Sombrero Playhouse

4747 N. 7th Street,
Phoenix, AZ 85014

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Sombrero Playhouse, Phoenix Arizona

The Sombrero Playhouse opened in 1947 as a stage/dinner theatre. It began screening movies in 1949. My memory fades as to the specifics of this wonderful place. But from 1976 it was the premiere art house theater in Phoenix, switching films every other day. It was also the first place in Phoenix that I remember showed “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” every Friday and Saturday night at midnight.

It became a store selling gymnasium equipment.

Contributed by Justin Levine

Recent comments (view all 29 comments)

Tillthen
Tillthen on November 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm

My sister and I saw “Unfaithfully Yours” in 1948 at the Sombrero. My sister, newly married, and I were sore from hysteria afterwards. We loved it so much that she wanted her husband to see it the next nite, so the three of us went, and her husband sat there like a bump on a log. He was from Texas, I mean really from Texas. I am now 77 and I have seen it 5 times and it is still as fresh as ever. Please treat yourself to an incredible acting job by Linda Darnell and Rex Harrison in slapstick comedy. Thank you, “Sombrero”

AZFRYBABY
AZFRYBABY on December 23, 2013 at 7:56 am

Well Mr Carl Kennedy I was surprised but happy to come across your post. I have been trying to remember the name of the after hours club on 7th ST north of Stage 7 and I thought I remembered you owned it or ran it. What building was it in? I remember a canal that ran along side it or in front of it, behind the parking lot. Long building. Band was in the back and I remember the sign with the stars so may have been seeing the Sombrero sign. So the name of the after hours was what? BIG 7 Doesn’t sound like what I remembered. Hope you are very happy in Thailand. I remember you well. I was the obnoxious flirt according to Mike Metko at the Night Life. We had fun going to some awesome blues places and dancing bad so good LOL. I finally got my teeth fixed not that it matters so much now. Hope you are well and very happy. Good Memories Karen (Frenchy)

carlekennedy
carlekennedy on December 25, 2013 at 2:08 am

Hi Frenchy

Great to hear from you. Yes I owned Big 7 After Hours along with my 2 partners Mike Metko who you mentioned and Jim Musil Jr whose dad Jim Sr built and owned JD’s in Tempe where Waylon Jennings became famous. Jim Jr took over JD’s after his dad passed.He also recorded Waylon’s first live album from JD’s

Most people just called it and knew it as “After Hours” but the name we put on all the flyers/leaflets we put out and the free black/gold match books was “Big 7 After Hours”. We sure packed'em in that place. It was the only “After Hours” in Phoenix at the time except for a very small place in south Phoenix called “The Ebony Door”, which was mostly black people and a few of us “whiteys” who they tolerated.

B7AF was in between Sombrero Playhouse and the Islands restaurant. you entered from 7 St and drove east down a long driveway on the right side a vacant lot to a large parking lot. …The B7AF building was to the far left as you entered the parking lot from the far right. It was a warehouse we renovated into our after hours club. There was a large dark blue sign with “After Hours” in silver sparkle and some silver sparkle stars with a spotlight shinning on it so the copy and stars glittered or sparkled.

Yes you remember all those things correctly. The canal was to the back/rear of the club and the parking lot. Mike Metko’s group was our house band with bands from all over the valley setting in. We even had The Righteous Bros(Bobbie and Bill), Jan and Dean and many others from Stage 7 set in.

Yes the bandstand was located on the back/rear wall with burlap wall curtains behind bandstand. Curtains were 4ft wide red and yellow alternating stripes from ceiling to floor and all the way from left wall to right wall. You entered the club from door in middle. there was a snack bar to the far left where we sold coke, seven up, orange pop, coffee, hot steamed tamales and chile dogs. Restrooms were also to the far left behind or next to snack bar. Tables with red table cloths and alternating red and yellow glass candle containers lined both sides of the club with a few tables connecting both sides of table rows close to club entrance,4 chairs per table. The very large rectangular dance floor was of course in the middle. We had 3 Phoenix police officers Chuck S, Bob S, Bernie T (motorcycle cops) in full police uniform out front to make sure everything remained peaceful and everybody felt safe.

I spent a lot of time in the “Night Life”. Yes Phoenix had some great blues clubs and the music and dancing was fantastic. Also spent a lot of time in “Char’s Has The Blues” I’m trying to remember “Frenchy”(Karen)…. do you have red hair?

You’re right Frenchy …… really great memories Yes I’m happy in Thailand, thanks for asking

Really great to hear from you Let’s stay in touch …

frankandernest
frankandernest on January 3, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I worked there in the late 60’s…I was born in Phoenix and have lived here my whole life. The exact address of the playhouse/theater was 4747 North 7th Street. It had a fire in the early 60’s in the dining area and had closed for sometime. Then Mr. Langert (an advertising executive with the Weekly American Newspaper, which was owned by Evan Mecham) opened the place back up in the late 60’s into a theater. I worked full time during the day for Evan Mecham’s newspaper and at night at the Sombrero. When he reopened it as a theater, he ran a continuous showing of the Sound of Music, every night for months on end…and every night we’d have a crowd. When I worked there, there was no snack bar inside (we sold cold coke outside on the patio). After I left, they later opened a small snack bar in the lobby of the theater. What great memories I had of that place.

anartsychic
anartsychic on January 27, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Hello! I found this page while searching for my dads art. My dad was Raymond Westfall who did the artwork in The Islands restaurant in Phoenix. He created the magical Black light diamond head painting of Waikiki that had the rain machine built into it. It was placed behind the bar. I was about 6 years old when he made the artwork. I remember him working on it until sunrise until it was finished. When he completed the painting, we all got to go and eat there and dance to the music. I have been searching for the painting panels for years. I hope that they were not destroyed. Without the black light shining on it, the painting would have appeared to have been plain black boards. He used invisible black light paint to create the illusion. Does anyone have any idea what happened to the painting after the islands closed? please message me at if you have any leads to help me find it. Thank you. Please put “THE ISLANDS” in the subject title. Mahalo!

denitera
denitera on April 20, 2016 at 9:16 pm

I was so pleased to find the ‘Sombrero" still listed among Phoenix Theaters despite being closed for so many years. It looms large in my coming of age. Just as I got both license and auto I discovered a favorite movie from my past was being screened at this location and I hurried over. Once there I say the monthly movies calendar, and it seemed that just about everything I had loved would be showing at the Sombrero some time soon. It was a time before VCRs, before DVDs, and long before streaming, so there was no hope of seeing Romeo and Juliet again after '71 or '72. And then, suddenly, there it is next week at the Sombrero. I was reunited with 'Straw Dogs’ ‘Brother Sun Sister Moon’ ‘The Point’ and ‘Woodstock’. I can’t name all the marvelous films this theater brought back to me. They changed films about every two days so I was usually there four nights a week, and then they brought in ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ in a midnight showing Fri & Sat and the experience broadened. It was such a great idea I wonder why no one else has done such a thing. I sure do miss it. Edie McElroy

movieguyphx65
movieguyphx65 on May 10, 2017 at 5:33 am

This was a great single screen theatre that was around before my time. I was in my early teens when I started subscribing to their monthly calendars. It was the late the late 70’s when this theatre competed against the Valley Art in Tempe who also had a monthly calendar. Although I didn’t even have a drivers license, I did manage to get my mother and a good friend to go with me for a movie. Although I would have gone to the Sombrero more often if I was able to, I did mange to see Days of Heaven, Badlands, The Other Side of Midnight and Pretty Baby before they closed in the early 80’s. I believe an office building now stands where this gem of a theatre once stood. I do remember Islands restaurant around the back too. The Sombrero must have been the place to be back in the late 70’s. Unfortunately no other theatres exist in the Phoenix area that allow us movie buffs to catch these great double features that the Sombrero once played. The Valley Art is still around and run by Harkins theatres a local first run chain. Would be great if someone could take it over and bring back the diverse classics once screened there in 35mm. Hey, I’ll even settle for classics on DCP. At least I can dream about the thought, but grateful to have experienced those great theatres in their calendar days.

sp_john
sp_john on July 21, 2018 at 4:04 am

The Sombrero Playhouse, originally built as a stage/dinner theater in 1947, added a screen and projectors around 1949 and was located at 4747 N. 7th Street, next door to the Islands restaurant. [br]……….[br] It reopened as a repertoire film theater on 28 Oct 1976 with a pair of Lina Wertmuller films. After a long dispute between the property owner (Richard C) and Maury (who leased the theater from RC) about our selections, we closed on 5 Mar 1981. [br]……….[br] Our staff was as wild and interesting as our audience and as funky as the interior. Our theater hosted all the over-the-top drama and excitement one would expect at a high school, with love shared, hearts broken, many wonderful friendships made, some crossing of swords, and a lifetime of vivid memories. [br]……….[br] On the technical side, we ran using a change-over process, with Century lamp houses burning carbon-arc rods, pulling the film through Brinkhert BX-60 projector headsand piping the sound through RCA Voice-of-the-Theater amplifiers. We had RCA mag readers atop the projectors when we ran films with magnetic soundtracks. I bought the amps when the theater closed. They are now in Albuquerque. [br]……….[br] Thanks to the Sombrero Playhouse, I learned a lot about film, from both aesthetic and technical perspectives, and about people, and about loss.

sp_john
sp_john on July 21, 2018 at 4:20 am

Correction: It was a Strong Peerless lamp house. The optical sound head was also RCA. ……………… By the way, I believe we had only 464 seats, less if it rained.

ianej
ianej on March 16, 2019 at 6:30 am

The Sombrero Playhouse, founded in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1949, was for many years a popular venue for touring productions featuring prominent performers, including a number of Hollywood luminaries.

Founded by artistic director Richard Charlton and actress Ann Lee Harris, the Sombrero became during its heyday perhaps the major performing arts center between Dallas and Los Angeles, attracting celebrity players such as Groucho Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Ginger Rogers, Gloria Swanson, Bob Cummings, Celeste Holm, Shelley Winters, Margaret O’Brien, ZaSu Pitts, Pat O’Brien, Walter Pidgeon, John Raitt and others.

These actors usually toured in established works, but new plays were occasionally tried out at the Sombrero, such as William Inge’s Natural Affection, which premiered in Phoenix in 1962, a year prior to its Broadway run.

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