Liberty Theatre

944 Van Ness Street,
Fresno, CA 93721

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dansdriveintheater on December 3, 2018 at 12:56 pm

was still open in 1981

please update!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 4, 2013 at 5:48 pm

The partner of architect William D. Coates was Harrison B. Traver. Both studied in Philadelphia with the Beaux-Arts trained classicist Paul Cret around 1906-1907. They formed a partnership in San Francisco in 1911, and moved their office to Fresno in 1914. When the partnership was dissolved in 1925, Traver moved to Los Angeles and Coates continued to practice in Fresno. As far as I’ve been able to determine, the Liberty was the only theater they designed during their partnership.

Mikeyisirish on June 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm

A few 2011 photos can be seen here and here.

bryan868 on September 29, 2011 at 1:58 am

KFSR 90.7 held an event, “The Fresno Grand Opry,” in May 2011 at the Liberty Theater (Hardy’s). They asked us to do a video tour of the balcony area since it would be closed to guests. Here’s our video if you’re interested in seeing what this amazing theater looks like inside!

tspauld on February 11, 2010 at 3:38 pm

After considerable delay, during some of which they showed movies at the White Theatre under the name Liberty Theatre Photo Plays at the White, the Liberty Theatre opened on November 27, 1917 with When a Man Sees Red.

When it reopened on June 24, 1931, the photo in the Bee shows the marquee as “Hardy’s Fresno Theatre,” with “Hardy’s” and “Theatre” in small print at the top and bottom horizontally, and “Fresno” in larger letters vertically.

kencmcintyre on June 13, 2009 at 12:02 am

Here is a June 1947 ad from the Fresno Bee:

LeslieMidkiffDeBauche on March 4, 2009 at 9:08 am


Does anyone have information about Clarence Lauren Hartsough? His calling card, circa 1920, 1921 says that he was an organist and “estimator on organs” and gives his address as the Liberty Theatre, Fresno. Thanks LMD

bryan868 on January 15, 2009 at 8:25 pm

showman – To answer your question from Sept 07… YES, I definitely think Fresno could support an independent/art house theater. But the city needs someone to spearhead such an effort. We have a local film group that shows art films monthly at the Tower Theater, but they don’t have an interest in starting a regularly operating art house theater. Feel free to contact me at bryanharley AT comcast DOT net

kencmcintyre on November 30, 2008 at 8:25 pm

I don’t know why it was Otto in the first story and Ott in the second. Maybe he knocked a letter off his name when he hit himself with the pipe.

kencmcintyre on November 30, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Here is the original story from four days earlier, before the hapless Mr. Otto confessed:

Bandit Takes Theater Cash

Victim for the second time in 14 months of a daring daylight robbery, Norris W. Otto, theater manager, was beaten on the head with an iron pipe and robbed of $1200 in receipts as he was leaving for the bank today.

Since the robbery of $500 last year, the office door has been kept locked. Today Otto counted the money, placed it in a sack and left the office. He had descended the stairs a short distance when he was struck from behind. He was knocked unconscious and did not recover until a half-hour later, when he dragged himself to the office. The pipe with which he was struck was found on the stairway by E.H. Schultz, a theater confectionary operator. Otto could not give police a description of the bandit.

kencmcintyre on November 29, 2008 at 7:37 pm

Here is part of an LA Times article dated 8/28/43:

Man Confesses Taking $1306 in Fake Robbery

Asst. District Atty. Melvin Gibbs today announced Norris W. Ott, manager of a Fresno theater, has confessed to stealing $1306 in theater funds Monday morning and then striking himself on the head with a length of pipe to simulate a robbery.

Approximately $600 of the money has been recovered by Gerald Hardy, owner of the theater, from hiding places where it had been secreted by Ott.

Ott told Gibbs and Hardy he stole the money to replace $500 which he had taken from theater receipts to replace another $500, which Ott said he lost in a bookie establishment.

When he struck himself with the pipe, Ott inflicted a brain concussion which necessitated him remaining in a hospital for two days.

tomdelay on September 28, 2007 at 6:52 pm

“D”, I have a name for you…and a phone number.

davidreed on September 28, 2007 at 12:33 pm

Ill attend the concert at Warnors!! I hate to admit I’ve only heard recordings of old organ concerts, never been to a live show. I look forward to my first real experiance hearing a live organ and the bonus of seeing the inside of the Warnor….I hope you are able to get inside to do a little investigation @ Liberty!! D.

davidreed on September 28, 2007 at 12:22 pm

Thanks again Tom. I’ll use the alernate address in the Future. I’ll be planning a day trip up to Fresno soon to get a feel of downtown and hopefully talk to other people envolved with its proposed re-development!! If I was end up with the theatre I hope you guys might re-consider installing an organ, I’d give it a wonderful home! I feel the organ could be part of that fresh approach, everything old is new!! I still need to work on a good concept for the venue but the addition of a “voice' would be most welcome…D

tomdelay on September 28, 2007 at 12:10 pm

A further point, if I ever get back into the Liberty again, I want to see if the remains of the organ lift are still in the orchestra pit someplace. As I recall, when we were in there in 1982, we did not know there had been a lift for the organ console. The Pop Laval books clearly show the console in up and down positions. It would probably have been an ancient city water pressure hydraulic system rather than a “professional” Otis system such as is at Warnors. (BTW, KMJ radio, in Fresno is celebrating its 85th anniversary on October 19 at Warnors. They are going to have a Las Vegas “Rat Pack” recreation which is supposed to be very good. The Warnor RObert Morton organ is the entire pre-show!)

The Golden State Theatre in Monterey had such a system. When we put the organ back into that theatre in 1992, we built a rig with which to pull out the lift piston. It was found to be in remarkable shape, considering it had been sitting in brackish water for decades—the outside was made of brass and did not rust. It was repacked and is still in use.

tomdelay on September 28, 2007 at 12:02 pm

If you want to contact me directly try This is my secondary and generally unused address. It forwards to my main address which I won’t post here. I will make some calls and see what comes up regarding the Liberty.

At least in 1982, if you knew where to look, some of the original 1917 design was still in the theatre. The organ screen are really neat—all you can see is the “negative” from where the chambers used to be, but they had a distince half wagon-wheel design to the top of the screen. The organ must have really gotten out as there was nothing in its way.

davidreed on September 28, 2007 at 11:16 am

I had read and noticed the lack of flys when I visited and I agree it does limit some live shows. But with that said flys along with curtians are some what “old Fasioned” and not always used. Most modern shows are more concerned with floor space than flys. But I agree something “fresh” and innovative should happen with the Liberty. It may not be the “palace” that the Warnor is but it could be brought back as a viable venue, after all it was the First! Even with the renovations and alterations the fact that it remains is important.Money,imagination,luck and love not to mention insanity is the pillers of any theater restoration/renovation. Tom I appreciate your insight,I had the pleasure of meeting you years ago at the Fox Theater Bakersfield. You remain vary much my first impression of you, a straight shooter who is passionate about old theaters and the organs that were their voices….I hope you still would be willing to hound some info for me. Thanks D.

tomdelay on September 27, 2007 at 12:58 pm

We looked into the idea of possibly putting an organ back into the Liberty. But, with the lack of fly loft anymore, the stage use is not so great. The idea was that if the stage were useable for live programs the place would be a bit more versatile. The Wilson is now a church and not likely to be a “road house” again. Warnors is, and always has been, THE movie palace in town. So anything at the Liberty has to be new, fresh, and something to stand on its own. None of us wanted to put that much time into such a project.

There are photos of the original Liberty Robert Morton in a couple of versions of the “As ‘Pop’ Saw It” by “Pop” Laval. It was a very unusual and early Robert-Morton organ. I would not be surprised if it was not among the first half dozen organs the company built.

davidreed on September 27, 2007 at 12:07 pm

Tom I would appreciate anything you can find out, Owner, state of interior etc. So what do you think of my crazy notion about showing Silents/classic/art films ? Maybe the Key is a organ for not only films but for concerts… Maybe the timing is two early? The Brick is a concern…Hmmm. I know theres a gem here! Fresno is so lucky to have so many classic theaters, I would love to get my hands on one or steal one!!

tomdelay on September 27, 2007 at 11:44 am

AS I recall, the organ screens are completly intact but are covered over with “modernization” plaster. Just a tiny portion of the original screens are visible—presumably to act as a ventilation duct. The chamber space was still on each side of the theatre.

Now you have to understand, this is how the theatre was in the early 1980s. Who knows what the endless parade of churches have done to the interior.

The windlines from the blower location in the basement were still intact in the early ‘80s. I had always heard that the upper portion of the blacony was not used because it was too steep. I can believe it. The original picture sheet, actually a framed in area of white plaster was still there on the rear of the backstage wall. When the upper part of the fly loft was torn out, somehow this “picture sheet” was allowed to remain.

I will be in Fresno next week and shall see what I can find out.

Also bear in mind, most of the building has a great deal of brick. In California, that 5-letter word can spell death to a building even though Fresno is relatively free of heavy seismic activity.

davidreed on September 27, 2007 at 11:13 am

Mr. Delay thanks for commenting back. I’m glad to see the City of Fresno is begining to see what a true gem their downtown can be!If ever you find out who the owner is Please pass it along. I’ve read some of the past posts, are the organ lofts still useable and could a organ be successfully re-installed? Is the original interior of the auditorium hiding behind the 50’s additions or was it destroyed in the remodeling? Would Fresno support a silent/art film house? Would love to hear some feedback…Thanks!