California Theatre

431 B Street,
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Here is an item from the January 5, 1924, issue of Exhibitors Herald:

“The new G. & S. theatre was opened last week at Santa Rosa and is managed by T. C. Reavis, who also owns the Cline and Rosa of the same city. This house, it is said, cost $250,000 and seats 2000. The policy calls for feature pictures, vaudeville and road attractions.”
A September 11, 1977, article by Gaye LeBaron in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat says that the G & S Theatre was both designed and built by local contractor Albert M. Hildebrandt. The owners of the building, John Greeott and Eligio Strobino, leased the theater to an experienced theater man, Thomas G. Reaves.

The first show at the new house was a production of the Broadway musical Blossom Time, and the first movie shown was Lon Chaney’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The house was also on the Pantages vaudeville circuit in its early years.

This photo dated 1928 shows the name California Theatre on the vertical sign, but it looks like G & S Theatre might still be on the front of the marquee (it’s a bit blurry.)

moravocis
moravocis on June 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I am the Jeff Morse named in the above article. The California Theater sadly closed in 1977 and demolished not long after. It was built in the late 20’s under another name, the G & S, but was named the California by the 1930’s. It was built not only for films but for vaudeville as well and had a functional stage, dressing rooms, and an orchestra pit. Its a a shame city planners didn’t see the possibilities, it would have made a wonderful performing arts venue downtown, something that Santa Rosa sorely lacks. The interior was richly decorated in what I suppose could be called 1920’s chinoiserie with murals of Chinese peasant life. An interesting footnote- Nathalie Wood, a Santa Rosa native was introduced to films in this theater and knew it well in her childhood. On the site of the theater is a garage for the downtown mall. Thank you very much for the photos! I’ve never seen them before. It brought back many fine memories. Jeffrey Morse moravocis at sign mac.com

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on November 16, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Here is part of a January 2000 article in the LA Times:

These Sunday columns that harken to days gone by are never long enough for the nostalgiacs (Yes, I made up that word; don’t write me) among us. For example, last Sunday’s piece, about theaters that have come and gone, left no room to talk about the California Theater’s magnificent organ, the Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra Style D.

By coincidence, we have news of that Wurlitzer this week. Santa Rosa resident Jeff Morse, one of a multitude who grew up in the old Cal, did some research to find out what happened to the organ. There are a lot of coincidences in what Jeff found.

This old beauty, installed in 1923, when the California was opened (as the G&S Theater), had been well maintained in its 54 years in Santa Rosa, the last years by organist Jack Bethards, who presided over its last great Santa Rosa concert, in 1975, as an accompaniment for a special showing of the silent film “Phantom of the Opera.”

So, when it was decreed that the California would be demolished to make way for Macy’s in 1977, the Wurlitzer brought $8,000 from a wealthy San Diego man, a collector, who donated it to a theater in San Diego. The name of the theater (coincidence #2; the timing of Jeff’s note, as I was preparing to write the Sunday column, being #1) was the California.

“I always thought it was rather nice,” wrote Morse, “that while our California Theater was only a memory, the heart of our theater was still alive, thrilling new audiences.”

But, when Jeff contacted John Dapolito from the San Diego chapter of the American Theater Organ Society, he learned that the Wurlitzer had been removed from San Diego’s California Theater in 1987 and placed in storage. In 1995, after several unsuccessful attempts to find a home for it in a theater, it was installed in a church. Seven months after it was in place, it was destroyed in an arson fire.

Dapolito then delivered to Morse the news that constitutes coincidence #3. “The California Theater,” wrote the San Diegan, “has been condemned. The building is still there, all boarded up and in a bad state of disrepair.”

Kind of makes you wonder if that Wurlitzer was a jinx, doesn’t it?