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Here is the history background from wiki, The Century Theater chain was originally named Syufy Enterprises, for its founder Raymond Syufy (senior), who built his first theater in Vallejo, CA in 1941. The first Century theater was the Century 21 in San Jose, California, which opened in 1963, adjacent to the Winchester Mystery House.
We really can’t say why Ray Syufy put the sign Cine 21 on the Tennessee St. theatre but my guess is since the Century 21 business name existed since 1941 and the El Rey opened in 1949, the Cine name was probably short for Cinema and 21 was for the ending part of Century 21. He probably didn’t want to put up a larger Marquee neon sign called Century.(?), we wouldn’t really know unless we ask the Syufy family.
The building is located between Virginia and Georgia St. at Indian Alley. It is built with old bricks with an updated modern front face on the China Wok restaurant, it was previously named the New China Café. Originally, the building on this block was called the Colby block. Before the Rex Theatre, at various times it had an upholstery shop, meat market, grocery store, saloon, notions store, millinery shop and in the 70s was George’s shoe shop, Al’s barber shop. The original buildings was made of wood and built in the early 1860s.
This theatre is a privately held company in Vallejo, CA., The owner lives in Hawaii.
It is categorized under Tape Recorders/Players-Sound/Video Equipment, records show it was established in 1969 and incorporated in California, current estimates show the company has an annual revenue of less than $500,000 and employs a staff of approximately 1 to 4.
It has 1 screen and uses Avi Video Players, Dv Video Players, Music Video Players, Digital Video Disc Recorder and Mpeg 4 Video Players.
I believe you are correct, although Syufy started to get into the Drive-In business in the early 1950s.
Rita – Took over this theatre in 1940 (previous owner did not finish building), was located on Solano Ave. at Georgia St. Central, 1 screen, 695 seats – later added to 912 seats. (first theatre Synfy owned)
Victory – Open 1942, 909 Sonoma Blvd and Chestnut, 1 screen, 700 seats.
El Rey – Open 1949, 910 Tennessee St., 1 screen later 3 screens, 575 seats.
Island Auto movie Drive-In, Alameda – Open 1950 Synfy, Closed 1991
El Rancho Drive-In, San Pablo, Richmond – Open 1951 Homer Gray, 1953 by Richmond drive-in Inc. & Syufy
Geneva 4 Drive-In, Daily City – Open 1950 Synfy, Closed
The Port Chicago Theatre also went by the names Blue Star Theatre and the Angeles Theatre.
The advertisement from the Vallejo Times Hearld about the Rita Theatre, the article appears on 11/30/1940 but the Grand Opening wasn’t until 6/5/1941. The address shown was Solano at Georgia Central. There was only 1 Rita Theatre in Vallejo, the only discrepancy is the number of seating’s from 695 to 912. Because the theatre is so close to I-40 and the dates match. The open date of 1948 is probably when it closed due to a small fire. The building reopened later as a drive in car wash, called the Rita Car Wash(see advertisement of Rita theatre in photos).
Also, (see article of Raymond Syufy – Times newspaper San Mateo, 1966) – mentions that Ray Syufy took over the Rita Theatre in Vallejo because the previous owner at the time could not get supplies to finish building because of WWII)
Syufy’s first theatre is called the Rita. – Below is a timeline of Vallejo theaters that Raymond Syufy had owned:
Rita – Opened in 1941 at 1520 Solano Ave. 1 screen (originally 695 seats) then add to 912 seats, it had fire damage in 1947, it turned into the Rita Car Wash.
El Rey – Opened in the summer of 1949, located at 910 Tennessee St., 1 screen later 3 screens, 575 seats. Later it was renamed Cine 21 in 1968 then Cine 3 in June of 1980.
Crest – Built 1911 the Empress renamed the Senator,took over by Syufy 1952 and rename the Crest. 1 screen, 500 seats sold off to the Elliot family.
In 1948 went against the motion picture industry to help break the monopoly power they (Paramount, MGM, Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox) held over the exhibitors of the films they produced and they won! The Big Five, as these producers came to be known, were fully integrated across all three vertical stages—production, distribution, and exhibition. The very small exhibitors who was instrumental in helping the district courts, and later the Supreme Court, break this monopoly was Ray Syufy. The Big Five were ordered by the Supreme Court to divest themselves vertically of all holdings (first-run theaters) and relinquish their control of the first-run exhibition market. (later on, ala Century Theatres – the saga goes on)…
Per the Bell Theater information: the Waldorf Theatre or Waldorf Corner (Waldorf Grill & Bar)as it was called, was owned by A.P. Rothenbush and the Soloon managed by William R. Acock. (located at 610 Marin Street)– On December 16 1901, it opened as a new ‘Refined Vaudeville’ show. In January 1904, it became the Novelty Theatre showing a combination of vaudeville and movies under the direction of the management of Arthur Payne. By March 1911, the Novelty Theatre was leased to John C. Campbell and George B. Richart who installed a first class picture machine and it reopened as the New Novelty Theatre.
An advertisement about the Novelty Theatre: I also found a vaudeville circuit advertisement in Billboard Vol XVII, No. 16, dated April 22, 1905 for the Vallejo Novelity Theatre.
Affiliated Western Vaudeville Circuit – Directors: -S. Morton Cohn, -Theodore Rothschild, -Henry Lubeliski; Managing Director: Tony Lubelski Novelity Theatres Vallejo, Ca.
Circuit Information: Sam’L Loverich, President – Tony Lubelski. Vice President and General Mgr. Other theatres listed Western Office Fischers, San Francisco; Novelity, Oakland; Grand, Reno Nv.
The Novelty Theatre in Oakland opened September 22, 1904, a part of the theater featured a penny arcade. One could imagine that the Vallejo Novelty was probably not as big but may have had a similar setup.
I came up with an earlier opening date, October 21, 1907. the Victory Theatre was the second theatre to be manage by Isadore Coleman Levey (his first was the Columbia Theatre in Oakland). He went on to manage a number of theatres in the bay area and organized (theatrical agent) for vaudeville shows in collaboration with his son Bert Levey. (manager of Princess, Garrick, Alcazar Theatres, the Republic Theatre in Vallejo and Sequoia Theatre in Sacramento).
The ValMar building was built in the 1880s, it first was a grocery store owned by the Cochran and Collins brewery, then Collins Grocery Co. for about 30 years, it then became an auto showroom for Cadillac Agency. In the late 1920s it was taken over by an independent moving picture company, may have had a different name before the ValMar but it was co-operated by P.S. Macdonald and Louis Trager. Around 1937 William Fox West Coast Theatres purchased it and became a chain. The ValMar closed around the end of WWII (see news article in the photos area).
The Vallejo TimesHearld newspaper clipping dated Feburary 22, 1957, was provided from the archives of the Valline family.
The Vallejo Chronicle newspaper clipping, dated Friday, December 4, 1935, came from the archives of the Freudenberg-Hoffman archives.
It looks like W.G. Maupin not only at one time managed the Star Theatre but also the Bell theatre, and later the Repubilic theatre, after Gus Cohn left to manage the Empress theatre. Maupin in 1913 with Bert Levi circuit, managed the Republic theatre. He was documented as the manager of the Bell theatre in 1915, then was noted as reopening the Star theatre in 1916.
Per Joe Vogel’s post on the Vallejo Bell theatre: The Cohn family (Gus Cohn) operated houses called the Bell Theatre in Oakland,San Francisco and Vallejo. There were two Bell Theatres in San Francisco.
I came across a reference to the Bell Theatre on Market Street being destroyed in the 1906 fire, but the Bell that Gus Cohn was connected with in later years was on Mission Street.
I documented: Just for reference, counting there were six Bell Theatres around the beginning of the 1900s in Northern California. (In Oakland – 1903, Sacramento – 1907, Livermore – 1909, San Francisco – 1911, Redwood City – 1915, but not all may have been operated by Gus Cohn.
The Studio Theatre tuned into a GrandAuto Service store in the mid 1950s, then later a Furniture place in the later years.
The El Rey, was Suyfy’s 4th theatre in Vallejo. I recall seeing my first movie at this theatre the “Sound of Music” back in the late 60s, you couldn’t sit up in the balcony seats unless you were 18 years or older. Then when the named changed to Cine 21,(must have changed around 1968 or so) I remember seeing “Enter the Dragon around 1973 and “Star Wars” in 1977. They ended up closing off the balcony seating area in the early 70s. The last film I saw as Cine 3 and triplex conversion was “Beverly Hills Cop”, I remember seeing that movie twice back in the 80s, but I’m thinking they already converted the theatre into a duplex back in 1977 because I vaguely remember seeing the film “You Light up my Life” not in the main large screen but a screen in another room, to the right once you walked into the place. I miss this nostalgic movie theatre, where I grew up watching most of the films as a kid and teenager.
I recall double dating with my girlfriend back in 1987 at the Varsity theatre. Remembering that it was a really small theatre with stadium type seats if I recall correctly. A screwball comedy film that we watched called “Ishstar” with Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. The film was not one of their best, it was the first time and last time I ever saw a movie at this theatre.
The Vallejo Auto Movies was the drive-in I grew up watching outdoor films during the early 70s. I remember seeing a lot of Martial Arts shows like Duel of the Iron Fist, Chinese Connection and one of the last films I saw here was Beyond the Door, the Italian American horror film. It was the film that Warner Bros. tried to sue the producers because it resembled the Exorcist. Actually, it was the last film I saw from beginning to end, later I went here to see other films with girlfriends, never watched the full length shows here again, well at least not at those times :) . The Syufy Enterprise and Century did away with the two screen drive-in like a lot of the others that they owned such as (there are still some that are Open):
Vallejo Drive-In, Vallejo – Open 1950, operated later by Century theatre and Syufy 1960s
El Rancho 4 Drive-In, Sparks, Nv. – Open 1950, operated later by Century theatre and Syufy, now by West Wind.
Mission 2 Drive-In, San Francisco, – Open 1951, operated later by Century theatre and Syufy, Closed 1976
Concord Auto Movies – Open 1957 by Enea Bro. Syufy took over 1960s?
Union City Drive-In, Union City – Open 195x Synfy, Closed 1998
Hilltop 8 Drive-In, Richmond – Open 1960 by Syufy, Closed 1984
Coliseum Drive-In, Oakland – Open 1961, by Syufy, Closed 1990s
Winchester Drive-In, Campbell – Open 1963, by Syufy, Closed 1984
Solano 2 Drive-In, Concord – Open 1964, Century & Syufy 2005, West Wind, 2007
Moffett 3 Drive-In, Mountainview – Open 1964, Century & Syufy, Closed 1985
Santa Barbara Twin Drive-In, Goleta – Open 1966, Century & Syufy, Closed 1991
Spurce 4 Drive-In, San Francisco – Open 1960s, Century & Syufy, Closed 1980s
Burlinggame 4 Drive-In, Burlingame – Open 1960s, Century & Syufy, Closed 2003
Capital 6 Drive-In, San Jose – Open 1971, Syufy
Sacramento 6 Drive-In, Sacramento – Open 1973, Century & Syufy
Desert 5 Drive-In, Las Vegas – Open 1970s, Century & Syufy, Closed 1980s.
Glendale 9 Drive-In, Glendale, Az. – Open 1979, Century & Syufy, run by West Wind now. (one of the last drive-in’s built by Syufy)
Here is the article that you mentioned (just in case they take it off the internet), published by the “The Moving Picture World”, January 22, 1916 -page 609, titled among the picture theatres. News and Views of Photoplay houses everywhere.
THE STRAND THEATER, VALLEJO, CAL. One of the most up-to-date moving pictures houses in the State of California is the Vallejo Strand theater. As it can be seen from the accompanying illustration it has a pretty entrance, and the name of the house has been worked into the three sides of the drop of the glass canopy, which is studded with incandescent lights and which extends to the edge of the sidewalk. An artistic lamp-post, surmounted with five big frosted globes, stands on each side of the entrance and adds to the brilliancy of the lighting effect of the exterior. The front of the Vallejo Strand is faced with glazed brick.
There are 585 upholstered seats in the theater, which was opened recently. The decoration of the interior is most pleasing to the eye, and the front row of the seats has been placed at a respectable distance from the screen to obtain an undistorted view of the picture. Perfect sight lines, in fact, can be secured from any seat in the auditorium. The air is the house is changed every three minutes by the ventilation system which consists of five ventilators and one three-foot exhaust fan. The operating room is spacious. Tow Power’s 6A, motor driven machines are used and a dissolver. The Vallejo Theatre located on Virginia St. is also equipped with a motor generator. The program is changed from four to five times a week. P.J. Hanlon is the presiding spirit of the Strand theater. (I thought this article was very interesting in that it gives specific details of the theater itself, you can view the photo at the link above from Joe’s post)
From a Vallejo Yesterday news column, 20 years ago from a Chronicle Files:
From the 20 Years Ago Column (40 Years Ago Today): “Charles McCauley and Peter J. Hanlon have closed a deal with William Acock, owner of the property where the Bell Theater is now located, for a lease on the place following the removal of the Bell people to the new location on Virginia street. They contemplate establishment of a motion picture house.”
They never mentioned the name of the theatre but we know it is the “Empress”, by process of elimination there was only one theatre there during this timeframe on Virginia st.(or was there another?) They did not mention where exactly was the Bell theatre located at in Vallejo.
It seems with the documentation that I have read about Peter J. Hanlon is that they mention that he established the Bell theatre but never said he was the manager but only a Promoter of the Bell and Strand. You may be correct in that he, Dennis J. Moran and Charles McCauley took over as manager later when Gus Cohn left to manage the Empress. They were only promoters of the Strand in 1915 then on May 25, 1920 opened and managed the Virginia Theatre. Just wondering how all this ties in, there is a photograph of the Virginia theatre building that looks pre 1920, if that is true to my thinking then maybe it had a different theatre name like the Novelty, Star or even the Bell itself. Interesting however because the Virginia theatre was also located on Virginia St. in Vallejo.
On another note it’s funny how all the theatre house managers did a merry go round in supervising theatres. Gus Cohn has the Bell then goes to the Empress, W.C. Maupin has the Star then goes to the Bell and back to the Star, Peter J. Hanlon gets the Bell promotes the Strand then goes to the Virginia. Just for reference, counting there were six Bell Theatres around the beginning of the 1900s in Northern California. (In Oakland – 1903, Sacramento – 1907, Livermore – 1909, San Francisco – 1911, Redwood City – 1915 and Vallejo maybe 1908, I see a listing that Gus Cohn is manager in the Billboard vol.20).
More good information Joe, lets try to put the puzzle together. The theatre the news clipping is talking about that opened on New Years 1912 that Gus Cohn managed with his San Francisco partner Abe Marks, it’s Vallejo’s oldest running theatre today. The “Empress Theatre”, the theatre was constructed by the independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)at the time opened with promoters of the Sullivan & Considine Vaudeville entertainment. In 1913, the theatre changed management, Bert Levi circuit came in and the Empress name was changed to the Republic (managed by W.C. Maupin).
Getting back to your doc above, you mentioned that they were thinking about replacing the Bell Theatre but later just decided to renovate it. That brings the question to was the Empress Theatre building there on Virginia St. prior to 1910 and was it called the Bell Theatre?
We have to remember that any theatre that was open during the early 1900s or prior ending 1800s were probably small Vaudeville Burlesque and coin operated Kinetograph machines, store front type theatres.
Any thoughts on this:
I use to work in the Tishman building on N California Blvd., don’t believe the theatre was torn down in 1981, because I do remember going here in 1994 to watch Quentin Tarantino’s film ‘Pulp Fiction’ with a friend.
I remember the Century dome theatre at the Cross Road Shopping Center,(Monument and Buskirk)it was gigantic in side and a huge screen. Back in 1975 I watched ‘Jaws’ there with my brother for the first time and in ‘79’ saw ‘Apocalypse Now’ then afterwards going to Leatherby’s creamery to get a Banana Split with my girlfriend. The shopping center had a bunch of stores to like Montgomery Wards and Thirfty’s. Will never be the same not seeing the art house dome anymore while driving to work.
It is sad we lost another historical theatre, the Syufy family have owned so many theaters in the past as well, in Vallejo they had the Rita, Victory, El Rey, Vallejo Drive-In plus others and none of those are around today. I heard they owned other theatres in Concord and Oakland etc. back in the day as well. I know they Syufy Enterprises goes by the Century name but I guess their new business is just real estate and not their once foundation of moving picture houses anymore.
Actually this first opened at the Fairfield theater on July 1921, on the corner of Jackson and North Texas streets. Later named the Solano Theater, the movie house was completely remodeled in 1945.
In 1974, the theater changed from Solano Theater to Fairfield Cinema I and across the street was Fairfield Cinema II.
Went to UA Drive in theatre in the early 70s and watched the film ‘Paint your Wagon’. They also played cartoons like ‘Felx the Cat’ and ‘Fritz the Cat’ movies that were made in the 60s and considered X-rated by that era standards. I remember it was sometimes annoying trying to watch movies there because of the old Vallejo Speedway going on in the background, a lot of loud engine noise going on back then. The drive in was located on Flosden Road but later named Fairgrounds Dr., considered the City of American Canyon. There are now track houses and trailer parks in that location today.