Soper-Reese Theatre

275 S. Main Street,
Lakeport, CA 95453

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The Lakeport Theatre opened in 1949, and was designed by San Francisco theater architect Vincent G. Raney for owner Leo Reese, who had operated Lakeport’s Orpheum Theatre for twenty years.

When construction on the Lakeport had recently begun, the building was described in an article in the October 2, 1948, issue of Boxoffice magazine as being built of Bakelite blocks with a rough stucco finish on the exterior. Raney designed the house with a section of stadium seating, to maximize capacity on the fairly small building site. The completed house had about 600 seats.

The Lakeport Theatre operated as a movie house for nearly half a century, closing in the 1990’s. In 1997, the building was purchased by the Lake County Arts Council, with a donation by Jim and Florence Soper, and renovations were begun to convert the space into a community performing arts center. The theater was designated a Lakeport Historic Building by the city in 2000.

The theater has operated intermittently as a live performance venue while undergoing renovations. The first phase of renovation was completed in 2008, and the house is now in use for live performances and for theatre classes of Mendocino College. Funds are being raised for further renovations.

Despite considerable alteration, some period features remain in the house, including the entrance doors with their Art Moderne floral pattern etched glass.

Contributed by Joe Vogel

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 17, 2009 at 5:15 pm

The Lakeport Theatre opened with about 600 seats, according to Boxoffice Magazine, but the number has been reduced. Some part of the orchestra seating was removed to make room for the stage. I’ve been unable to discover the current seating capacity, or what it will be when remodeling is complete, but I doubt it will end up much more than half the original 600.

I’ve also found several references in issues of Boxoffice from the 1950s which say that Robert Reese was the operator of the Lakeport. He was most likely Leo Reese’s son, but I’ve got no confirmation of that. There are a couple of more recent references on the Internet to a Margaret Reese being the operator of the Lakeport Auto Movies and the twin (later five-screen) adjacent to it, so the Reese family probably ran all the theaters in Lakeport from the 1920s until recently.

There are still many Reeses in Lake County, so maybe one of them will find this page and fill in the details for us. I’d especially like to know more about Leo Reese’s Orpheum Theatre, and about the Rio Theatre in Merced, which one issue of Boxoffice mentions him operating.

pgernert
pgernert on March 16, 2012 at 11:55 am

I am the daughter of Bob and Margaret Reese, Granddaughter of Leo and Lillian Reese, original owners of the Orpheum Theatre, Lakeport Theatre and Lakeport Auto Movies. I could help with many of your questions.

The Orpheum Theatre building burned in a fire soon after the new theatre was built by my grandfather. I didn’t know alot about it as it was before my time, but I do know that my grandnmother, Lillian, was the organist for the silent movies there. My mother, now living in Santa Rosa, Ca. could give more on this topic. My father returned to Lakeport to run the new theatre for my grandmother when Leo passed away at the early age of 53. And the family business prospered. The importance of that theatre to the community was immense.

The Lakeport Theatre (now the Soper-Reese Theatre) was remodeled into a twin when longer running times were required and my father feared a corporate competitor would come into the small community and build a theatre that would put him out of business. So a wall was built down the center of the large auditorium and the huge screen replaced by two smaller screens. It operated as a twin until he built the Lakeport Cinema 5 outside of town and the Performing Arts Council purchased and began remodeling it. The Cinema 5 was built on the front section of the property on which my father had built the Lakeport Auto Movies (drive-in) in the early 70’s. The Drive-In still operates during the summer. My mother managed the Drive-In while my father ran the walk-in downtown.

Soon after the 5plex was completed, my father sold it along with the drive-in and retired. For awhile he had hoped my brother, Jim, would take the business over from him, but it wasn’t to be.

That was a sad day for the community. The personal relationships that my family held with each employee and each patron that entered the doors would no longer be. It was an honor to land a job at the theatre, in spite of the relatively low pay. My family greeted each patron personally and knew everybody’s name, occupation, their childrens' names and what activities they were involved in. The children were looked after by my parents and the community knew they were safe at the theatre.

Too much rambling on here…I’d be happy to share more with anyone who is interested. The Soper-Reese Theatre is quickly becoming a premium venue for live entertainment of many types! My family is proud to have been able to help it happen.

Mikeyisirish
Mikeyisirish on June 4, 2014 at 8:16 am

Does anyone have an old photo of this theater? Did it ever have a nice neon marquee?

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