Bell Theatre

610 Marin Street,
Vallejo, CA 94590

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Waldorf Theatre

The Waldorf Theatre was originally a saloon owned and managed by William R. Acock, and was also known as Waldorf Corner (Waldorf Grill & Bar) owned by A.P. Rothenbush. On December 16 1901, it opened as a new ‘Refined Vaudeville’ show. In January 1904, it became the Novelty Theatre showing a combination of vaudeville and movies under the direction of the management of Arthur Payne. By March 1911, the Novelty Theatre was leased to John C. Campbell and George B. Richart who installed a first class picture machine and it reopened as the New Novelty Theatre.

By April 3 1911 they announced that the Bell People of Oakland with Gus Cohn the manager was taking over the theatre and it was renamed Bell Theatre. Manager Gus Cohn announced the Bell Theatre would be on the Sullivan-Considine Circuit and would present first class vaudeville.

Manager Gus Cohn wanted a bigger theatre and was offered a theatre to be built on Virginia Street by the I.O.O.F (aka Empress Theatre). Cohn closed the Bell Theatre on December 5, 1911. The buildings' owner William Acock leased the building to Charles McCully and Peter J. Hanlon, who converted the playhouse into a moving picture theatre, which opened on January 30, 1912, and in 1916 W.C. Maupin took over. It was closed in 1920 when Peter J. Hanlon contemplated an establishment for a new location for a motion picture theatre.

Today the old building has been demolished and a newer building known as the McPherson Building has been built on the site. A small pet grooming shop was its last use, two shops to the left of Green’s liquor store.

Contributed by Ken Roe, David Ducay

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 10, 2013 at 12:18 am

Everything I’ve found about the early years of the Bell Theatre is a bit puzzling. This item comes from the December 9, 1910, issue of the San Francisco Call:

“BELL CIRCUIT PLANS THEATER IN VALLEJO

“Representative of Company Looks for a Location

“VALLEJO, Dec. 8.— Gus Cohn, a representative of the Bell circuit of theaters, was in Vallejo today looking for a location on which to erect a building or start a new playhouse.”

But the Bell Theatre was in operation by May 17, when The Call ran this item in its “Vallejo Brevities” column:
“THEATER TO BE IMPROVED

“Gus Homan of the Sullivan & Considine Vaudeville circuit was here today and made arrangements to spend $10,000 in renovating the Bell theater.”

“Homan” was probably an error, the writer conflating Gus Cohn with Edward Homan, another person connected with the Bell circuit. Then there is an item from the July 15, 1911, issue of Variety, which mentions Gus Cohn as the manager of the Bell Thetre in Vallejo. Then the November 8, 1911, issue of The Call ran this brief item about the Bell:
“VALLEJO THEATER TO OPEN ON CHRISTMAS

“Will Present First Class Plays and Vaudeville

“VALLEJO, Nov. 7.—Edward A. Homan, one of the proprietors of the new Bell theater, arrived here today from Oakland. Besides Sullivan & Considine acts Homan announces that he has made arrangements to play some of the Cort theater and Belasco productions at the local playhouse next year. The theater will be opened Christmas night.”

An item in the December 16 issue of the same publication said that Bell Theatre was scheduled to open on New Year’s Day.

As near as I can puzzle out from these fragments, the Bell circuit originally planned to replace their existing theater in Vallejo, then later decided to merely renovate it, and after some delays the updated house was ready by the beginning of 1912. I don’t know how long the Cohns controlled the theater, but a March 25, 1916, item in The Moving Picture World indicates that, probably by 1915, it was being operated by a W. G. Maupin.

The Cohn family operated houses called the Bell Theatre in Oakland and in San Francisco. There might have been others in the region as well, but I’ve been unable to track them down.

Prof David Ducay
Prof David Ducay on October 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm

More good information Joe, lets try to put the puzzle together. The theatre the news clipping is talking about that opened on New Years 1912 that Gus Cohn managed with his San Francisco partner Abe Marks, it’s Vallejo’s oldest running theatre today. The “Empress Theatre”, the theatre was constructed by the independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)at the time opened with promoters of the Sullivan & Considine Vaudeville entertainment. In 1913, the theatre changed management, Bert Levi circuit came in and the Empress name was changed to the Republic (managed by W.C. Maupin).

Getting back to your doc above, you mentioned that they were thinking about replacing the Bell Theatre but later just decided to renovate it. That brings the question to was the Empress Theatre building there on Virginia St. prior to 1910 and was it called the Bell Theatre?

We have to remember that any theatre that was open during the early 1900s or prior ending 1800s were probably small Vaudeville Burlesque and coin operated Kinetograph machines, store front type theatres.

Any thoughts on this:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 11, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Thanks for reminding me that the Empress opened in 1912 as a Sullivan & Considine house. I now realize that the new Bell Theatre in the Call items was the Empress. It just hadn’t been given that name yet when the items were published. Gus Cohn’s involvement indicates that the Empress still had a connection to Cohn’s Bell circuit, even if it had been given Sullivan & Considine’s favorite name.

So the Bell Theatre that was being planned in December, 1910 did get built, and perhaps the Bell Theatre that was already in operation did also get its renovation as reported in May, 1911. When the new theater opened as the Empress in February, 1912, the old Bell kept its name, and perhaps it was then that it was operated by Hanlon, McCauley and Moran.

So far I’ve been unable to find any Call articles about the opening of the Empress.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm

An item in the June 14, 1911, issue of The Call makes me believe that the renovation of the Bell didn’t happen. It is datelined Vallejo, June 13, almost a month after the item about the plans to renovate the Bell for $10,000, and it says that the IOOF would build a $15,000 theater on Virginia Street for manager Gus Cohn of the Sullivan & Considine circuit. That had to be the Empress, though no theater name was given in the item. I doubt that Sullivan & Considine (or Cohn) would have spent $10,000 renovating the Bell if they was getting a lease on a new theater built at someone else’s expense.

Prof David Ducay
Prof David Ducay on October 12, 2013 at 5:39 pm

From a Vallejo Yesterday news column, 20 years ago from a Chronicle Files:

From the 20 Years Ago Column (40 Years Ago Today): “Charles McCauley and Peter J. Hanlon have closed a deal with William Acock, owner of the property where the Bell Theater is now located, for a lease on the place following the removal of the Bell people to the new location on Virginia street. They contemplate establishment of a motion picture house.”

They never mentioned the name of the theatre but we know it is the “Empress”, by process of elimination there was only one theatre there during this timeframe on Virginia st.(or was there another?) They did not mention where exactly was the Bell theatre located at in Vallejo.

It seems with the documentation that I have read about Peter J. Hanlon is that they mention that he established the Bell theatre but never said he was the manager but only a Promoter of the Bell and Strand. You may be correct in that he, Dennis J. Moran and Charles McCauley took over as manager later when Gus Cohn left to manage the Empress. They were only promoters of the Strand in 1915 then on May 25, 1920 opened and managed the Virginia Theatre. Just wondering how all this ties in, there is a photograph of the Virginia theatre building that looks pre 1920, if that is true to my thinking then maybe it had a different theatre name like the Novelty, Star or even the Bell itself. Interesting however because the Virginia theatre was also located on Virginia St. in Vallejo.

On another note it’s funny how all the theatre house managers did a merry go round in supervising theatres. Gus Cohn has the Bell then goes to the Empress, W.C. Maupin has the Star then goes to the Bell and back to the Star, Peter J. Hanlon gets the Bell promotes the Strand then goes to the Virginia. Just for reference, counting there were six Bell Theatres around the beginning of the 1900s in Northern California. (In Oakland – 1903, Sacramento – 1907, Livermore – 1909, San Francisco – 1911, Redwood City – 1915 and Vallejo maybe 1908, I see a listing that Gus Cohn is manager in the Billboard vol.20).

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm

There were two Bell Theatres in San Francisco.I came across a reference to the Bell Theatre on Market Street being destroyed in the 1906 fire, but the Bell that Gus Cohn was connected with in later years was on Mission Street.

Theaters did change operators and names frequently, and several of the unidentified theatres from the 1900s-1910s might actually be theaters we already have listed under other names.

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