Sunnyvale Theatre

146-48 S. Murphy Street,
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

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Sunnyvale Entry, Closer

Viewing: Photo | Street View

This former Palace Theatre has been altered so many times, but often with such imagination that it is hard to tell what is historic and what isn’t. To set the record straight, only the two arched windows on the facade date from the theatre’s 1920’s opening as the Strand Theatre, they were found to still exist beneath a layer of plaster during the last remodeling and have been restored. The terrazzo sidewalk obviously dates to a later Moderne remodeling. In the 1960’s, the theatre’s facade was stripped of all ornament and the marquee was slimmed down to a plain canopy.

In the late-1980’s the facade was given a Neo-Moderne reworking—quite attractive, with the idea that the theatre would be turned into a beer-and-pizza movie house. This project failed, and the theatre remained dark for a few years.

Finally a new effort to turn it into a restaurant, nightclub, and meeting/rental facility materialized. The Neo-Moderne facade was kept, and the interior redone in a wild, but quite fine, combination of Pompeiian, Egyptian, and African Tribal—with Postmodern accents—motifs. The Moderne proscenium from its last days as a movie house still exists, though somewhat altered, but the seating has been replaced by a dance floor, thrust stage, and terraced table seating in the rear.

Contributed by Gary Parks

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

GaryParks
GaryParks on November 27, 2004 at 2:01 pm

Other names this theatre briefly had, after being known as the Sunnyvale: Town and Country Cinema (due to the close proximity of the Town and Country shopping center a block away), and Murphy Street Cinema (very briefly). The only reason I know of the latter name is that I once worked as an illustrator for the graphics firm in Sunnyvale that designed the type and logo for its operators under that name, though by the time I saw said logo the theatre had closed and was being remodeled for its current function, and the Murphy Street Cinema logo was simply a published item in my employer’s portfolio.

scottfavareille
scottfavareille on April 7, 2005 at 9:41 am

In the 1970’s(as the Town and Country), it was a dollar house before converting to XXX format(approximately 1974) and stayed that way until the early 1980’s. The AMC Sunnyvale 6(now closed) at the Towne Center mall likely hurt this theater before its porn conversion.

From what I understand, in its current nightclub incarnation, the balcony area is used as a second dancefloor.

robertgippy
robertgippy on June 5, 2005 at 6:56 pm

I went to the Sunnyvale Theater when it showed porno. It was huge inside with red opera curtains on the stage. The screen had a hole in it, taped over. Two side entrances took you to the auditorium with the main floor, and a stadium style balcony in the rear. The balcony section had huge leather style chairs which went up to the back of your neck and they rocked. The lighting fixtures in the rear part of the balcony were burnt out. It was very dark up there and you wouldn’t believe what went on up there! Even the projectionist joined in. He ran the projectors and box office at the same time, the projector was once of the first platter styles. When the theatre converted from porno to mainstream the little display in the window said PORNO IS NO MO! I went to a screening of DAS Boot there afterwards a few years later and the attendance was poor. I didn’t recall seeing any murals on the walls, and at that time the walls of the lobby were covered over with fake brown trailer style stuff.

GaryParks
GaryParks on August 15, 2007 at 10:18 pm

The central section of the rear wall of the theatre—facing the parking lot—has just been painted VIVID orange. Not sure why.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on September 15, 2007 at 4:31 pm

It was listed as the Sunnyvale in the 1970 motion picture almanac. The operator was Sunny-Mount Theaters out of San Francisco.

GaryParks
GaryParks on November 2, 2008 at 4:10 pm

Another name change: The nightclub operation is now called Abyss, and has been for more than a year now.
I have recently discovered that when this theatre opened circa 1926, it was called New Strand. This is because there was indeed an “old” nickelodeon style Strand in the building next door, two storefronts up. It had a simple front, with arched entrance and a leaded glass transom reading STRAND. This may have been a renaming of the 1911 Empire Theatre, but I cannot confirm this at present. The building still stands with completely remodeled facades, and the former location of the “old” Strand is now Fibbar MaGee’s Irish Pub.

GaryParks
GaryParks on April 30, 2012 at 11:13 pm

The former Sunnyvale (which should not be listed here as Forum anymore—that appellation lasted for a very short time in the 2000s and has not been used for years) is now once again opened as a restaurant and nightclub called Pure. The exterior looks exactly the same as it has for the last decade-plus, and the interior architecture has been through only minor changes. The lobby has been given a treatment of blue and white wallpaper in a metallic swirl motif. The auditorium has been given a uniform white paint job, covering all the walls and ceiling, but otherwise leaving intact the eclectic Egypto-Italo-Skouras-Tatooine plasterwork dating from its days as the Palace, Forum, and Abyss. Down front, the Streamline Moderne plaster proscenium and ceiling coves, as well as aluminum-housed curtain lights in the ceiling from the movie days, survive. The decor gets a sense of color by indirect multicolored LED lighting hidden in coves and sconces, and very imaginatively designed stacked glass table bases. The upstairs lounge room behind the facade’s arched windows seems to no longer be used as a public space, and still preserves its painted decor from the 1990s years as the Palace/Forum. The multicolored window film which I myself installed on the insides of the arched windows in the early 90s is still in place—though bubbled in some spots from nearly 20 years of UV exposure. An added bonus for history: The c. 1940s terrazzo pavement in the entrance and sidewalk out front has been expertly patched and polished.

GaryParks
GaryParks on May 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm

According to an old schedule dating from 1927, and now housed at the Sunnyvale Historical Museum, the Strand exhibited five different shows a week. It was a nearly movies-only policy, although the theater’s small stage was occasionally graced at that time by small musical acts, and Oreol McLaughlin of Our Gang Comedies made a personal appearance. At that time, adult admission was 30 cents; children were 15 cents, and anyone sitting in the loge section (the stadium seating in the rear half of the auditorium) paid 40 cents. The theater was renamed Sunnyvale in 1935. Blanco’s Peninsular Theatres took over operation from 1937 to 1943.
The 1949 Film Daily Yearbook lists seating as 934. During its mid-1980s run as Murphy Street Cinema, a policy of two, three, or even four features on a single program was tried, as shown on a schedule from those years which is also preserved at the Sunnyvale Historical Museum. The schedules were distributed locally. Patrons paid differing prices depending on how many features on the program they wished to see, a policy which no doubt led to some confusion. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was shown on Saturdays at Midnight.

CTBIII
CTBIII on September 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm

I went to the theatre as a kid in the 50s. Every Saturday for probably 2 years. Walked from home on Maple saw two features, cartoons, a newsreel probably and a serial. I think admission was $0.10 but can’t be sure. I don’t recognize the facade but probably wouldn’t after all this time.

I was driving by Sunnyvale in the late 80’s and made a detour. The area was rundown, and my favorite theatre was now a porno theatre. Nice to see it’s been fixed up with the resurgence from the computer industry.

Cheers

Charles ctbishop at earth link dot com

GaryParks
GaryParks on March 25, 2013 at 8:02 pm

My thanks to fellow historian Jack Tillmany for finding the following today in Motion Picture News, now on Archive.com. It is dated June 17, 1927. “Pete Kyprious and associates have opened their new Strand Theatre at Sunnyvale. The old theatre was closed at once.” The old theatre referred to is the “old” Strand, formerly a nickelodeon called the Empire, which operated two doors to the South on the same side of the street. Kyprious also was part owner of the Casa Grande Theatre in Santa Clara, which had opened in 1925 at 966 Franklin Street. It was later called the Santa Clara.

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