Wilshire Theatre

201 W. Wilshire Avenue,
Fullerton, CA 92832

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Additional Info

Styles: Spanish Renaissance

Previous Names: New Wilshire Theatre

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Wilshire Theater

According to old newspaper clippings on file at the Fullerton Public Library, the building was erected on the site of an orange grove in 1927. It was designed as an eleven apartment complex, complete with indoor swimming pool and retail space, and was known as the Malden Arms Hotel. It was also a speak-easy during the depression years.

In 1946, William L. Kaye converted the swimming pool into the Wilshire Theatre. The diving boards were retained behind the screen at the ‘deep end’. When it was converted, the spectator balcony on both sides of the pool remained in the theatre. It was opened on March 7, 1947.

Old movie listings show an eclectic life as an independent cinema which offered an alternative to the Fox Theatre. It has staged musical revues, shown Spanish-language and first-run films. In the 1970’s it played foreign movies and counter-culture films such as “Pink Flamingos”. I remember attending a showing of “Reefer Madness” where there seemed to be standing room only. A 1980 review of theatres in the Orange County Register said “restrooms often dirty”. Its permanent closing probably occurred sometime around the mid-1980’s.

It was demolished in 1991 and in 1992 apartments were built on the site.

Contributed by Ron Pierce, David Kirby

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

jeffdonaldson on December 25, 2008 at 12:19 am

I went to the Wilshire from 1966 to 1968 when I moved away from Fullerton. I was a student at the time and it was all new to me. They offered something different from the standard Hollywood fare. Foreign films, independent films, the kind of films I had never seen before and I loved it. It was easy to go a lot because, as I recall, admission was only a dollar or so. Also, they offered free coffee. When I later heard that they were showing Spanish language films and then adult films, I felt terrible because it was obvious that the programming changed because I moved away and abandoned the theatre.

kencmcintyre on March 24, 2010 at 2:52 pm

This looks to be an interior photo shortly before the demolition:

janetwhy99 on August 26, 2011 at 11:29 am

I worked at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton (not the big one on the hill) from 1959-1960 and I stayed at the Malden Arms Hotel at the corner of Malden and Wilshire. At that time the Wilshire Theater did not exist. Only the hotel, restaurant and barber shop. I paid $15 a week for an efficiency apartment and thought I had it made. I was 18 years old at the time. Checked Google Earth and do not recognize anything in that area. I can honestly say; ‘Those were the days".

rshipley1941 on November 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Remembering my youth! First time remembering my attending the Wilshire Theater I was 8 years old. We’d just moved back to Fullerton, from Abbeville, Louisiana. The ticket price(s): $.14 = under 13; the price then ‘skyrocketed’ to $.50 until turning 18. And WOW, adults paid a whopping $.50!!! At 14, I went to work – with Kenny Blair – as an usher. Kenny and myself chagned the Marquee 3 times a week; Sunday – Tuesday, English, Wednesday was Spanish movie night, Thursday – Saturday back to English. (Our movies – usually the same ones – the “IT” theater, The Fox, were 6 months behind, because they recieved the ‘first run’ movies.) From 8 years of age my memories of the “search-light” shining out in front of The Fox are still, at 70 years of age, very very vivid. We could see them from my house which was 2 miles away… My best memory tells me that The Fox cost $.50! (maybe someone can verify/correct this) Only went one time and it still is so real. Plush “red"carpets, upstairs balconey (cost extra), expensive [for me] popcorn and coke. AND, I kissed my first girl there – as a Freshman – at Fullerton Union High School. [Back to The Wilshire]. At 8, Saturday matinee we had; 2 full movies, 3 cartoon’s, 1 ‘weekly’ Flash Gordon or ??? Cereal, and usually a Fox or Universal News highlights. Yep! All that for 14 cents. Our Mom gave my each brother and myself 25 cents which got us a movie ticket, and 2 out of three; popcorn, candy bar or soda, for just 10 cents! That left us one penny – which our Mom wanted back :)… All of this happened during the time period: 1949 – 1956… in Fullerton, California!

rshipley1941 on November 24, 2011 at 1:36 pm

BAck one more time… From 1956 to 1958, I worked at Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland. Still went to the Wilshire Theater as often as I could. Even got to sit in thne Balconý once or twice. Remember they were on both side — upper and lower balcony — which was not real good at seeing the movie at an angle unless you sat towards the back of them. ALSO, there was a “private” screen room just off the ‘projection room’ where we could sit and watch the movie in more privacy. This was only when we worked as ushers, were off duty, before changing the Marqueee, on those 3 nights. August 1958, at 17 years of age, I joined the Navy, and went off to ‘see the world’. Sadly, I never returned to see a movie at The Wilshire again. Some wonderful memories though…for an ‘old man’ of 70. Thank you ronnie

Stereocyclops on November 12, 2013 at 3:45 pm

It seems like everyone is missing the period when I remember the Wishire best, the 1980’s. A classic theater that showed groundbreaking surf films like “Five Summer Stories”, as well as midnight showings of “Rocky Horror”, and even 3D porno films. Mike Ness of Social Distortion fame worked there, and pretty much all of the first gen O.C. punks hung out there. Good memories

thedaltongangtoo on February 12, 2014 at 10:45 pm

A bunch of us used to get together to go to the midnight shows back in the 1970’s. We’d sit in the balcony and watch all the great counter-culture films like Clockwork Orange, 2001:A Space Odyssey,and Reefer Madness. Actually, the screen wasn’t the only place where reefer madness was going on! We loved going to see the artsy, more obscure films. Not too long ago I drove down to Fullerton and looked for the old theater and was so sad not finding it and seeing how much had changed down there. It’s too bad it was torn down.

Dean_Warrior on April 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm

I loved the offbeat movies played at the Wilshire. In 1970 I was a student at Troy High School. My friends and I went to see Reefer Madness, and smuggled come cheap champaign in. As they were checking for contraband at the door, I shoved it down my Levi’s, upside down. As I climbed to stairs to the balcony in the dark, the cork blew, shot down my leg and the champaign soaked my Levi’s. But… I was able to pull it out before it fully drained. We drank the half bottle remaining.


Hume on June 26, 2023 at 9:46 am

I went here often from 1974 to 1979 when it was an arthouse cinema. The balconies on the side were unique. The theater was an old public swimming pool that had been converted into a movie theater. At the deep end was the screen and the floor sloped up to shallow end and exited into the lobby. The building had apartments on one side and a dive bar on the other. It was in a residential neighborhood just off of Harbor and Commonwealth. In the evenings it was okay to park in the parking lot for the Pacific Bell office across the street. I liked that this place often had foreign films such as those by the Yugoslavian director Dušan Makavejev, which was unusual for Orange County in the 1970s.

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