El Rey Theatre

1649 N. Main Street,
Walnut Creek, CA 94596

Unfavorite 2 people favorited this theater

El Rey, Walnut Creek

The El Rey theatre opened in July of 1937, and in 1941 it was refurbished by architectural firm Cantin & Cantin. Although I only attended the movie house a few times in the mid-1970’s, I believe (if memory serves me right) the theatre was located on Main Street at Civic Drive (or in close proximity). I also have memory of the old Greyhound bus terminal maybe being a block or so away from the theatre.

What I can say with more certainty is that in its closing years, the El Rey Theatre theatre became an art house playing such foreign films as “City of Women”, “Voyage en Douce”, and “La Cage Aux Folles II”. It was also around this time that the theatre began running Saturday midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.

The El Rey Theatre closed its doors on Tuesday July 28, 1981. Their last feature was “Cocktail Molotov”.

For the week prior, the San Francisco Chronicle ran “Farewell Week for the El Rey” in its movie listing pages allowing Bay Area residents one last chance to visit their 44 year old movie house.

Contributed by Robert Merk

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

robertgippy on December 6, 2006 at 6:28 am

I remember the El Rey, and we went and saw the movie “Deep Throat” there with a group of friends. At that time it was run by the Mike Weston chain, which ran porno at Oaklands T&D, the Fairfax in Oakland, and the State in Coalinga. It was a nice theatre, single floor with no balcony. After its brief porno run, it went legitimate, showing double bills. I went there several times thereafter and saw movies like “The Conversation” and “The Domino Principle”. I remember the kids on the strip cruising Main Street. The El Rey was a nice theatre, sad to see it go.

stuberman on February 17, 2007 at 5:22 pm

I was the manager for a few years in the late 1970’s.

Renaissance Rialto ran the theatre as an art for for the last few years where we would typically run double features changing the billing each day. The showings were typically sparsely attended but appreciated by the eclectic crowd.

We also ran the Rocky Horror Picture Show Fridays and Saturdays at midnight and often sold out.

We worked hard to give the place a face lift including hand painting a lot of the architectural interior details in gold paint with a glossy black contrast. The interior was mostly a brick red.

We had a pair of old Motiograph carbon arc projectors (model K – I think) with 20 minute reels that kept our projectionists busy – eventually the head projectionist, Ross, installed a couple 60 minute extension arms. This seemed like a bit of a coin toss to me – since most films only showed once so the trouble to splice three reels into one seemed hardly worth the trouble.

This building was part of the old Walnut Creek when people still asked ‘where have all the walnuts gone?’ and at a time when the Civic Arts Theater was still running in an old converted walnut warehouse.

TerryCox on February 17, 2007 at 6:34 pm

Hi Stuart,
I remember going to a Berkeley foreign auto salvage yard with you… you were looking for some parts for your Rover, while I was looking for parts for my Renault. I enjoyed working at the El Rey. When people my age reflect on their “good old college days” I tend to reflect on my time at the El Rey (we were all pretty young and eclectic ourselves). Walnut Creek has changed quite a bit since then. Lots of chain stores (upscale, but chains nonetheless). I wonder what happened to some of the folks who used to frequent Rocky Horror. -Terry

stuberman on February 17, 2007 at 8:57 pm

Yeah – last time I was in the area it looked like Walnut Creek had grown up to become quite the financial center.

I have lost touch with all of the folks I knew there glad you are still around.

kencmcintyre on May 27, 2007 at 9:12 pm

Demolished in December 1983. There is a photo on this page:

sandybeach on June 30, 2007 at 8:21 pm

hiya! i had the blessing of working @ el rey at the ripe age of 21 in 1980. anybody remember the spookys"? wierd noone talks about that.they had and el rey had some spooky shiznit goin on. ask terry and stuart. they know. in fact worked for both of them. have great memories of both terry and stuart and hope to hear from them sometime soon. history is a wonderful thing…………..

trainmaster on April 27, 2008 at 7:14 pm

To the post of Mr.Robert Merk:

You are correct, sir about the El Rey being close to the “Creamery” as the old Greyhound Station was known. I took a few pictures of the place before it was demolished in 1974. It was not aross the theater, but from the El Rey, a couple of buildings north to Civic Drive (which was the ONLY way to get do downtown Walnut Creek in the 1940/1950’s area) and across the street.

Does anyone know when the lovely marquee/facade was ruined by that flat front similiar to the fate of the Enean? Also, is anyone aware of pictures of the auditorium of the El Rey? That was a nice theater. I have a couple of photos of the exterior.


trainmaster on April 27, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Oh, one more thing:

I videotaped some sort of “Festival” on Main Street in 1982 and remember a Radio Shack being close to the former El Rey. I could swear the name of the theater then was “Main Street Cinema.”

Comments, please?



trainmaster on February 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm

The El Rey was operated by the Bloomburg Brothers along with the Oaks in Berkeley, the Cerrito in El Cerrito and a Drive-In theater in San Rafael.

I don’t know when the El Rey was sold. I have an idea that the marquee was demolished in the remodling which took place in the mid-1970’s, as I attended a showing of “First Love” starring Susan Dey
in 1977 and the front was altered. They wanted a larger lobby, like the Enean in Concord. Fortunately, the auditorium was left intact -
they already had a widescreen installed.

The City of Walnut Creek wanted that whole block for its new city hall and other buildings, so it was curtains for the El Rey. It was destroyed by the bulldozers about 9 years after the Creamery and Greyhoud Bus Station. Today, Walnut Creek hardly looks like it did even some 38-40 years ago.


You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater