American Theatre

1564 Draper Street,
Kingsburg, CA 93631

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I believe the theater opened in the sometime in the 1930’s. It was in operation up until the late-1960’s. All through the 1970’s, someone was raising chinchillas inside the boarded up old theater. In 1979, a local bank bought the American Theatre and demolished it to make way for a new bank building. What a shame that it was not saved to renovate and operate again.

Contributed by Ben Rayonez

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on July 18, 2006 at 11:29 pm

Various seating capacities are given in the Film Daily Yearbook for the American Theatre over the years…..In 1941=600 seats, In 1943=390 seats and it is listed as (Closed), In 1950 and 1952=542 seats.

tomdelay
tomdelay on September 5, 2006 at 2:31 am

I recall seeing the American Theatre being demolished in the late 1970s. I service the pipe organs in Kingsburg and always wondered if the American Theatre was old enough to have had a pipe organ.

It turns out the theatre did have a pipe organ. According to the late David L. Junchen, the American Theatre had a 2 manual 8 rank “Beethoven” organ. For whatever reason, this was actually a Wicks organ. There were a number of area churches that had Wicks organs, including First Methodist in Kingsburg. The “Beethoven” nameplate may have been a smoke-screen for the church organ market.

There were chinchillas being raised in the theatre prior to demolition. The interior was also painted-out in that peculiar pepto bismal pink so often found in theatre remodels. All auditorium surfaces were pink. One of the wooden (not plaster) organ screens was seen in the rubble. I “braved” the rubble and came out with a non-descript “exit” sign.

I remember the American Theatre vertical sign—topped with an American Indian in full head-dress.

A Mennonite church in nearby Reedley had a transplanted Wicks theatre organ. I would not be the least bit surprised if this organ had not originally been in the American Theatre. I have no idea what became of the Wicks theatre organ when the Mennonite church sold the organ to an enthusiast and installed a new 25 rank Casavant circa 1978.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on April 29, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Here is an item from the Fresno Bee in December 1946:

All estimates were exceeded by the crowds of smiling, carefree children who filled theaters in Kingsburg, Orange Cove and Orosi Wednesday at the last of a series of 28 free Christmas theater parties in 17 San Joaquin Valley communities.

“Amazingly well behaved” was the tribute earned from Manager William George of the American Theater in Kingsburg by the crowd of 800 (200 more than was expected) at the final theater party Wednesday afternoon. The party was given by the theater manager, Kingsburg Post No. 191 of the American Legion and the Fresno Bee.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 30, 2009 at 2:56 am

From Southwest Builder & Contractor, February 17, 1922, quoted on a card in the L.A. Library’s California Index: “Kingsburg— Anton Johnson has prepared plans and will build a $35,000 motion picture theater on Draper Street for C.J. Nelson.”

From the October 28, 1939, issue of Boxoffice comes this: “Sam Levin is opening the American at Kingsburg, November 2. Formerly the Kings, the house was remodeled at a cost of $10,000. Eric Wilson will do the booking.”

Business must not have been very good, as the July 29, 1944 issue of Boxoffice said that the American Theatre was being reopened after having been closed for three years.

By the 1950s, the American was being operated by San Joaquin Valley theatre magnate August Panero. The August 21, 1954, issue of Boxoffice said that Panero had temporarily closed the American Theatre at Kingsburg and the McFarland Theatre at McFarland. I can find no more mentions of it in later issues of Boxoffice.

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