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The Fremont opened during the war in 1942. Thanks for the tip on the “A Haunting We Will Go” DVD extra.
I remember your uncle Les Hacker, as I grew up just two blocks below the KVEC radio studios. They used to put on life radio dramas and a lot of us neighbor kids would sit in the audience watching the sound effects man make thunder, rain, horse hoof sounds all on a small table.
In those days radio was king. I caught the live Mel Venter Breakfast Gang broadcast at the neighboring art deco Fremont Theater one year. The San Luis Obispo Centennial parade was held in May 1956. The city got caught with it’s pants down in 2006 and were unprepared to celebrate their Sesquicentennial. All we have to show for it is a defunct website: www.slo150.com
I’ll be in touch.
The El Monterey theatre name was changed to “Obispo” in December 1928 and equipped or “talkies”. Why the name change? Because the citizens of San Luis Obispo couldn’t understand why “their” theatre was named for the rival county to the north…even though it was on Monterey Street. The El Monterey curtain was removed from the Obispo and installed in the Elmo during that time. In the late 1950’s the Elks Club purchased property south of town and the great destruction of 1960 began: This historic 1911 brick building was torn down, along with the high school, the old high school/junior high and three grammar schools because the local school board was reminded that the Field Act made them responsible for the death or injury of any students during an earthquake.
The Obispo Theatre building was adjacent to Sully’s bar (formerly Dan’s). The bar was robbed on the night of Dec. 28, 1975. Investigators told me that the person who broke in, set a fire in the upstairs office of the bar early Sunday morning to cover their tracks. The widow Henry C. Dalessi Estate was given two days (between Dec. 29 and New Years?) to decide to either rebuild or tear it down. Trivia: Photos of the Obispo fire are hard to date, because the marque displayed “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. It took over 29 years to rebuild on the site because the city had somehow acquired the property for a parking lot! Today Plazzo Giusseppe’s restaurant sits on the site which is now referred to as Court Street, the old alley that cut between Monterey and Higuera Streets.
Tom: I’ll try to find my copy of the night shot of the Obispo Theatre that was taken for the yearbook. In the meantime, here’s where you can find the fire photo, taken on December 28, 1975.
We are in the process of adding even more photos under “People” “Schools” “Sports” “Cal Poly”, etc.
The Fremont is currently showing the Da Vinci Code. It opened in 1942, right after the war had started and was used for live shows which sold War Bonds to the public. Mel Venter, a Bay Area morning radio show host came down a couple of times to do live broadcasts of his west coast morning variety show. I still remember him using a local reference on one of his broadcasts—“Monterey Heights”. He asked his drop-dead beautiful girl singer. “Pretty Polly, Have any of the Cal Poly boys (no coeds then) showed you Monterey Heights?” (a famous lover’s lane parking spot that looked out over the city).
The Fremont is currently showing the DiVinci Code. It opened in 1942, right after the war had started and was used for live shows which sold War Bonds to the public. Mel Venter, a Bay Area morning radio show host came down a couple of times to do live broadcasts of his west coast morning variety show. I still remember him using a local reference on one of his broadcasts—“Monterey Heights”. He asked his drop-dead beautiful girl singer. “Pretty Polly, Have any of the Cal Poly boys (no coeds then) showed you Monterey Heights?” (a famous lover’s lane parking spot that looked out over the city).
Joe: The SLO County Historic Society, located in the old Carnegie Library, has bound copies of the local newspapers, especially the Telegram-Tribune, from the turn of the last century up until August of 1941. (Yes, someone must have stolen the WW II editions).
I’ll check the T-T’s from 1928 to 1930 for stories on the El Monterey-Obispo theatre opening.
This film buff thanks you for the history lesson. Turner Classic Movies showed the sound version of the Jazz Singer last month. You could really see how sound turned on Al Jolson in one number.
The Elmo interior photo is hard to find. The most recent exterior photo I’ve seen was taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s. There was a small yearbook photo taken in the entry about 1958.
I have two exterior photos of the Obispo. One during the fire (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was on the marque) so it was hard to date. The other is a night shot taken for a San Luis High yearbook with special copy on the marque. The neon “Obispo” sign looks great lit up at night.
I’ll check to see if anyone has info on the organ whereabouts…or the neon sign.
You are right. Our file story says the El Monterey (later Obispo) was the first movie theatre in San Luis Obispo wired for sound. Didn’t the Jazz Singer come out in about 1929? Hollywood must have been planning ahead for sound. We have postcard photos on Monterey Street showing the theatre without its marque, and very little visible signage. Both will be posted on the slo150.com website by Monday (May 29). I’ll check our file to see when the name was changed.
At the time of the fire, and at least twenty years prior, the Obispo was managed by Sid Taylor who commented after it was razed, something to the effect that “single theatres are over. Movie complexes of three or more are the future.”
One thing I hated losing in the Obispo as a high school student was the closing of the balcony and the loss of the plush leather, high-backed “Loge” seats in the back four-to-six rows of seating. You could nestle with your date and no one in back could see you. Also, most heads would not appear in front of you. Footnote: A buddy and I attended the opening of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” on a Wednesday night, then took dates the following Friday. Our advantage? We knew when all the scary parts were coming up, plus we got to see how Hitchcock cut that shower scene.
I’m a board member of the SLO County Historical Society which operates a museum in the 101-year old Carnegie Library on the corner of Monterey and Broad St across the Old Mission. We will be posting a color photo of the Obispo Theatre fire on our Sesquicentennial website (slo150.com) under “Places”. The Obispo burned down on December 28, 1975 and the widow of the owner of the property was given two days (just before New Years!) by the Fire Marshall to decide to tear it down or rebuild. The fire started in the upstairs office of the corner bar “Sully’s”. Investigators believe it was started to cover the bar’s office burglary. They razed the entire block and used it as a parking lot for over 29 years—until the Copeland brothers rebuilt a three-story shopping plaza on that site which opened last year. (The Copeland’s also built the underground 7-theatre Downtown Centre one block south.)
The Obispo was the original “El Monterey”. Locals protested a rival city name on “their first sound movie palace”, so it was changed. The El Monterey Curtain was moved to the older vaudeville, silent film theatre—The Elmo, which stood on the corner of Morro and Marsh St. (across from the Post Office where the 1-story Union Bank stands.) The Elks Club was upstairs. The Elmo also had a balcony, but the theatre was torn down in 1960, along with the old high school, Fremont grammar school, the old Jr. High/High School (also on Marsh) during a great fear of earthquakes. (Don’t get me started). After 1953 the Elmo was used primarily for the San Luis Obispo Little Theater group. It was always used for live theater. (My mother co-starred in “Pickles” while at Cal Poly in the mid 1920s.)
The last movies I recall seeing at the Elmo were around 1953 when they brought back “High Noon” and “African Queen”. Sure the bathrooms hadn’t been updated since it was built around 1912, but it was once a grand old, small-town theatre. Did you know that a Georgia Minstrel Show was one of the first acts to play the Elks Theatre? (Quickly changed to “Elmo” after the National Elks Club told them they couldn’t own a theatre). Al Jolson and Jack Benny also played the Elmo and left autographs on the walls under the stage by the dressing rooms. No one bothered to photograph them or save a section of the wall when it was torn down.
After WW II, Saturday matinee movies were 10cent for kids, then moved up to 12 cents. That included a double feature, three cartoons, a serial and the newsreal. Cheap childhood entertainment!