Vista Theatre

1400 E. California Avenue,
Bakersfield, CA 93305

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The Vista Theatre was built at a cost of $100,000 and opened on May 4, 1948. Seating was listed at 686. This was an African American theatre. The opening attractions for the Vista Theatre were "My Little Chickadee" and "Crazy House".

The Vista Theatre closed on Feb. 9, 1959. The final attractions were "Gunsmoke In Tucson" and "Snowfire".

The theatre became the Bakersfield Revival Temple a short time after the Vista Theatre closed. The Vista Theatre was demolished in 1962.

Contributed by Chuck

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 7, 2010 at 4:20 pm

The Vista was opened by the Carnakis family, long-time Bakersfield theater operators who owned the Virginia Theatre there. The announcement of the opening of the Vista was made in Boxoffice of May 21, 1949. Boxoffice said nothing about the house being an African American theater.

More interesting is an item in Boxoffice of September 11, 1948, announcing the plans for the theater. This item said that the house was designed by Peacock & Belongia. This was the Milwaukee firm that had designed the prototypes for the Poblocki Sign Company’s quonset hut theaters. Architect Myles Belongia designed quite a few quonset hut houses in the Midwest, but this is the first I’ve heard of any theater of his design being built in California.

More interesting still is that Google Street view shows not one but two large quonset hut buildings adjacent to the lots on the corner of California Avenue and Haley Street, the location given in Boxoffice for the Vista. One of these, at 405 S. Haley Street, is now a church called Catedral de Amor. The other, at 1414 E. California Avenue, is occupied by an Elks Lodge (or was at the time the Google camera truck went by.) Somebody in Bakersfield must have been collecting quonset huts.

I’m wondering about the original source of the information that the Vista Theatre was demolished in 1962. Although it isn’t on the corner, the Elks Lodge building looks about the right size to have been a theater, though the building may have been altered at some time (it looks as though part of the quonset structure might have been replaced by an extension rearward of the boxy front section of the building.) I’m wondering if the source of the 1962 demolition date could have been mistaken and the Vista became the Elks Lodge.

I’m also a bit puzzled by the claim that this was an African American theater. Bakersfield is now a city of close to a third of a million, and center of a vast metropolitan area with a population of over a million, and its population is still less than 10% black. But in the late 1940s it was still a fairly small city of about 35,000 with a very small African American population. I doubt if that small population could have supported so large a segregated theater, and I don’t think the neighborhood around California and Haley is predominantly black even today, so this would have been an odd location for such a theater.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on February 7, 2010 at 7:56 pm

According to the book ‘African American Theatre Buildings – An Illustrated Historical Directory, 1900-1955’ by Eric Ledell Smith, the Vista Theatre was referenced in Film Daily Yearbook editions 1950-1955 as an African American movie theatre.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Do Jim’s files cite a specific source for the demolition date of 1962? The Google satellite view of the area shows the corner lot covered mostly in asphalt with two lighter concrete sections that might be former building pads, though only one of them is large enough to have held the Vista, and that one fronts on Haley Street, not California Avenue.

Of course the building might have been given a California Avenue address if that side of its parcel had been its parking lot, even if the theater’s entrance was closer to Haley Street. If that was indeed the location of the Vista, and it was (as I suspect) a quonset structure, then there were three large quonset hut buildings in a group at this corner.

The classification of the Vista (and now the Virginia as well) as African American theaters remains puzzling. People of Mexican ancestry have long been Bakersfield’s largest minority population, and though the San Joaquin Valley has been fairly cosmopolitan for ages I don’t think the percentage of the population that was of African American ancestry in the Bakersfield area approached double digits until recent decades.

Although Manuel Carnakis was a well-known public official in Kern County (Bakersfield City Councilman, Mayor of Bakersfield, and member of the County Board of Supervisors) there’s very little about him on the Internet. Aside from the multiple references in Boxoffice, most mentions of him appear on sites about powerboat racing. He was a boat racer himself, and he is credited with being the driving force behind the development of Ming Lake, a Kern County Parks and Recreation Department facility dedicated in 1959 which has become a popular venue for boat racing events.

plinfesty
plinfesty on January 18, 2011 at 1:43 am

Well, the opening day’s attraction at the Vista was CRAZY HOUSE and MY LITTEL CHICKADEE, and the Bakersfield Californian ad said the bill included the “Latest Colored Cartoon.” And I know of a hispanic woman who said that as a girl she and a friend used to cross a field to go to the theatre and they were the only non African-American members of the audience. There was of course no official segregation of audiences at that time. At last in 1950, the theatre was on occasion showing first run specialized fare that seemed to be targeted towards that audience.

As far as the building is concerned, I too thought the Elks Lodge might have been the theatre, but going through the city directories, it existed at the same time as the Vista (two different addresses, but next to each other). They were both of the Quansit hut design, though. I think the theatre was replaced by some kind of garage or car repair center, but even that’s gone today.

MikeCarnakis
MikeCarnakis on March 7, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Hi Guys, My name is Mike Carnakis, and my family owned the Vista, and Virginia. I Will call my dad, and have him post some information for you. He spent most of his childhood with my grand parents running back and forth between the two wroking. I think we still have some old programs and things….

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 8, 2011 at 12:51 am

Mike: Thanks for the comment. We’ll be glad to have any information you can provide about this theater or the Virginia. The Virginia Theatre also has a page at Cinema Treasures, but is listed under its last operating name, Cinema 19.

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