Sash Mill Cinema

303 Potrero Street #35,
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

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Sash Mill Complex

This little theater was located a block off River Street on the opposite side of Mission Hill from the main section of downtown Santa Cruz. It was converted in the early 1970’s from a former window sash mill structure, built of steel and corrugated metal. In front was a redwood and glass cafe, called the CineCafe. The theater was entered to the right of the Cafe through a small lobby with twin staircases which gave access to the two-aisled theater, which featured a stadium seating section in the rear third of the auditorium. The ceiling was the exposed steel beam structure of the old sash mill space, with exposed ductwork. All of this was painted black. The walls were textured drywall, painted cobalt blue. There were four cast iron and stained glass wall sconces, which appeared to have been salvaged from an old theater, although the stained glass portions appeared to be a 1970’s interpretation of Art Deco sunbursts. The seats were salvaged from theaters of the 1920’s or 1930’s, and the aisle standards were of two different designs—an Art Deco sun ray motif and the other a Baroque design with bare-breasted maidens supporting the arm rests. The screen was adjustable to fit various formats. There was no curtain. Rainy nights made for a cozy experience, as the drops falling on the metal roof could be heard during quiet parts of a film.

The Sash Mill Cinema opened January 24, 1975 and began as an art/foreign film venue, but spent the late-1970’s through the late-1980’s as Santa Cruz’s beloved repertory cinema. As such, it was operated by Nickelodeon Theatres. For many of these years, this was Santa Cruz’s home for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. The Sash Mill Cinema closed in the mid-1990’s.

Contributed by Gary Parks

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

GaryParks
GaryParks on April 12, 2008 at 8:56 pm

For those who keep track of such things: Over the years I asked various staff and management at the Sash Mill if they knew where the seats and wall sconces came from originally. No one ever seemed to know.

jeanfilkins
jeanfilkins on May 2, 2008 at 3:32 am

Ah, the Sash Mill… probably my favorite revival house. Not the most comfortable seats, but real butter on the popcorn and some amazing baked goods for sale at the concession stand (the cafe was pretty good, too). Movie selection was wonderful— like Gary, I remember their schedule fondly (it was fun to map out your movie going when the new one came out). This was just before VCRs were common, and when you were addicted to “old movies” as I was as a kid, it was heaven to see classic films uncut on the big screen. (It’s still a thrill for me, but now I have to drive an hour to get to the Castro!)
I was a film major at UCSC in the early 80s and the Sash Mill was sort of a third faculty member (there were two film profs. in the department at that time). I remember a Michael Powell evening which began with “The Red Shoes” and ended with “Tales of Hoffman.” I spotted Bruce Kawin (who taught film studies/history for a year or two) in the audience and was chuffed as I had a bit of a crush on him. By the second hour of “Tales of Hoffman,” my friends were so bored they went out to the lobby for coffee. I stuck it out, not wanting to lose face with Bruce (as if he’d have a clue who I was!— one of the nameless hundreds in The Film Experience). Then I succumbed to the Technicolor and the music and Robert Helpmann… hours went by… when I finally staggered out of the theater after midnight, my friends told me that Bruce Kawin had left hours ago. Sigh.
Another spine-challenging evening was a triple feature of early Bond films— great stuff when you’d only seen them on TV, splintered by commercials on a teeny tiny screen. Warner Brothers Cartoons, Robert Altman rarities, Howard Hawks festivals… the Sash Mill was good, very good.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on May 2, 2008 at 6:13 am

Ah, the Sash Mill. How much you are missed. Like Gary, most of my friends and I would also have a Sash Mill calendar on our fridge or in our rooms, with the shows we were going to see circled so we didn’t forget. I never kept a diary of the films I saw there, but it would easily be in the hundreds (and that’s not including all the times we watched or performed RHPS).

The snack bar for the theatre was cozy, had a great selection of traditional and non-traditional snacks… and a little black and white monitor secured over the snack bar, with a tinny little speaker next to it, so you didn’t miss a moment of the movie should you absolutely need to get some stuff during the presentation. Now there’s something you won’t find in very many theatres today.

I will have to disagree with Jean, however, about her statement “This was just before VCRs were common.” By the time I graduated from Aptos High in 1985, everyone I knew had a VCR, a couple of us worked at video stores, and it was rare if we weren’t going to the Sash at least once a week (again, not including RHPS). Well into the 1990s, when we were buying and renting our laserdiscs at Lenz Arts, we were still going to the Sash on a consistent basis. I was living in Los Angeles when the Sash finally closed in 1994, so I didn’t get to go to the last show, but I know a lot of thirty and fortysomethings who miss the place dearly.

For the record, the address for the Sash was 303 Potrero St #35, Santa Cruz CA 95060

shanadavid
shanadavid on December 20, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Does anyone know the status of the Sash Mill? Is it available for lease? Any idea of who to contact? Please feel free to email me at if you’ve got some more info. Thanks a million.

Titus77
Titus77 on June 6, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I lived in SC twice between ‘Jan. '86 and Aug. '87. The Sash Mill was the ultimate art house. I have 8 or 10 calendars I’d be happy to scan and post here.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on October 24, 2011 at 12:43 am

Please do, Titus. I wish I still had all my Sash Mill calendars.

lateafternoon
lateafternoon on November 1, 2011 at 4:30 am

We second that, Mr Havens. Please, please, please Titus77 scan and post those posters, we will go insane otherwise. We were just laughing about the crazy double-bills from the Sash Mill. Chinatown and Blade Runner perhaps? Much thanks in advance, N and N

Jamesmnix
Jamesmnix on December 20, 2013 at 6:01 am

After the Ramones gave a concert in Santa Cruz one evening the cinema showed a late night screening of Rock and Roll High School. After the end of the film the Ramones themselves came out on stage in the cinema and gave away a tee shirt. Now that’s a movie house.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 6, 2014 at 8:19 pm

The April, 1976, issue of Esquire had an article about the Sash Mill Cinema on pages 76-77, according to a card in the L.A. Public Library’s California Index. The magazine isn’t available online, but there must still be original copies out there somewhere.

rivest266
rivest266 on July 26, 2015 at 5:14 pm

This opened on January 24th, 1975. Grand opening ad in photo section.

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