Oaks Theatre

85 N. Fair Oaks Avenue,
Pasadena, CA 91103

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mattnhormann
mattnhormann on May 19, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Joe, your hunch is correct. Thurston’s Pasadena City Directory of 1911 lists “Fisher’s Theater” at 87 N. Fair Oaks Avenue. 1912 oddly does not list either theater, but instead a cigar shop run by a “Mr. Fisher” at 89 N. Fair Oaks. By 1913, the Savoy Theatre appears at 87 N. Fair Oaks.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 27, 2014 at 5:22 pm

I found a later item in Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer that gave the address of the 1912 theater project in Pasadena as 87 N. Fair Oaks. As the Oaks was at the corner of Holly Street, there wouldn’t have been room for another theater next to it, so 87 N. Fair Oaks must have been its address in 1912. Fisher’s Theatre was reported in insurance industry publications of the period as having suffered a fire on January 5, 1911, so it must have opened in 1910 at the latest.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 27, 2014 at 4:24 pm

As the quote matnhornmann cited indicates that this theater already existed and the Pasadena Playhouse took it over, we know that it probably dates from the 1910s or earlier. I’ve come across a reference to a house called Fisher’s Theatre on North Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, operating in 1912. There is no address for it, but I wonder if it was the same house as the Oaks? The June 15, 1912 issue of Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer said this:

“ALTERATIONS—Archts. Buchanan & Brockway, 65 N. Raymond Ave., are preparing plans for remodeling Fisher’s theater on N. Fair Oaks Ave. to conform with the building ordinance. The work will consist of installing an automatic sprinkler system. fire doors, brick wall between the stage and auditorium, and changes in the wiring system. Cost about $2500.”
If Fisher’s Theatre was not the same house that later became the Oaks, then there had to have been another theater on North Fair Oaks Avenue, but I’ve never heard of any others being there.

mattnhormann
mattnhormann on March 14, 2014 at 10:35 pm

“The Savoy Theatre [Oaks Theatre] on North Fair Oaks was rather a small movie theater. It had a stage, which contained the screen, but it didn’t have any backstage — just enough room to put a play on. If you were a member of the cast and you wanted to get from left stage to right stage, you had to go out in the alley. If it was raining, that was just too bad.” – Arthur Raymond, Talking About Pasadena: Selections From Oral Histories, 1986

Linkerthinker
Linkerthinker on August 17, 2013 at 5:26 pm

In the old photo, and in the old drawing of the theater, the small cafe in the left of your computer monitor screen was owned/operated by my mom and dad from about 1949/50 until roughly 1962/63. It was called Bee Jee’s Malt Shop all that time (named after me). Mr. Wenzler was our landlord and family friend for all that time, and for the first few of those years the Oak’s ran second/third run general audience double features + cartoons + newsreels + live Keno on some weekends during some of those years. My mom and dad just ran the malt shop for bread-and-butter, but were both professional dance/drama/Music teachers and performers….as was I. For a couple of summers, we even put on a live stage show on Friday nights on the stage of the Oaks. Got to hand it to Mr. Wenzler, he tried everything possible to keep the place afloat, even running Mexican feature films for about a year, prior to going to the “art” genre'.

He was a great student of constitutional law, and fought hard for his theater.

He always dressed “To The Nines” with custom tailored suits, and great Hamburg hats. A man of great style, slightly stout, but with great posture and swag, and always the cigar….lit or not…..was with him everywhere he went. Kind of a dying breed that one saw in films of the 1940s-50s era. Loved him dearly, like an uncle, and his son Harold Jr. was a school buddy and personal friend of mine, and he lives now in Mesquite NV.

marion142
marion142 on August 15, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I, too, remember the Oaks as an “Adult” theater. I remember going by one day in 1960 or 1961 and seeing the title movie “Look Ma, no Bra!” playing with “Nudie Cuties”. It was quite scandalous back then, laughable now.

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on August 25, 2012 at 9:24 pm

If anyone has any stories about going to/ working at this threatre in its adult days, I would love to hear them. I am chronicling the histories of adult theatres in the US. Please contact me at Thanks!

landgrant
landgrant on July 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s my family often drove by the Oaks on the way to church every Sunday. Titles like “Nudie Cuties” bookmarked our Sunday mass transits. There was an attempt to “save” the Oaks from sin in 1961 with the projection of “St. Francis of Assisi” which many of us school kids were brought in to attend. Sad to say, the “Oaks” was not saved – one way or the other.

franklinwenzler
franklinwenzler on October 18, 2010 at 8:23 am

hey i was wondering if any one had any pictures of harold eugen wenzler sr. not his son but the father

tonytony
tonytony on March 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm

unbelievable the projectionist Ross was my gandfather and although i now remember him working there i dont remember the arrest

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on March 19, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Here is a September 1957 ad from the same source:
http://tinyurl.com/df6lq9

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on March 13, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Here is an April 1966 ad from the Pasadena Independent:
http://tinyurl.com/bf73vf

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on January 13, 2009 at 12:25 am

Here is part of an LA Times article dated 3/24/76:

PASADENA-An obscenity case against a theater owner here was declared a mistrial after a jury of four men and eight women reported they were deadlocked after three days of deliberation. The jury foreman said the jury had voted 10 to 2 to acquit Harold Eugene Wenzler, owner of the Oaks Theater, 85 N, Fair Oaks Avenue, charged with showing an obscene film there last August.

The jury viewed the film confiscated by vice officers when Wenzler was arrested. It contained four silent bland and white and color sequences all showing nude or semi-nude women. Much of the testimony in the trial centered on the last black and white sequence, in which a nude woman moved erotically on a bed.

During Wenzler’s latest trial, vice officers arrested Ross H. Raines, 50, projectionist at the Oaks Theater, and charged him with showing an obscene film. Raines is scheduled to enter a plea Wednesday at 9 a.m.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on January 2, 2009 at 7:24 pm

There was a followup story in the LA Times in March 1977 about the demolition of the Oaks. Harold Wenzler passed away a month before the demolition. I don’t know if the theater ever moved over to Raymond Avenue. Here is a photo that accompanied the story in the Times:
http://tinyurl.com/975gbx

gbachlund
gbachlund on January 2, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Gene, your grandfather was a gentlemen and a showman. E-mail me at and I will respond.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on January 2, 2009 at 11:32 am

Here is part of an LA Times article dated 10/10/76:

PASADENA-The Board of City Directors on October 12 will hear an appeal by the owner of an adult theater against denial of his application for zoning exception that would require him to relocate his theater with less than required number of off-street parking spaces.

The Oaks Theater, 85 N. Fair Oaks Avenue, owned by Harold E. Wenzler, is situated in an area earmarked for expansion of the Parsons Engineering Co. world headquarters. The Pasadena Redevelopment Agency (PRA) which is responsible for acquiring and clearing properties for the expansion project, has been working with Wenzler to try and get the theater relocated in a building at 35 S. Raymond Avenue. However the city’s zoning board denied Wenzler’s application for a zoning exception to the parking requirements.

Wenzler’s Oak Theater was the center of controversy during the 1960s, when he first began showing adult films. When law enforcement agencies attempted to block the showing of the films, Wenzler retained attorney Stanley Fleischman to fight a succession of charges all the way from the Pasadena Municipal Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the court cases, Wenzler’s theater has remained open.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 23, 2008 at 9:34 pm

The plain facade the Oaks Theatre sported in its final years probably dates from 1945, and the name change from Fair Oaks Theatre was probably made at the same time (four letters being cheaper than eight.) Boxoffice Magazine’s issue of February 3, 1945, carried a brief item saying that the Fair Oaks Theatre had been gutted by fire. Manager George Haines said that plans were underway for immediate reconstruction. The item also mentioned the theater’s history as the original home of the Pasadena Playhouse, and added that the Fair Oaks had been showing movies since 1935.

genomarx
genomarx on September 22, 2008 at 10:42 am

Gordon, I am Harold E. Wenzlers grandson, Gene. I would enjoy the chance to hear from you.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 21, 2008 at 12:24 am

The Oaks Theatre was not only built quite a bit earlier than the 1930s, it was built before 1925 when that Wurlitzer organ was installed. It was called the Savoy Theatre at one time, and was the first home of Gilmore Brown’s Pasadena Community Playhouse (founded 1917, though I don’t know whether or not that was the year it moved into this house.)

When the Playhouse company moved to their new theatre on El Molino Avenue in 1925, the house was extensively remodeled to plans by Pasadena architect Walter C. Folland, according to Southwest Builder & Contractor issue of April 10, 1925. Alterations mentioned included a new front, floors, marquee, seats and interior decoration. Presumably, as it was being converted into a movie house, it got a screen and projection booth as well.

I’ve been unable to establish whether the theatre was called the Savoy before, or during, the time it was the home of Brown’s playhouse group. I don’t know if it was actually built for the community playhouse, or was an existing theatre that Brown had remodeled. What can be established by an article in the Pasadena Star News of May 19th, 1925, is that the name became Fair Oaks Theatre at this time. The Star News referred to the new picture house as “…a family theatre with fine equipment.”

At any rate, the Oaks turns out to have been considerably more significant historically than I had ever imagined.

The L.A. library’s California Index contains a 2MB PDF file of a brochure published by architect Walter C. Folland, which contains a small drawing of his design for the facade of the Fair Oaks, which was quite different than the plain facade I recall from the 1960s. Download the PDF file here.

Patsy
Patsy on October 24, 2005 at 1:33 pm

Since the Oaks Theatre is listed in Pasadena I’m sure anyone posting on this theatre link is also aware of the Raymond Theatre in Pasadena. The Raymond is in it’s 11th hour so anyone who would like to show their support to save this historical theatre please come to a Final Design Review hearing on Monday, the 24th at 7 (All Saints Church, Sweetland Hall 132 N. Euclid). To learn more about the Raymond Theatre and its past/present history go to www.raymondtheatre.com Thank you.

gbachlund
gbachlund on November 28, 2003 at 2:28 pm

After the closure of the Lux Theatre in LA and the Granada Theatre in LA, Harold Wenzler operated the Oaks Theatre in Pasadena, and I worked for him as relief projectionist. Like Mr. Wenzler’s other venues, the Oaks catered to a down-scale clientele, but he insisted upon the best in showmanship.

While I cannot say for sure, I believe the Oaks was built by Warners as an early talkie house.