Empire Theatre

432 Main Street,
Placerville, CA 95667

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Empire Theater 1931

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Empire Theatre is located in downtown Placerville, California (about 50 miles east of Sacramento, in the Sierra Nevada foothills). It was built in 1929, opening in 1930. Twenty years ago there were sporadic live performances, maybe movies too. It was twinned in the 1990’s. Now it is an antique mall.

Contributed by Denis Vaughn

Recent comments (view all 37 comments)

DeFragg
DeFragg on October 3, 2012 at 9:04 am

Perhaps the El Dorado Theater became the Theater El Dorado group that held the tradition of stage plays at the fairgrounds..?

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on October 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

Dear DeFragg, I remember the split double screen era of the Empire. Horrid. The Empire was built new in 1929 and opened in 1930 on the site of a hotel. It was built after the Elite Theater burned down. The Elite was down the street a bit, closer to the Bell Tower. The El Dorado Theater was short lived in the 1930s and couldn’t compete with the Empire, which changed its first run program of films 3 times a week. The Placerville Cinema 4 had 4 screens and basically killed the Empire as a single screen theater. The Empire ran live shows during the 1980s before the twin movie idea happened. I tap danced on the Empire stage in a show called “Berta’s Here!” in 1986. See story about the opening of the Empire and burning of the Elite: http://mainstreetstories.blogspot.com/2012/09/when-elite-burned-down.html

DeFragg
DeFragg on October 5, 2012 at 7:42 pm

yep- Cinema 4 has a familiar ring to it… I remember since they both belonged to the same company, we were able to go to movies at both for free. If there was room… lol

rainestorm
rainestorm on October 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm

I worked there during its conversion from a single screen to a twin screen. This was in the early summer of 1988. It was nothing short of butchery.

I’m surprised to hear that the theatre was built in the 1929. The following picture makes it seem as if it was there at least in the mid to late 19th century.

http://yesteryearsnews.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/old-placerville.jpg

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on October 20, 2012 at 6:20 am

Dear Rainestorm, The reason the picture seems older than 1929 is probably due to the costumed parade participants. I assume a “Wagon Train Days” parade is in progress. The structure under the marquee is a built up “set” as part of the theme of the festival celebration. In another picture taken a year or two later you can see the same marquee without the set beneath it and the cars of the period parked along the street. The Empire was built new in 1929 because of a fire of the Elite Theatre that was down the street closer to the Bell Tower, robbing the town of its entertainment venue. Actually the Empire opened in the fall of 1930 with the film GOOD NEWS.

rainestorm
rainestorm on October 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Hi, Michael. I was actually referring to the photo that I pasted the link for. Here’s one that’s dated 1849.

http://eldoradocountyhistoricalsociety.org/images/Placerville1849.jpg

So it has to be as old as Placerville itself.

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on October 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Rainestorm, Yes of course, but that 1849 theater is not the building on Main Street today. There was another Empire Theater between the one pictured in the 1849 photo and the opening of the current building in 1930 as well—very fancy and equal to the fine San Francisco theaters of the day. It burned in one of the many town fires. When the Elite Theatre burned down in March of 1929, I suppose the folks involved thought they should return to the name “Empire” as a way of retaining some past history when a new theater was built.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County California, published in 1883, (Google Books scan) says that Placerville’s first Empire Theatre was opened after the Placer Theatre, which opened in 1852, and both houses were destroyed by the Placerville fire of 1856. After the fire The Empire Theatre was replaced by the Placerville Theatre. I’ve been unable to trace the later history of the Placerville Theatre, though it was apparently still around in 1883 when the book was published.

The Empire building in the 1849 photo might have been the building that became the Empire Theatre. It was most likely a saloon or dance hall, and saloons and dance halls were sometimes converted into theaters during the gold rush period, as towns grew and became more prosperous and the miners and merchants began seeking more elaborate entertainment.

rainestorm
rainestorm on October 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Thanks, Joe! That’s good information and I’ll check out that Google Book.

Mike, I probably should have been more clear. Yes, of course it’s a different building. I assumed from the photo that the Empire Theatre, in one form or another, had always been with the town.

Thanks to you both!

Mikeyisirish
Mikeyisirish on April 27, 2014 at 6:45 pm

An April 2014 photo can be seen here.

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