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Fresno Bee – Grassroots effort underway to restore Fresno’s historic Crest Theatre
March 10, 2016 7:50 PMGrassroots effort underway to restore Fresno’s historic Crest Theatre
Downtown theater will start with neon marquee
Several fundraiser events in the works
The theater was built in 1949 and is on the local historic register
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Several Hollywood stars attended the opening of the Crest Theatre at Fresno Street and Broadway on July 7, 1949.
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Lisa Dines, center, presents Dee Ann Hull and Gloria Leon with stained-glass signs for the bathrooms at Fresno’s Crest Theatre. Special to The Bee]
By Joshua Tehee
Sometimes revitalization happens en masse, with government money and City Council debate and a groundswell of public support – as was the case with the Fulton Mall’s conversion to Fulton Street at groundbreaking last week.
Other revitalization efforts are quieter, more grass-roots.
For instance, the small group of people working on The Crest Theatre restoration project. In January, theater manager Dee Ann Hull put word out on social media that the downtown theater was looking to restore its signature marquee and tower and that she needed performers and artists willing to help, even in the smallest ways.
“She was asking for artists to paint old movie posters to put up in the front of the theater,” says Lisa Dines, one local artist who answered the call. “I don’t paint, but I do stained glass.”
So, Dines created a pair of stained-glass bathroom signs for the theater. They will replace the original signs, which were put in back in 1948 and read “Ladies and Gentlemen” in green etched glass. Like many pieces of the theater, the signs had disappeared over the years.
Dines spent two months working on the stained glass, following art deco designs she found online. She wanted the signs to look as original as possible.
In all, she spent $50 in materials.
It was a small thing, perhaps, but it shows Dines’ appreciation for the theater and what it represents. The real estate agent and clinical counselor (stained-glass art is a hobby) has lived in Fresno for only a few years and didn’t realize the full extent of historic buildings that were in the city’s urban core. Then she visited the Crest with Hull and became enamored.
“All this. In Fresno. Who would have thought?” Dines says.
The Crest Theatre was built in 1948 and opened in 1949 as one of several ornate movie theaters downtown. It was built in the art deco style popular at the time, with ornate golden plasterwork on the walls and ceilings.
“Of particular significance is the building’s 50-foot-tall sign, which is the most elaborate example of commercial neon work in Fresno,” according to the website historicfresno.org, which has a list of buildings on the local historic register. The Crest was added in 2010.
Hull’s family has owned the 588-seat theater since 1996, when her mother, Gloria León, bought it from actors Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft (though Brooks was not there when León signed the final paperwork, a fact she is still sad/mad about).
León is a story in and of herself. She started her first business as a child in Mexico, selling American candy and renting (yes, renting) magazines. She moved to Fresno at 15. She had owned several businesses in the Crest Theatre building before she bought it.
The Crest has remained a movie theater of sorts, hosting a series of Mexican and Indian film premieres. For a while, it was used as a church. The family works with outside promoters to bring in special events and live concerts.
León’s favorites are the EDM (electronic dance music) shows. You can often find her out on the dance floor.
So, the theater is far from shuttered. The last EDM show drew 900-plus people. But the family would like to do more events and eventually handle the promotions themselves.
But that is down the road.
“A lot of people grew up coming here. They have a connection. They see something beautiful.” — Crest Theatre manager Dee Ann Hull
For now, they’ll start with the marquee and neon, because it’s the most visible. The volunteer group is working to form a proper nonprofit (Friends of the Crest) to start raising money for the project, which Hull pegs at $250,000. After the marquee, they want to focus on a full restoration of the theater, Hull says, though that kind of project could take eight years or more.
There are several fundraiser events already in the works, including a “Peace on Earth” EDM concert April 16 and another in early May that will coincide with the city’s Historic Preservation Week.
The theater needs to be preserved, says Jason Hatwig, who sits on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and is helping with the event, because its worth extends well beyond the obvious architecture and history.
“It’s about the people and the culture and the music,” he says. “Just to have that tie.”
Hatwig points to Sacramento’s Crest Theatre as an example of what is possible. That theater went through a complete restoration, including refurbishment of its neon sign in 2009, and is now a vibrant part of downtown Sacramento.
It won’t happen without help. Hull knows as much. She has tried working with the city and others to secure grant funding. She has had little success. She hopes, with new excitement and empowerment from the community, the theater can finally return to its former glory.
“It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of people getting involved,” she says. “This is what we need.”
This – people willing to donate their talents, even if it’s to make a couple of bathroom signs – is how it starts.
Downtown is finally at the point we can maybe make it work.
Marcus Maurrietta, a local promoter working to revitalize the Crest Theatre
Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee
Apparently it closed after a fire broke out in 1962 or 1963, severely damaging the interior.
terrywade: Totally agree!
I hadn’t been to the Egyptian since the early nineties, before the quake and remodeling. I had read others' descriptions of what had been done to the poor theatre, and wasn’t in a hurry to return. But there was something showing a couple months ago that I wanted to see, and both the Chinese and El Capitan were running movies on my “need to see” list, so I thought I’d do all three movie palaces in one day. So, straight from El Cap to the Chinese, with all of their splendors, I walk into the Egyptian, and… no matter how many interior photos I had seen, somehow I just wasn’t prepared for how underwhelming the poor theatre had become. At least with the curved screen and curtains, the sunburst and scarab where the old proscenium arch once was still had a visual connection to the screen. Now it’s just in the middle of nowhere, with the tiny, unadorned screen far away from it, looking like it’s right out a multiplex in a mall. They really put the “gyp” in Egyptian.
North Hollywood IS part of Los Angeles. WEST Hollywood is a separate city, NORTH Hollywood (and regular Hollywood) are suburbs of the City of Los Angeles.
Is this a bit of it on the left?
Facebook – San Diego Historic Neon
From Cal State Dominguez Hills:
Photo gallery here:
Fiesta Mexicana Banquet Hall – Bell Location
Short video tour:
Fiesta Mexicana Banquet Hall Bell CA – YouTube
Oh, and the address is correct, therefore it’s still standing. The 333 address is still used for a tiny storefront in between the two halves of the old theatre, last used for a booth selling and buying jewelry. It may have been the box office. There’s terrazzo on one side for a shoe store that looks early 1960s vintage, so the Major Theatre probably didn’t survive past the 1950s. A couple aerial views from the photos found in the 1959 time capsule opened in 2009 show a small neon tower on the roof.
Here’s a page of a 1950s directory that confirms the address:
L.A. Times article
Port Theater in Corona del Mar will reopen after 14 years
Here’s video of the construction so far (link courtesy of the Tropico Station blog).
Well, it’s closed during construction/renovation, which has already started in earnest. They’ve already removed the old marquee and dome. This is what it’s going to look like:
Former Mann Theater complex in Glendale slated for major overhaul
The Roxie, or at least a good shot of its terazzo and a few glimpses of the marquee, is seen in “The Muppets” (the 2011 movie), as seen here:
From L.A. Curbed
“The rumors are true: an Ace Hotel will open in Broadway’s old United Artists Theatre… Multiple sources confirm that the boutique hospitality firm has reached an agreement with Greenfield Partners… the Ace intends to make a fully renovated and reactivated theater the showpiece of its future hotel.”
Just to give a better idea of exactly where this was, you can see the sign in the background here:
The Zody’s in the foreground is now K-Mart. The Cornell is two blocks away at, not surprisingly, Cornell Street.
Info on the mystery Burbank theatre from my above post:
“8/24/11 – Thanks to Sue Baldaseroni of the Burbank Historical Society, we now have some information about an unknown theater and sign on San Fernando Rd. that puzzled Mike and I. (A detail from the DeLos Wilbur photo from Feb. 1917 is here). According to Sue: "This was Burbank’s first moving picture theatre and was run by George Wood as an adjunct of his general store which kept open at night. Watland Wood remembers when his father took tickets at the picture show, he also would run to the store to wait on customers, and also squirted gasoline into the gas engine to keep the lights from dousing. It was mainly films of Cowboys and Indians shown in the first years. MJ (Mary Jane Strickland) said the lighted sign was for the store, not sure but thought it was a chicken or rooster but can’t remember for sure.” So there you are – it’s a bird of some kind. I still can’t make it out. We’ve determined by looking at later photos that the building still stands; the theater was where the Fantasia Billiards Hall is now located at 133 N. San Fernando."
Is this the Long Beach Rivoli? It’s a screencap from the opening credits of the 1977 comedy “Loose Shoes.”
Can’t remember if this was already posted, but here’s a Glendale Public Library photo:
From the Glendale Public Library’s Flikr account:
There’s a screencap of the Pussycat here:
A photo of W.H. Clune and a bear:
Here’s a .pdf of the restoration proposal for the building:
It gives the history:
The Masonic Temple was built for in 1928 for the Unity Lodge, which was founded in 1905 and grew over the years through various consolidations, building an earlier lodge on the same Brand Boulevard site in 1914. The subject building was designed by Arthur George Lindley of the local firm Lindley & Selkirk, which also designed the Alexander Theater in 1925. The property was listed as Glendale Register No. 15 in 1997.
In 1934,‘ a movie theater, the Temple, was built inside the Mason’s auditorium at the lower floors, with theater use continuing under different names through the early 1990s.
Former Masonic Temple Building: Historical Background
Architect, Arthur G. Lindley. Contractor: J.v. McNeil Company
May, 1928: Excavation begun. January, 1929: Substantial completion.
Building contains 55,376 gross square feet of space, of which approximately 48,643 square feet is rentable. It initally contained three lodge rooms, one banquet/auditorium space, a ground floor auditorium, a bowling alley, cafe, billiard salon, related member and guest meeting rooms, lounges and storge rooms and an apartment. The two-story high banquet/auditorium and lodge rooms between the First and Seventh Floors are all located adjacent to the north wall of the building. See building section, Sheet HP-4.
The building was also known as the “Unity Temple”. Arthur Lindley seems to have visually “unified” the various floors of the main façade of the building by designing continuous vertical ribbons of windows. To give greater grandeur and height to the building, which stands 105 feet at the top parapet, he designed a series of steps, chamfering the edges, which recede back and toward the center.
When completed, the former Masonic Temple was the tallest building and had the largest auditorium, the fastest elevator and the largest enclosed space in the City of Glendale.
So, 1934 then. No real info on the proposed use of the former movie theatre space, just a little bit about the lobby.
And Bill’s page on the Temple
also links to the full “The Monolith” Flickr set
which includes these recent interior views showing the Temple/US/Regency 2’s auditorium and balcony:
and this is the old projection room being used as a wig department for the Noise Within theatre group:
There’s a recent photo here among other photos of Baker City, second one down:
Bad shape, but we knew this, and ones in much worse condition have been restored. Hope CVS keeps its promise to not do anything that can’t be reversed, and hopefully clean things up a bit first.
The Burbankia page has a photo of an unknown theatre in 1917. Don’t know whether it showed movies or if it was just a tiny live theatre, but thought I’d put it here, since it’s at least nearby and a similar vintage.
San Fernando Rd, showing Farmers and Merchants Bank
Detail showing unknown theatre
San Fernando Rd. looking in the other direction