Towne Cinema

2017 Fresno Street,
Fresno, CA 93721

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Built on the site of the Barton Opera House, later renamed Hippodrome Theatre on Fresno Street in downtown Fresno, near the Fulton Mall.

The State Theatre was opened by T&D Theatres in March 1928, and it was taken over by Fox West Coast Theatres and renamed Fox State Theatre in September 1928. Taken over by Lippert Theatres in 1947, the facade was remodelled to the plans of architect Gale Santocono and it was renamed Esquire Theatre. From 1952 it was renamed Seqoia Theatre.

This was one of the favorite movie theaters from my childhood. I had always heard that it had been an opera house before its incarnation as a movie house. The book, “Vintage Fresno” confirms this. Largely, it, along with Fresno’s Hardys Theatre, showed MGM movies during the 1950’s and 1960’s. But it also screened things from Columbia, and other studios. I saw “Gigi” there, and “Bye, Bye, Birdie”.

The Sequoia Theatre was still operating as a movie theatre when I left Fresno in 1969, but had been renamed Towne Theatre in 1968. It went over to screening Adult movies. I’m guessing that it was closed and demolished in the late-1970’s or the early-1980’s.

As a young teen, the manager gave me a “job” of sorts. I placed posters for his movies into retail stores in exchange for movie admissions.

I would love to learn more about the last years of this theatre.

Contributed by Christopher Stone

Recent comments (view all 14 comments)

tomdelay on October 4, 2005 at 7:13 am

The Barton Opera House and the State/Sequoia/Esquire/Towne Cinema were not the same building. The State/Sequoia et al was built on the site of the Barton Opera House. When the State/Sequoia was demolished in the early 1980s (I have demolition photos), the foundation of the Barton Opera House was actually found and removed with the rest of the newer, 1928 structure.

The Barton Opera House became known as the Hippodrome and showed silent films. A small 4-rank 2 manual piano console Wurlitzer (opus 315)was installed. This organ was transfered to the White Theatre on Broadway (near the Hotel Fresno) and was installed in the same manner it had been at the Barton/Hippodrome—in a stand-alone swellbox backstage. Hayes McClaran removed the organ prior to the demolition of the White. The instrument is now owned by a collector in the Bay Area.

The State/Sequoia style 210, 2-manual 9-rank Wurlitzer was installed when the new theatre opened in 1928. The organ remained in the theatre until the late 1940s or early 1950s. KMJ Radio 580 bought the organ to install in their studios (where the Fresno Metropolitan Museum resides now). KMJ staff organist, Jerry Higgenbotham wanted a better instrument than the studio Hammond. (Jerry was a superb organist!) The installation of the State/Sequoia organ never took place and was sold to Bay Area organ builder Bob Kates who installed it in his home studio. The organ remained here for a few years until Bob sold it to Carsten Henningsen for his Ye Olde Pizza Joynt in San Lorenzo, CA in the early 1960s. (See Gary Parks entry above.)

kencmcintyre on October 28, 2005 at 1:57 pm

Photo of the Hippodrome:

View link

kencmcintyre on September 10, 2007 at 1:42 pm

This was the Sequoia in 1963. It was then part of the Hardy Theater chain.

darnoc1906 on October 14, 2007 at 11:07 am

I worked at this theatre in the late 60’s while attending Fresno High School. I don’t really remember the name of the theatre at that time. I have so many memories of working there that I find it hard to believe that I don’t remember the name of this theatre. The Towne Cinema, Sequoia and Fresno Theatre all sound familiar.

Bill Korenbratt who managed Warnor’s at time also managed this theatre. He was an interesting man with a strong personality. He did not allow female employees to wear pants into work, even though they would be changing into their theatre uniform.

The Fresno premiere of “Oliver” took place at this theatre as well as “The Lion In Winter.” Can’t imagine how many times I must have stood through these films; I memorized all the lines.

It was mostly a second run theatre though, with titles like “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” “April Fools,” and “To Sir With Love.”

kencmcintyre on June 16, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Here is a June 1973 ad from the Fresno Bee:

danwhitehead1 on January 3, 2010 at 10:48 am

Does anyone remember a house called, I think, the Fine Arts? I don’t think it was a very attractive house and was told it had once been an army theatre. It may have even been a quonset hut; I just really can’t recall. I was sent there a couple times by Mr. Tate of Walnut Properties when I was installing the 35mm equipment at the Pussycat at 56 N. Van Ness Ave. back in 1983 (the Pussycat is now closed). The memory of the place that I think was called the Fine Arts is very, very dim. In fact, I can’t even remember if it was a porn house or not. Can someone help me out?

CSWalczak on January 3, 2010 at 11:29 am

It is listed here on CT as the International Theatre: /theaters/5117/

danwhitehead1 on January 3, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Thank you very much C Walczak. I was beginning to think I was going crazy.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 13, 2010 at 4:02 am

Interesting that Eugene Mathewson was the architect the 1928 State/Towne Theatre. Southwest Contractor & Manufacturer of July 11, 1914, reported that Mathewson was the architect of the major remodeling that year of the Fresno Theatre, the State’s predecessor.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 2, 2014 at 6:23 pm

A photo of the new facade of the Esquire Theatre, recently remodeled for Robert Lippert, can be seen on this page of Boxoffice, May 22, 1948.

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