musicals or costume dramas, judging from his letter to the editor (upper left) published in Boxoffice of February 11, 1956.
The Midway was still in operation as late as 1978. With Federal funds for its garage project delayed, the city of Camden decided to let the theater on a monthly lease to Marcos Cotto, who presented Spanish language movies at the house, according to Boxoffice Magazine of July 10, 1978.