Obispo Theatre

993 Monterey Street,
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Here is a photo of the Obispo Theatre.

It’s been established that the Obispo was originally the El Monterey Theatre, and became the Obispo in 1928, following a $20,000 remodeling of the interior. The facade remained largely unchanged. Janet Penn Franks' book “San Luis Obispo: A History in Architecture” says that the El Monterey Theatre opened on December 24, 1911.

bonnach
bonnach on September 15, 2008 at 3:26 am

Actually the Elmo would be southeast of the Fremont and Obispo. Today there is a bank on that site.

Anyway, there is an article about the demise of the Obispo here: Obispo Fire

tomdelay
tomdelay on November 10, 2007 at 5:34 am

Just wondering. I knew a Joe Vogel in Monterey. he moved to Modesto some years ago.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 10, 2007 at 4:16 am

No, I’ve never been a projectionist, and I’ve never had a chance to visit Monterey. I’ve always intended to spend some time in that part of the state, but so far I’ve only passed through on highway 101 and had no time to stop.

tomdelay
tomdelay on November 10, 2007 at 4:00 am

BTW way Joe, did you ever live in Monterey and work as a projectionist? Just curious.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 10, 2007 at 3:53 am

Yes, the Elmo was two blocks southeast (the streets in downtown SLO being oriented more to the ordinal than the cardinal points of the compass) of Monterey Street on Morro Street. The Obispo and the Fremont were about a block apart, both on the south side of Monterey.

tomdelay
tomdelay on November 10, 2007 at 3:27 am

OK, so the Obispo, nee El Monterey, was on the same Monterey Street as the Fremont, closer to the center of town. The Elmo was out of the center by a bit, is that to the southeast?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 10, 2007 at 2:44 am

Flickr user aroid presents a 1958 bird’s eye view of downtown San Luis Obispo in which three of the city’s theatres can be picked out:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/selago/860154876/

On the far right is the Elmo Theatre on Morro Street at Marsh. It’s facade is well lit by afternoon sunlight, as is the upper part of its vivid red stage house.

Left of center can be seen the distinctive arc of the blade sign on the Fremont Theatre, at 1025 Monterey Street.

The large white building just right of center is the Anderson Hotel at Monterey and Morro. The Obispo Theatre’s facade, with a bit of light reflecting from its blade and marquee, can be seen just short of midway along Monterey Street from the hotel to the Fremont.

clem
clem on August 12, 2006 at 8:35 pm

It’s easier to assert that a photo exists than it is to clear the junk off the scanner, dust off the picture, scan it, oops! dust off the scanner glass too … Anyway I have a scan; you can send me mail if you want a copy –

I remember seeing just three movies at the Obipso: The War Game, Dr. Strangelove, and The Godfather. The Obispo had a rectangle of indirect neon lighting on the ceiling – perhaps green lighting against a blue or purple ceiling. The spirals in the Fox Fremont’s ceiling were rather ostentatious by contrast.

tomdelay
tomdelay on August 12, 2006 at 8:00 pm

What a beuatiful facade! That photo is sickening. I have to wonder if the architect for that theatre was A. W. Cornelius. He designed very similar facades for the T & D theatres in Salinas, Richmond, and the California Theatre in Pittsburg, CA. The Cal in P'burg is being restored.

With an exterior like that, I can only imagine what the interior must have been like. A good friend of mine, the late Ron Musselman who put many theatre interiors into his artwork, said the theatre was beuatiful on the inside. He said the organ screens were properly lit, and the building seemed well cared for in every way.
He did ask it the organ was still there and was told much of what I previously posted above.

SLOnative
SLOnative on August 12, 2006 at 4:30 pm

Tom: I’ll try to find my copy of the night shot of the Obispo Theatre that was taken for the yearbook. In the meantime, here’s where you can find the fire photo, taken on December 28, 1975.

View link

We are in the process of adding even more photos under “People” “Schools” “Sports” “Cal Poly”, etc.

tomdelay
tomdelay on August 12, 2006 at 4:23 am

Too bad that photo cannot be scanned and posted someplace. I have never seen a photo of the Obispo.

clem
clem on August 12, 2006 at 4:12 am

The title page SLO Senior High 1976 yearbook features a color night shot of the front of the Obispo Theatre. I think Tim Olson was the photographer. As you know from preceding comments, by the time the yearbook was distributed the Obispo gone.

SLOnative
SLOnative on May 27, 2006 at 4:04 am

Joe: The SLO County Historic Society, located in the old Carnegie Library, has bound copies of the local newspapers, especially the Telegram-Tribune, from the turn of the last century up until August of 1941. (Yes, someone must have stolen the WW II editions).

I’ll check the T-T’s from 1928 to 1930 for stories on the El Monterey-Obispo theatre opening.

This film buff thanks you for the history lesson. Turner Classic Movies showed the sound version of the Jazz Singer last month. You could really see how sound turned on Al Jolson in one number.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 26, 2006 at 10:15 pm

Pat OD:

The Jazz Singer opened on October 6th, 1927 at the Warner Theatre in New York. The Jazz Singer was only partly sound, and was not the first movie with sound, but it was the first that made a big impression on the public, even though many theatres around the country ran an entirely silent version of the film. For the next couple of years, as theatres around the country were gradually wired for sound, they frequently ran the sound version of The Jazz Singer as their first presentation.

Wiring the nation’s thousands of theatres for sound was costly. Some of the big chains faced financial crisis, and many independent theatres simply went out of business at that time and closed forever. The situation was complicated by the fact that there were two competing systems in the early years of talkies- Fox’s Movietone sound-on-film system, and Warner’s Vitaphone sound-on-disk. Many theatres didn’t run either Vitaphone or Movietone films exclusively and had to install equipment for both. Eventually, the sound-on-film approach won out, of course.

The rebuilding of the El Monterey for Mrs. Martin in 1928 must have left a considerable official paper trail, and such a project was undoubtedly the subject of articles in local newspapers. Also, there must have been a newspaper advertisement for the re-opening of the theatre. I don’t know the condition of San Luis Obispo’s public archives, or if any of its newspapers' morgues from the era have been preserved, but it’s possible that something survives somewhere.

SLOnative
SLOnative on May 26, 2006 at 4:59 pm

The Elmo interior photo is hard to find. The most recent exterior photo I’ve seen was taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s. There was a small yearbook photo taken in the entry about 1958.

I have two exterior photos of the Obispo. One during the fire (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was on the marque) so it was hard to date. The other is a night shot taken for a San Luis High yearbook with special copy on the marque. The neon “Obispo” sign looks great lit up at night.

I’ll check to see if anyone has info on the organ whereabouts…or the neon sign.

tomdelay
tomdelay on May 26, 2006 at 4:02 pm

I am very familiar with both pipe organs that were originally in the Elmo and Obispo Theatres. Neither organ remains intact, however, the organ from the Obispo is the most intact of the two.

Are there any photos of the interiors AND exteriors of these two theatres?

I understood the remains of the El Monterey vertical sign was still in exisitence in Moro Bay circa 1988 or so. The old fellow who told me of this sign, is long gone, so I cannot give any specifics.
Please feel free to contact me directly if any information is request about the Elmo or Obsipo pipe organs (other than what I posted above last fall.)

SLOnative
SLOnative on May 26, 2006 at 3:14 pm

You are right. Our file story says the El Monterey (later Obispo) was the first movie theatre in San Luis Obispo wired for sound. Didn’t the Jazz Singer come out in about 1929? Hollywood must have been planning ahead for sound. We have postcard photos on Monterey Street showing the theatre without its marque, and very little visible signage. Both will be posted on the slo150.com website by Monday (May 29). I’ll check our file to see when the name was changed.

At the time of the fire, and at least twenty years prior, the Obispo was managed by Sid Taylor who commented after it was razed, something to the effect that “single theatres are over. Movie complexes of three or more are the future.”

One thing I hated losing in the Obispo as a high school student was the closing of the balcony and the loss of the plush leather, high-backed “Loge” seats in the back four-to-six rows of seating. You could nestle with your date and no one in back could see you. Also, most heads would not appear in front of you. Footnote: A buddy and I attended the opening of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” on a Wednesday night, then took dates the following Friday. Our advantage? We knew when all the scary parts were coming up, plus we got to see how Hitchcock cut that shower scene.

SLOnative
SLOnative on May 26, 2006 at 3:13 pm

You are right. Our file story says the El Monterey (later Obispo) was the first movie theatre in San Luis Obispo wired for sound. Didn’t the Jazz Singer come out in about 1929? Hollywood must have been planning ahead for sound. We have postcard photos on Monterey Street showing the theatre without its marque, and very little visible signage. Both will be posted on the slo150.com website by Monday (May 29). I’ll check our file to see when the name was changed.

At the time of the fire, and at least twenty years prior, the Obispo was managed by Sid Taylor who commented after it was razed, something to the effect that “single theatres are over. Movie complexes of three or more are the future.”

One thing I hated losing in the Obispo as a high school student was the closing of the balcony and the loss of the plush leather, high-backed “Loge” seats in the back four-to-six rows of seating. You could nestle with your date and no one in back could see you. Also, most heads would not appear in front of you. Footnote: A buddy and I attended the opening of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” on a Wednesday night, then took dates the following Friday. Our advantage? We knew when all the scary parts were coming up, plus we got to see how Hitchcock cut that shower scene.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 26, 2006 at 10:00 am

Pat OD:

If the Obispo was the El Monterey, then it must have been opened under its original name before 1928, the year in which the reconstruction of the El Monterey was announced.

An article in Southwest Builder & Contractor of October 27, 1928, said that a permit had been issued for the reconstruction of the El Monterey Theatre. As the permit was issued so late in the year, and the project must have been fairly extensive (it was budgeted at $20,000), the theatre must not have opened as the Obispo until some time in 1929.

See the Elmo Theatre page for an earlier discussion regarding the El Monterey name.

SLOnative
SLOnative on May 26, 2006 at 3:18 am

I’m a board member of the SLO County Historical Society which operates a museum in the 101-year old Carnegie Library on the corner of Monterey and Broad St across the Old Mission. We will be posting a color photo of the Obispo Theatre fire on our Sesquicentennial website (slo150.com) under “Places”. The Obispo burned down on December 28, 1975 and the widow of the owner of the property was given two days (just before New Years!) by the Fire Marshall to decide to tear it down or rebuild. The fire started in the upstairs office of the corner bar “Sully’s”. Investigators believe it was started to cover the bar’s office burglary. They razed the entire block and used it as a parking lot for over 29 years—until the Copeland brothers rebuilt a three-story shopping plaza on that site which opened last year. (The Copeland’s also built the underground 7-theatre Downtown Centre one block south.)

The Obispo was the original “El Monterey”. Locals protested a rival city name on “their first sound movie palace”, so it was changed. The El Monterey Curtain was moved to the older vaudeville, silent film theatre—The Elmo, which stood on the corner of Morro and Marsh St. (across from the Post Office where the 1-story Union Bank stands.) The Elks Club was upstairs. The Elmo also had a balcony, but the theatre was torn down in 1960, along with the old high school, Fremont grammar school, the old Jr. High/High School (also on Marsh) during a great fear of earthquakes. (Don’t get me started). After 1953 the Elmo was used primarily for the San Luis Obispo Little Theater group. It was always used for live theater. (My mother co-starred in “Pickles” while at Cal Poly in the mid 1920s.)

The last movies I recall seeing at the Elmo were around 1953 when they brought back “High Noon” and “African Queen”. Sure the bathrooms hadn’t been updated since it was built around 1912, but it was once a grand old, small-town theatre. Did you know that a Georgia Minstrel Show was one of the first acts to play the Elks Theatre? (Quickly changed to “Elmo” after the National Elks Club told them they couldn’t own a theatre). Al Jolson and Jack Benny also played the Elmo and left autographs on the walls under the stage by the dressing rooms. No one bothered to photograph them or save a section of the wall when it was torn down.

After WW II, Saturday matinee movies were 10cent for kids, then moved up to 12 cents. That included a double feature, three cartoons, a serial and the newsreal. Cheap childhood entertainment!

sloDan
sloDan on February 24, 2006 at 5:50 am

My earliest childhood memory was watching the Obispo Theatre burn. The site was a parking lot for years after the fire, but recently became a shopping center. During the 2004/5 building of the shopping center they dug down to the original floor of the Obispo Theatre, which was totally exposed for a few days. I’m not sure if they dug through it or just built over it again, but it’s no longer visable.
I’ve been searching the net for any pictures of the building, but no luck so far. I don’t live in SLO any more, but if locals are interested you might check the historical museum near the mission.

tomdelay
tomdelay on October 5, 2005 at 8:42 pm

Thanks Ken. That also answers a new entry I just sent in on the old SLO Elmo Theatre which will probably post tomorrow.

I see in an entry above that the SLO Elmo Theatre was described as “the Flea Bag”. This is funny! I have heard this description applied to the lesser theatres in Salinas, CA (Crystal Theatre), San Cruz, CA (Unique Theatre—the old one not the present theatre), and the Monterey Theatre in Monterey, CA.

When the name of Louis A. Maas shows up as having transplanted a theatre organ to another theatre in the 1920-30s, it is almost always a Fox/West Coast theatre organ situation:

Obispo Theatre SLO
Fox Theatre Hanford (Wurlitzer style B opus 860)
Fox Theatre Visalia (Robert Morton 2/5)
Arlington Theatre Santa Barbara (Wurlitzer style D)
Elmo Theatre SLO (?) (Wurlitzer opus 430 style 210 special)
Fox Theatre Phoenix (Wurlitzer style 210 from Theatre Visalia)
Fox Theatre Tucson (Wurlitzer style E from State Theatre in Oakland
Fox Wishire Los Angeles (Wurlitzer style 210 from California Theatre in Bakersfield)

And the list goes on!

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 5, 2005 at 8:28 pm

In the 1940’s the Film Daily Yearbook’s list the Obispo Theatre as being under Direct Supervision of Fox West Coast Theaters Corp.

tomdelay
tomdelay on October 5, 2005 at 7:47 pm

The Obispo Theatre had a small 2 manual 7 rank Wurlitzer/Maas organ that had been moved from the SLO Elmo Theatre (It is believed Elmo was shortened from El Monterey). When installed in the Elmo Theatre, this organ was a 2 manual 4 rank style 135 piano console Wurlitzer opus 260.

The organ was removed from the Elmo and rebuilt by Maas for the new Obispo theatre. The organ still exists and is installed in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Visalia. The organ is in very poor condition. The Obispo organ was removed in the early 1950s by organ builder Richard S. Villemin and reinstalled in the Visalia church.
The original piano console is gone and was replaced by a 2 manual style B Wurlitzer console from the Temple Theatre in Los Angeles.

The Elmo/Obispo Wurlitzer had a large collection of rolls for the player in the piano console to accompany the silent films.

Som close friends of mine attended a film at the Obispo just before the fire. They said the theatre was a step back in time and in magnificent condition.