Front Street & Encinal Street,
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Circa 1922 Les and Valeeta Johnson opened the Soledad Theatre. With portable seating, the theatre showed silent films on the weekend and hosted roller skating during the week.
Mr. Johnson installed a style 25 American Photoplayer to accompany the silent films.<pThe large piano also contained two side cabinets filled with silent film sound effects and limited compass organ pipes.
Valeeta Johnson played violin and piano, presumably playing once in a while for the silent films. The roll-playing Photoplayer piano had a large collection of FilMusic rolls to accompany the silent films. This author has two FilMusic rolls from this Soledad Theatre roll collection.
The Johnsons also owned a garage in Soledad and in nearby Gonzales, CA. Each Johnson brother owned garages in the Salinas Valley towns of King City, Soledad, Gonzales, and Salinas.
The Soledad Theatre lasted through the 1920’s, but the Johnsons eventually closed the theatre and went into the automobile business full time. The Soledad Theatre was always a “side business” for the Johnsons.
The large American Photoplayer piano was brought to the Johnson home. The quartered-oak pit swell boxes that housed the percussions and organ pipes were cut up and converted into a china cabinet as well as bedroom headboards. As “gifts” to his friends in Soledad, Mr. Johnson gave Xylophone bars for folks to use as front door knockers!
A single chime tube from the Photoplayer still exists in the collection of a local Salinas theatre organ enthusiast. Eventually, even the large Photoplayer piano was taken in on trade for a new piano for the Johnson family. It is not known what became of the piano or remainder of the large collection of FilMusic rolls.
Much later, a Quonset hut style theatre was built in Soledad, but this building had nothing to do with the much earlier Soledad Theatre.
The Quonset hut theatre building still stands in Soledad, but has been converted to office use.
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