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This is a mid 1980s view of the auditorium, with Joe Musil standing in the balcony. He designed the Farewell to the Fox event. Later, he would go on to design the refurbishing of the Crest in Westwood, the El Capitan in Hollywood, the Fine Arts in Los Angeles, and his final project, the Village in Coronado.
These figures were originally part of mural panels in the grand lobby. They had to be removed because of complete seismic retrofit of the lobby structure, which was housed in a former nickelodeon, built of brick.
A short paragraph from an early theatre operators' trade magazine shows the name of the theatre as Katherine, not Catherine.
Sad. In repainting the exterior, they remove all the remaining original neon, and retain the cheezy, plastic, 1970s MEXICO letters.
Interesting that the newest incarnation of the theatre/club is called Ritz. For a very brief time in the 1920s, a little further down the same block, there actually was a small movie theatre in operation called the Ritz. During my research for my book, Theatres of San Jose, I only found it listed in the City Directory for a few years, and never found any photos of it. I went to where the address number should have been, but all the buildings at that point in the block are so thoroughly remodeled, it was impossible to find any building that could have been the old Ritz.
A few more details, provided by Jack Tillmany: In the classified ads of Motion Picture World, October 30, 1915, there is one for a “fully equipped” movie theatre in Monticello, six months old, expenses $50, receipts $90-$100 per week, long lease. “Act quick,” heralds the ad. Julius D. Sampson is listed as the contact. Seating capacity is given as 260. It is later listed as being taken over by J. M. Johnson, and named Katherine by that time. So clearly, the lower floor functioned as a theatre from the start, in 1915, and perhaps got the Catherine name a little later. Catherine is listed as the operator, c. 1940. According to trade publication listings in Jack Tillmany’s collection, it was S. K. Stratos who renamed it the Jefferson. A June 1945 Film Daily magazine reports that it was “recently destroyed by fire” and “will be rebuilt.” This may be the time of the pouring of the new concrete walls remembered by locals, and included in the preceding post. Presumably it got its 500 seat capacity at that time.
The building which housed the Jefferson Theatre was constructed in 1914. It had two levels. Upstairs was a Masonic lodge. The original function of the ground floor is, at present, unknown, but the theatre opened on that level in the 1920s. At the time of the theatre’s opening, it was named the Catherine, after Catherine Johnson, the daughter of the operator. During its early years of exhibition, the theatre experienced two fires, both caused by nitrate film igniting. After one of these fires, concrete was poured to increase the structural resilience of the theatre’s siding. The theatre had a balcony, which was provided for African-American patrons. They had to use a separate entrance, which was located along the right side of the building. Near this side entrance, a drinking fountain and bathroom were located, for their use. However, if these patrons wanted snacks to eat during the show, they had to pay for these at the ticket window, and then a staff member would go and get the requested items, and hand them to the patron. The year of the Catherine’s last significant remodeling was 1938. The theatre first closed in 1940. In 1950, the theatre reopened with a new name, Jefferson, and continued to operate until the late 1960s. After a few years of closure, the Jefferson reopened in the early 1970s, but then closed some years later, for the final time. After the Masons had moved to new quarters in another building, the Masonic lodge upstairs was converted into a condominium for the Morris family, including a room which was provided with bunk beds for use when child relatives came to visit. It was in this condominium that Sharon Morris—source of much of this information—grew up. The next owner of the building still lives up there. The ground floor has been completely remodeled into offices for an investment firm. Framed reprints of classic movie posters adorn the walls, giving a clue to the building’s former use.*************The preceding information was furnished to this writer by Monticello resident and film historian, Ed Hurley, who gleaned much of it from Sharon Morris, granddaughter of the Jefferson’s owner during the 1970s. Additional information comes from Monticello historian, Dee Count.
The name Minski’s should certainly be removed from the title of this theatre’s page, as—according to the history researched by Joe Vogel, the Minski name was only applied to the theatre for one year.
A significant correction is needed to this theatre’s description. It needs to be listed as the ORPHEUM. That was its original name when built, and the moniker it operated under for over twenty years. Its time as the COLUMBIA was a mere 8 years, beginning in 1930. Joe Vogel’s comments and research above do bring up an interesting question about the Minski vs. Minsky spelling.
James B. Lima—the manager in the above article, was later partner in some theatres in San Jose, including the Garden, in Willow Glen, and the Burbank, in the unincorporated Burbank neighborhood. His partner in these ventures was Ben Levin.
The theatre was operated by F.M. Bond, and was located at 303-305 West MacBain street. It was still in operation in 1920. The photo was taken February 1912. The theatre probably opened in 1911.
I have long ago become jaded to articles which proclaim ANYTHING architectural or artistic from the 20s and 30s and 40s to be Art Deco, whether it is or not. It seems trying to prevent this has become a lost cause.
A respectful correction: This photo was not taken in 1974. Aside from the movies being of much later vintage, this photo shows the paint scheme applied to the facade of the theatre in the early 1990s by the Martin family. It also shows the marquee after the neon on the name “California” had been replaced. Prior to that, there had been no neon on the marquee for many years, only on the vertical sign.
The chandeliers are clearly from a Skouras-era remodeling, as well as the painted decorations. However, the painted patterns exhibit a color palette and pattern which suggest to me that they are the work of the same designer who repainted the ceiling of the Fox Westwood Village. Theatre Historical Society has tentative plans to visit Los Angeles again in a couple of years, including seeing places not visited before. Here’s hoping this theatre will be included.
We did stay cool, most of the time. Nearly all theatres had AC running.
Agree with your opinion about the clouds. I was on the Conclave tour, and even our host at the theatre, who works there, commented that they look “Too cartoony.” But yes, they help with orchestral sound.
Actually, the style is Mayan.
A row of seats was placed on permanent display in the below-ground lobby area.
Several months ago, in mid-2014, I drove out to the site of the Atlantic. Not only is the building gone without a trace, but there seems to be no sign of future development at the site, not even a sign proclaiming the construction of a library, or anything, there. I’m wondering if the neighborhood has become the victim of a development scam of some sort, a promise of a library, and preserved portions of the theatre, only to be left with nothing. I hope not. I’ll be interested to see if anyone has any news.
The above photo is from the Jack Tillmany Collection, and was posted with his permission.
Correction: I took this photo Summer, 1984.
Minor correction: Closer comparison of this photo with the preceding photo from before Lee’s remodeling shows that the Baroque-ornamented Loge seats were already in place before the Art Deco transformation. They would not have dated to the theatre’s original opening, however, as that aisle standard pattern did not exist in 1918.
This image shows what would, in 1942, have been a new paint scheme. The original decorative painting would have been more ornate. It can be seen that, by this time, the organ had been removed, and the orchestra pit filled-in, to provide room for a few more extra rows of seats. Shiny, floral-patterned fabric fills the organ grilles, and a swirling painted pattern encircles the central chandelier. Perhaps the term “Venetian Gothic” best sums up the original style of this interior.
Mid-1940s photo by Ted Newman. From the Jack Tillmany Collection. Posted with permission.