Colonial Theater

1127 Fourth Avenue,
San Diego, CA 92101

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Colonial Theater

The Colonial Theater was first known as the Fisher Opera House, which opened on January 11, 1892. Located on the east side of Fourth Avenue between B and C Streets, the Fisher Opera House was named after John C. Fisher who raised the money for the new theater to be built. In 1902 the Fisher Opera House was sold and the named changed to the Isis Theater. The Isis Theater continued with live performances just as the Fisher Opera House had done.

It didn’t become a movie theater until 1921 when the Isis Theater was renamed the Colonial Theater and silent movies were shown there. Its life as a movie theater was short as the Colonial Theater was demolished in 1928.

Today, Wells Fargo Plaza sits on the site of this former theater.

Contributed by Lost Memory

Recent comments (view all 7 comments)

kencmcintyre on October 21, 2005 at 3:21 pm

Here is another photo from the San Diego Historical Society:

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 1, 2005 at 5:20 pm

In 1914, as the Isis, this theatre was being operated by William H. Clune of Los Angeles.

neeb on January 7, 2008 at 1:59 am

A more accurate location for the theater would be between B and C Streets on 4th Avenue (the current building would have an address of 1127 4th Ave across from the California)).
John C. Fisher is credited as building this theater but whether he was the architect or contractor is undetermined. As an aside, as it was built for theatrical events, it was built without dressing rooms.

neeb on April 26, 2010 at 2:48 am

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Discrimination takes center stage


Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.

Back in the 1890s, San Diegans believed the finest theater west of Chicago could be found in the opulent Fisher Opera House on Fourth Street downtown. Glittering productions drew sellout crowds to the 1,400-seat Romanesque-style building.

But not everyone had equal access to the local theater. And in 1897, the popular playhouse was the scene of an ugly incident of racial prejudice.

On May 17, a 25-year-old black businessman named Edward W. Anderson bought two tickets to the Fisher presentation of “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Anderson, the owner of the successful IXL (“I excel”) Laundry at 540 Seventh St., chose orchestra circle seats on the playhouse floor.

That evening, Anderson and his wife, Mary, presented their tickets at the theater and were admitted into the foyer. But before an usher could show the couple to their seats, the doorman hesitated. Duplicate tickets seemed to have been issued by mistake, he explained, and the seats were already occupied. Would the Andersons care to stand in the balcony instead?

John C. Fisher, the theater’s builder and manager, stepped forward and pointed to a disclaimer printed on the back of the Andersons’ tickets: “The right reserved to refuse admission to holder of this ticket by the return of money.” Fisher told the Andersons, “I do not allow colored people on that floor.” They could have seats in the balcony, or their money back. Reluctantly, the couple accepted the money and left the theater.

The following week Edward and Mary Anderson filed suit for $299 in damages.

John C. Fisher would not be easy to defeat in court. The ambitious promoter, entrepreneur and former president of the Chamber of Commerce was respected in the community and popular as the man who had brought large-scale entertainment to San Diego.

But the law clearly addressed the Andersons’ cause. Only two months earlier, California legislators had approved “An Act to protect all citizens in their civil and legal rights.” Authored by Republican Assemblyman Henry C. Dibble of San Francisco, the bill mandated “full and equal accommodation” in restaurants, hotels, theaters, barbershops, skating rinks and all other places of public amusement. Any case of discrimination on the basis of color or race was liable for damages of not less than $50.

San Diego newspapers immediately recognized the significance of the case. When a San Diego Union reporter questioned Fisher, he defended his actions: “We have never encouraged colored people to occupy the orchestra circle, on account of objections by many patrons. To cause as little trouble as possible, we have sold them seats upstairs.”

Claiming at first that the tickets had been purchased earlier in the day by a white man, Fisher said there had been confusion “when the colored man and his wife appeared and presented the tickets I did not wish to cause needless trouble or embarrassment, and told the party he could have seats in the balcony or have his money back.”

Anderson v. Fisher went to trial in late summer. For Justice Court Judge Solon Bryan, it was an open-and-shut case. Respecting the recently passed civil rights law, Bryan found for Anderson and fined Fisher $150.

The theater owner was unperturbed by the decision. “Do you intend to appeal the case?” a reporter asked. “Why, certainly. Do you think we would stand that judgment? No sir, we shall appeal immediately to the higher court.”

In Superior Court, Anderson’s case foundered. Judge E. Swift Torrance held that the plaintiffs had not been damaged to a degree sufficient to give his court jurisdiction. He ordered the case dismissed.

Anderson successfully appealed for another hearing. There, Fisher argued that his theater was not a public entertainment house but a “private enterprise” and therefore not liable under the civil rights act. Without commenting on this surprising assertion, Torrance again rejected the case â€" and ordered the Andersons to pay full costs for the suit.

In the fall of 1899, the state Supreme Court declined to listen to another appeal. After more than two years of fruitless litigation, the Andersons had exhausted their legal avenues and a case of overt racial discrimination had been upheld in the courts of California.

San Diegans would quickly forget Anderson v. Fisher.

Fisher would soon prosper as the importer to America of the British musical comedy hit “Floradora.” He sold his opera house in 1902 to Katherine Tingley of the Theosophical Society. It would run until 1921 as the Isis Theatre.

Edward and Mary Anderson continued to succeed in business. The IXL Laundry operated until 1909. A ranching business would follow, and in 1943 the Anderson Mortuary opened, which continues today as Anderson-Ragsdale.

Edward W. Anderson would pass away in August 1953 at age 81.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 26, 2010 at 10:32 am

As the Fisher Opera House, this theater is listed under San Diego in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide. John C. Fisher was the Mgr. Seating is listed as 1,400 and tickets range from 25 cents to $2. The house, which was on the ground floor, had both gas and electric illumination. The proscenium opening was 38 feet wide X 39 feet high, and the stage was 47 feet deep. There were 10 members of the house orchestra. There were 4 daily newspapers and 3 hotels for show folk. The 1897 population of San Diego was 20,000.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 21, 2011 at 2:03 am

A biography of William Sterling Hebbard says that he took over the San Diego practice of the Reid brothers in May, 1891. The Fisher Opera House opened on January 11, 1892, so Hebbard was solely in charge of the project for about eight months. The Reid brothers were associated with the project as early as January, 1889, when they entered into a contract with Fisher and the San Diego Opera House Company.

The Reids had over a year to design the project, while Hebbard became involved only a short time before construction began. Given this timetable, it seems likely that the Reid brothers were primarily responsible for the design of the Fisher Opera House, and Hebbard primarily responsible for overseeing its construction.

rivest266 on April 1, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Colonial grand opening ad from December 15th, 1921 has been uploaded here.

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