Jose Theatre

62 S. Second Street,
San Jose, CA 95113

Unfavorite 7 people favorited this theater

Showing 18 comments

DavidZornig on April 25, 2017 at 6:36 am

1935 photo added courtesy of Harold Hal Burks.

Additional history below courtesy of Harold Hal Burks and Paul Bernal.

The Jose, built in 1904, is the oldest theater in San Jose, located on Second Street near San Fernando Street. Construction of the Jose was started in 1903 under the ownership of David Jacks, a Monterey landowner who was the namesake of Monterrey Jack cheese. At that time, the theater was a popular showcase for stock companies and vaudeville acts. Its history includes an appearance by magician Harry Houdini and a stint as a vaudeville house. Within a 10-year period the theatre ownership changed from Jacks to Chicago speculator William Warren.“ "In the 1920’s, James Battey bought the Jose as an addition to his local chain of theaters. Under Battey’s tenure, the entertainment was changed to include silent motion pictures with the customary live musical accompaniment. In the 1930’s the Jose began its history of showing second-run films. In 1933 Battey invested $35, 000 for remodeling. In 1949, James B. Lima’s General Theatrical Company purchased the Jose.”

“Subsequently, ownership of the Jose was assumed by Barry Swenson and Jim Fox, who closed the theater after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Swenson and Fox said it was not economically feasible to perform the retrofit to keep the theater open. The Jose Theater was declared a historical landmark on April 16, 1990. After more than a year of negotiations, the San Jose City Council agreed to pay for resurrection of the Jose Theater at a cost of $5.1 million. It will be leased for 10 years to the Improv comedy club, opening in 2002. The theater, which seats nearly 500 people, will be the largest of Improv’s 12 venues.”

Paul Bernal, Official Historian of San Jose, offers the following extraordinary comments regarding the odd connection between The Jose theater and Monterey Jack Cheese:

“Monterey Jack cheese was named for entrepreneur and financier David Jacks of Monterey. This is the same David Jacks who commissioned the construction of the Jose Theatre vaudeville house in 1904, which still stands at 64 South Second Street in San Jose. In 2002, it was reopened following a multimillion dollar restoration, renovation, and retrofit.”

“David Jacks had an eye for developing someone else’s product into a huge business. In the 1880s, Juana Cota de Boronda needed to support her family. Her husband became crippled and she had 15 children. At her Rancho de Los Laureles in Carmel Valley, Monterey, she prepared high moisture cheese by using a method brought from Spain to Mexico and then California by the Franciscan padres. The cheese was known as Queso de Pais. She sold it in local markets. It became a much wanted item, but Senora Boronda could not mass produce it given the limited number of milk-producing cows on her Rancho.”

“David Jacks took the idea, and created a conglomerate of about 15 dairies to compete with Boronda. He called his product Jacks Cheese. Some consumers looking for Boronda’s cheese would ask for the "jack” cheese (cheese made with a press or jack). Some would ask for Monterey Cheese. Capitalizing on the confusion of terms and producers, David Jacks cleverly renamed his brand “Monterey Jack Cheese” so all buyers would gravitate toward his cheese. Of course, Boronda was wiped out and Jacks became wealthy, enabling him to build the Jose Theatre, among other enterprises.

The Jose Theatre is a designated City of San Jose Historic Landmark.

Elisabet on May 17, 2016 at 10:04 am

My favorite theatre The Jose! Saw the worst and best movies of the 70’s there. As a teenager was both traumatized and fascinated! All the Bruce Lee Kung Fu films – Chinese Connection, Fists of Fury, Enter the Dragon, Blaxploitation films – Super Fly, Shaft, Cleopatra Jones, Blackula, B Movie Horror films – Race with the Devil, The Devil’s Rain, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Legend of Hell House, Night of the Living Dead, The Incredible Two Headed Transplant. Those Satan Biker movies…yikes! We’d go in when it was light and come out and it was dark! $1 for a triple feature, not to mention the other entertainment – Winos, Prostitutes, kids running up and down the aisles. Awful threadbare seats, gross bathrooms with those pink perfumatic perfume despensers. The best memories! :)

paulzak on April 7, 2015 at 6:38 am

I did a little electrical work in this theater in the 80s. The top floor contained a kitchen and bedrooms/dorm. Apparently this was an old vaudeville theater and the performers stayed in the apartments when playing the theater. For better or worse, the owners in the mis80s allowed employees to play paintball in the space giving the place a post apocalyptic look. Zombie central.

pengeman on June 14, 2013 at 7:09 am

Worked at this theater when going to San Jose State, now a state university. Wife and I met there and have been married for 40 years. “Mr. Miller” managed the theater and told us we would never find another job like that. He was right.

Mikeyisirish on December 8, 2012 at 2:25 pm

A 2010 photo can be seen here.

jon62 on March 23, 2012 at 8:12 am

The good old Jose… we would go there Saturday afternoons and pay 10 cents to see three movies. Lots of hispanics would hang out there, sometimes there were fights and a place where people “made out” and just hung out..

kencmcintyre on November 29, 2007 at 5:27 pm

There is no Jose Romero-Gonzalez. I was just wasting valuable web space. I’m going back to work now.

kencmcintyre on November 29, 2007 at 5:14 pm

Little known historical fact, courtesy of Wikipedia:

During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key, accompanied by American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner and Mexican Attache Jose Romero-Gonzalez, dined aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, as the guests of three British officers. Skinner, Key, and Romero-Gonzalez were allowed to return to their own sloop, but were not allowed to return to Baltimore because they had become familiar with the strength and position of the British units and of the British intention to attack Baltimore. As a result of this, Key was unable to do anything but watch the bombarding of the American forces at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. Peering through the heavy smoke, he commented to the Attache, “Jose, can you see?” Shortly thereafter, he was inspired to compose our national anthem.

gunrob on February 13, 2007 at 4:24 pm

Did you know that the Jose Theatre had a 4-man orchestra? Here is a picture of the group ca. 1910.


GaryParks on April 26, 2006 at 10:35 am

The second photo submitted by ken mc shows South Second Street (with the Jose) in the mid-1980s, when the street was ripped up for the Downtown Transit Mall. While the end result of the mall’s construction was ultimately a positive one for Downtown, the construction process was very hard on the businesses at the time. You can see that the Jose was weathering the storm by staying open with the triple feature policy it had presented for decades. At this point it would have still been operating under General Theatrical Co.

GaryParks on April 26, 2006 at 10:31 am

In the above entry by ken mc, the first photo with the theatre sign reading VITAPHONE shows the Victory Theatre, which later became the Crest, and burned in the 60s. Nearly all the buildings on the right side of the street in the photo are gone. The Knights of Columbus building on the left side still survives.

kencmcintyre on November 15, 2005 at 4:35 pm

Here are two pictures from San Jose. The first photo is from the twenties and shows a Vitaphone theater, but on First Street. I don’t think that’s the Jose. The second picture speaks for itself.

View link

View link

STELLARB on October 13, 2004 at 9:14 pm

When I was a kid growing up in the greater San Jose area,me and my friends would catch a bus out of the suburbs,and head to the fabled “Jose” ,where we could watch films that are parents would never dream of taking us to…One of the best grindhouse’s EVER! Mostly all of the films were rated R ,and were very violent,gory,and sexy…Never asked to show proof of age. We were 12! This place served a large area of moviegoers , and filled a real need for the many independant genres that they featured…There were kids like me from all over the valley,who’d show up on buses,or get rides from their cousins or big brothers. It’s a legendary place!

GaryParks on July 31, 2004 at 2:08 pm

To correct Mr. VanBibber’s assertion that the Jose was also known as the Victory and Crest…Sorry. Incorrect. The Victory was on North First Street. It became the Crest in the 40s. When it burned in the 1960s, its vertical sign was salvaged, given new letters reading JOSE, and installed on the Jose, where it remains. At the time General Theatrical Co. operated both the Crest and Jose.

GaryParks on June 23, 2004 at 12:52 pm

My wife and I attended a terrific comedy show at the Improv/Jose this past fall, and I gave myself a complete tour of the interior after the performance. Basically what has been done is to restore all those historical elements which had survived, regardless of era. This approach works well, as the theatre’s entire architectural history is represented. The gilded plaster ceiling dating from the theatre’s construction has been beautifully restored, including the relighting of hundreds of bare lightbulbs which outline the moldings. In 1904, this feature told audiences in no uncertain terms, “This new and modern theatre has ELECTRICITY!” At the same time, a large deco chandelier in the center remains and is restored. This feature effectively uplights the center of the ceiling. The front edge of the balcony has been restored to its plasterwork frieze of garlands and torches. The underside of the balcony and the inner lobby ceiling both retain their patterned, pressed tin surfaces. The stage is nicely festooned with deep red velvet drapes fringed in gold, which call to mind curtain design from 1940s movie theatres—very appropriate. In the old hotel space over the lobby, new and luxurious restrooms and lounges and a bar for the balcony have been built. Historic features like wooden staircases and multi-paned skylights have been retained, and the bathrooms have replicated porcelain tile with very narrow grout seams—characteristic the the early 20th Century, The overall effect is one of hip, tasteful luxury nestled comfortably in a respected historical setting.

scottfavareille on March 11, 2003 at 3:21 pm

From the 1970’s until its closure as a movie house in the early 1990’s, it was a downtown second-run triple bill theater.

GaryParks on November 19, 2002 at 7:44 pm

The Jose Theatre, as of last week, is now OPEN as the new Improv Comedy Club for San Jose. The kleig lights were sweeping the sky last Friday night, as Kevin Pollak was onstage for the second night of a four-night run. Appearing next: Paula Poundstone, followed by engagements of Brad Sherwood, D. L. Hughley, and Brett Buttler, into December.

I have not entered the theatre yet since its reopening, but through the new glass doors I could see that the egg-and-dart moldings running around the lobby walls have been beautifully regilded, and both intricate ironwork chandeliers have been restored. The only change to the exterior’s historic look is the substitution of the IMPROV name in neon where JOSE used to be. However, the lettering is done in neon which matches. The vertical sign still reads JOSE, and blinks on letter by letter in both green and magenta in turn, and then flashes in unison. This restored treasure brings a glowingly positive presence to the Downtown streetscape—soon to be joined by the Fox California a couple of blocks away in a little over a year.

GaryParks on April 25, 2002 at 8:20 pm

Architect was William Binder.

From the Late 40s until the 1980s, General Theatrical was the operator, as a triple-feature bargain house for most if not all of those years.

In its restoration, the 1940s neon has been preserved—historic in its own right—along with the original 1904 facade. The combination works well, and calls to mind early 20th century theatres as they looked by mid-century in many of our cities.