Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Night at the Movies!

I go to church.  I also go to the movies.  Is it so terrible that I want to keep these two activities relegated to separate buildings?  Yea, I rejoice in the fact that so many faithful worshippers are attending church in downtown Los Angeles.  Why, though, do these beautiful, old movie theaters have to be forsaken in the exchange?  It is probably more than a sacrilege to say that these theaters are being "desecrated," but I must admit that my sensibilities are offended when I see perfectly good theaters occupied by churches.  Even in Old Town Orange, CA, where buildings are held to a strict standard of period correctness, what was once the Orange Theater built in 1929 is now a church.  Wouldn't it be wild to see a movie there, to watch Paul Henreid light Bette Davis' cigarette as the light of the projector flickered above?  I know, I should be glad that the churches are maintaining these structures and not allowing them to fall into total rack and ruin.  I should be glad that parishioners have found a place in which to study and pray.  Furthermore, I should not complain because I have been known to grab The Bible and go to Bible study at these places just so I could see the inside of the theater and how it is being maintained.  In fact, I should be glad that many of these cinema/churches can really be considered an example of modern wacky tacky in and of themselves.  I am glad, however, that there are still a few historic theaters in Southern California that are being maintained as such.  These relics of wacky tacky are thankfully run by good-hearted people who honor the dignity of these theaters and appreciate the fun of seeing a movie in a movie house that isn't fitted out with the latest in reclining seats and ergonomic cup holders.

Bay Theater (est. 1947)
340 Main St.
Seal Beach, CA

Built in 1947, The Bay Theater in Seal Beach, CA is as unprepossessing as the movie palaces of Broadway in downtown Los Angeles are grand.  In fact, this place is as far from grand as a humble movie theater can get.  Its original box office is gone; the ceiling tiles are crumbling; the paint is chipping and the overall affect is well-loved.  However, the beauty of this theater comes from the very same qualities.  The smell is slightly musty and, in the same way as grandma's attic, rather comforting.  The clatter of the projector reminds you that you are watching a film.  The programming schedule always includes screenings of vintage films and the staff is very friendly.  It is very much a neighborhood theater; the kind of theater where one would go for a Saturday afternoon full of cartoons, newsreels, a double feature and the chance of winning a few pieces of block optic for mom's collection.

A view of the Bay Theater as it was in 1947

Many of the theater's fixtures are original and most beautifully designed - even the ladies' lounge!

Inside the box office - the original ticket machine        Cher - the concessionaire extroadinaire

The original theater seats                           Oversized, brass sconces light the theater

Regency Lido Theater (est. 1938)
3459 Via Lido
Newport Beach, CA

The Lido theater in Newport Beach is, in my mind at least, the little sister to Catalina's famous Avalon Theater on the ground floor of the Casino.  Immediately across the channel from Avalon, the Lido is a true beauty.  The terrazzo entry and front-and-center box office let you know that you are in for a treat; murals line the walls of both the lobby and theater and lead upstairs to the best part of the whole building - the balcony!  Is sitting in the balcony of an historic theater often better than the movie itself?  I think so.  This theater shows mainly art-house/indie films and has played host to screenings included in the Newport Beach Film Festival.  The theater has been refurbished.  So, if the comfort of modern theaters is important to you, you'll be glad to know that new, reclining seats with retractable arm rests/cup holders are part of this movie-going experience.  When you are in the area, be sure to check out Swellegant Vintage right across the street; it is a treasure trove of wacky tacky goodness.  I've been told to keep an eye out for a vintage toilet radio!

The Lido Theater

The original box office and a detail of the nautical-themed terrazzo floor

The functioning velvet curtain

A modern addition to the theater is the series of undersea murals that line the walls.  Incidentally, they glow in the black light when the house lights go down.

The mural in the balcony foyer by day and by "night".

A nod to the Avalon Theater - an undersea mural in tile.

More beautiful Southern California theaters deserving of your patronage:

The Old Town Music Hall: Home of the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ (originally The El Segundo State Theater est. 1921) - El Segundo, CA

The Vista Theater (est. 1923) - Los Angeles, CA

The Fox Theater (est. 1925) - Fullerton, CA

The Fox Theater (est. 1927) - Redlands, CA
(When you're in the area be sure to check out Hobo's Vintage - it's in the same building!!)

Avalon Theater (est. 1929) - Avalon, CA

Let us know of cool theaters in your home town!!!


Mr. Tiny


  1. WOW! I would love to go see a movie at one of these theatres! Esp. The King Speech! Have you seen it yet? You need to- especially if you can see it in an old theatre!
    Hmm... bible study in an old theatre. I could do that.
    And Now Voyager is awesome.

  2. Maybe the night I ran into you at the Bay Theater was the night you were working on this post... I'm just now seeing it.
    Hmmm... they got off to an early start as a "vintage movie" theater-- in the 1947 photo (seen more clearly elsewhere on the net) they were showing Clark Gable and Loretta Young (Uh-oh... we know what THEY were up to!) in CALL OF THE WILD from 1935 and Eddie Cantor in THE KID FROM SPAIN from 1932 or '33.