Soledad Theatre

Front Street & Encinal Street,
Soledad, CA 93960

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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.

Contributed by Tom DeLay

Recent comments (view all 20 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 11, 2009 at 11:59 pm

As the original Soledad and the second Soledad were at different locations, they should certainly have separate pages at Cinema Treasures. Pages can only accommodate one address. The 1947 Soledad at 177 Kidder Street needs to be added.

The original Soledad Theatre on Front Street burned to the ground in 1946, according to an item in the October 5 issue of Boxoffice that year. The second Soledad on Kidder Street was a replacement for it. The owners of the original Soledad, Ernest Gnesa and Edward Franscioni, bought the lot on which the second Soledad was built, but sold it to A. Blanco, Ralph Martin and Frank Jaimes who completed the project and opened the new theater in mid-1947.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 19, 2009 at 12:37 am

No sooner is one mystery solved than another arises. It has taken me a few months to realize that there’s another mystery, though. Boxoffice of October 5, 1946, said: “The Soledad Theatre in Soledad burned to the ground recently. Owners are Gnesa and Franscioni.” But, in the absence of addresses, there’s no confirmation that the burned Soledad Theatre was the same one that was run by the Johnsons in the 1920s.

If the information in the October 6, 2005, comment by Tom DeLay above is correct, and the building the Johnsons' Soledad Theatre occupied is still standing, then the theater that burned to the ground in 1946 must have been a second Soledad Theatre, and the building on Kidder Street that was built to replace it would be the third house of the name.

Andres on November 12, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I’m trying to keep up, but it seems a lot of the information on these theatres has been mixed up somehow. I would love have seen these places in their heyday. My parents remember a functioning theatre in Soledad well into the late 80s.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 13, 2011 at 3:23 am

Andres: Yes, different theaters have been conflated on this page. The page is supposed to be about the Soledad Theatre that closed in 1946, following a fire. Boxoffice Magazine reported that the theater burned to the ground, but that might or might not have been the case. The photos linked in Chuck’s comments actually depict the newer Soledad Theatre on Kidder Street. So far nobody has posted any photos of the earlier Soledad Theatre.

To add to the mysteries, I’ve found a single reference to a theater in Soledad called the Mission, being operated by Ernest Gnesa and Edward Franscioni in 1933. This might have been another name for the Soledad Theatre which opened around 1922, or it might have been a different theater as yet unlisted at Cinema Treasures.

The 1947 Soledad Theatre doesn’t have a Cinema Treasures page yet. I think I have enough information about it to submit it now, so a page might show up later today or tomorrow. Look for it under the “New Theatres” heading on the site’s home page.

YaledMot on February 17, 2013 at 3:21 pm

The information on the original Soledad Theatre is correct. The building only recently burned. I have no idea who owned it when it burned. The theate space was eventually turned into Johnson’s Automotive. They had shops in Gonzales and Soledad. The last remaining Johnson, Bette, died a few years ago in Salinas. The later Soledad Theatre (building was still standing a few years ago) should be on its own page as Soledad Theatre #2 or some such. It has no bearing on the orgiginal Soledad Theatre. Once closed, the Johnson’s stayed out of the theatre business and stuck to automotive matters. Now it is entirely possible as the Johnsons' tired of the theatre/skating rink operation, they passed the theatre to the Franscioni Familiy. This could play out—Johnson tore up the Photoplayer when it was no longer needed when talking pictures came in and the operation went to Franscioni.

Soledad_Theatre_2 on April 27, 2016 at 2:14 pm

I just saw this blog of several years ago. My dad managed the Soledad Theatre from 1947 until 1978. He installed the cinema screen and when it first opened there were good cartoons and current newsreels between movies. [My daughter visited there only two years ago. It did not burn down. She said it was a pitiful site with second-hand clothing being sold inside.] I knew Ernie Gnesa and Ed Franscioni, but did not know they purchased the theatre, apparently from Ralph Martin. Many people in town thought my dad owned the theatre. Ha-Ha! When we as kids would help him clean the theatre he would often allow us to roller-skate up, down and around. It was worth sweeping and mopping to be able to do that. By the way, the Rio Theatre was Spanish-speaking movies only, and it was on Front Street, Soledad. If I remember correctly, Ralph Martin may have been the owner of that theatre also, for awhile anyway. If there is a way to post pictures, I have some.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 27, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Soledad_Theatre_2: The theater your dad managed had to have been the second Soledad Theatre, located on Kidder Street, not this one (the first Soledad.) You’ll find a link to the second Soledad’s Cinema Treasures page in the “Nearby Theaters” field on the right side of this page. There is also a link to the page for the Rio Theatre.

You can upload digitized photos to Cinema Treasures. See the “Photos” section on the FAQ page for instructions.

Soledad_Theatre_2 on April 27, 2016 at 9:46 pm

Thank you, Joe. I sent an email to: with three photos, and it was returned by the MAIL DEAMON.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 27, 2016 at 10:04 pm

The mail deamon might be set to reject emails over a certain size, or with files attached. Try sending a plain request without the photos. The theater editor, Ken Roe, might have another address you could send the photos to, or might be able to reset the program to accept the files from your specific email address, though I’m not sure exactly how the system works. But it might be quicker if you could just upload them directly to the photo page yourself.

Soledad_Theatre_2 on April 28, 2016 at 10:15 am

Thanks, Joe. I suppose it’s no big deal. I promised my Mom before she passed away that I would write my Dad’s life history, and this was a major part of it, so I googled Soledad Theatre to see what I could find.

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