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New Alliance Effort to Preserve the El Rey Theater

New Alliance Effort to Preserve the El Rey Theater

We are excited to inform you that a new group of dedicated individuals has come together to continue the work of the El Rey Theater Alliance and revive our beloved El Rey Theater.

Our mission is to ensure that the El Rey Theater remains open, that its historic murals are restored to their former glory, and that the entire building is brought up to modern code standards. This includes restoring the theater to full working order while preserving its historical integrity.

The team is moving forward with plans to raise the necessary funds to purchase the theater and undertake the restoration. We are dedicated to preserving its unique charm and historical significance while making it a safe and enjoyable place for all.

Throughout its history, the El Rey Theater has been a specialty cinema house and live performance venue, hosting a variety of events ranging from live music and comedy shows to public speakers and movie screenings. It is renowned for its beautiful murals and unique architecture, representing an era of elegance and artistic expression that we are committed to preserving.

The El Rey Theater has a long and rich history reaching back to 1906. Originally commissioned by the Chico Elks Lodge as the Majestic Theatre, it has been a central part of our community’s cultural life for over a century. The theater has gone by several names over the years, including The National and The American, before finally becoming The El Rey in 1948.

More information will be shared soon, including ways you can support our efforts. We invite everyone who loves the El Rey Theater and believes in our mission to join us in this exciting journey.

For any questions or to get involved, please email us at info@elreychico.org.

Together, we can ensure that the El Rey Theater remains a cherished part of our community for generations to come.

The Earth Day Film Festival

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The Earth Day Film Festival

More film is coming to our incredible theater next weekend April 20 -23! Here is the announcement from the festival’s creators. See you all there!!

The Earth Day Film Festival is coming to Chico, California!

We are nourishing the movement toward a more-harmonious relationship to our environment from the ground up. We are a diverse group of filmmakers, artists, scientists, and activists who care deeply about the Earth. We seek to change the content we celebrate and how it’s celebrated. Meaning, we not only offer Earth-honoring films but do so in an Earth-honoring way. Events meant to celebrate the Earth shouldn’t pollute it further or consume the resources we wish to protect. We are constantly assessing whether our practices align with our messages; our mission is integrity. In this way, we hope to ‘be the change we wish to see in the world, by shifting the ways we create and consume.

We have been bouncing around bringing Earth-minded film and art to communities far and wide, from theaters in San Francisco to off grid screenings in the Mojave Desert. This year we make Chico, California our festival hot spot!

This festival will bring films from around the world. Some will be World Premiers, with filmmakers in attendance! The historic El Rey Theater in downtown Chico, California’s oldest movie theater, will be our main venue for screenings. From deeply revealing to timely and inspiring, these magnificent films from around the world celebrate the Earth through cinema. Here is a link to the 2018 official selections.

We align our festival operations to the messages we share about the environment. Arcadia Power provides clean energy for all of our venues- in Chico and across the country. We uphold zero waste goal and encourage those in attendance to honor those goals. Bring your own re-usable cup! The El Rey has recently been renovated opening up a section in the front of the theatre for patrons to bring their own blankets and chairs for a true festival experience.

Knowing that the youth are our future:

*******This festival is free to 16 and younger when accompanied with a parent or guardian. ********


Look who’s joining us for Classic Movie Day!

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We are incredibly exited to announce that we will be joined by a couple of local icons for next weeks movie event.

Shubert’s Ice Cream and Candy will not only be serving up their sweet awesomeness, but will also be creating a very special chocolate bar just for the occasion! These one of a kind bars will only be available at our screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, next Saturday the 31st!

Shortz film festWe are also incredibly fortunate to have the good folks from the Shortz! Film Festival, Chico’s longest running international short film festival, serving up mountains of delicious buttery popcorn!


So, bring the whole family for some pre Easter family sweets, tons of popcorn and an awesome classic film!


Let us know you’re coming, visit our Facebook event.

Fun with 35mm

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Fun with 35mm

Last Sunday, February 18th, we had the pleasure of having Stephan Shelly from Grand Lakes theater (in conjunction with American Cinema Equipment) come up to our humble theater and fire up the Christie 35mm projector. It was an absolute thrill to see the ol’ girl fire up and project a loop reel onto the back wall of the theater. According to Stephan, it is in decent shape and can be reconditioned to have regular 35mm print screenings. How great would that be!

Part of what we can do as a non profit community organization, is raise money for the reconditioning of the projector, as well as the purchase of a new digital system for regular film screenings. More to come on that and other projects in the works, later.

Thanks again for the incredible community support and excitement.


Grand reopening weekend

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Grand reopening weekend


The new owners of the El Rey knocked it out of the park last weekend with a sold out grand re-opening event that was, by all accounts. a huge success. With a sold out quadruple concert on Saturday night, followed on Sunday with a screening of Robin Hood that filled the house with over 200 people!

The Chico community sent a message that this venue is a Chico treasure worth saving.


The new owners are throwing a grand reopening party!

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On February 10th, the new owners of the El Rey are throwing a big re-opening fundraiser. They want to reintroduce the theater to the community, show off the work that has been done and raise money for theater renovations. They are selling three levels of sponsorship and holding a silent auction. So far, 3 bands are playing and we are hoping to host a film screening as well.

From the owners announcement….

The El Rey Theater is proud to announce our Grand Opening for 2018! On February 10th we’ll
be hosting our Grand Opening Community Fundraiser. All proceeds from this event will be
donated to the El Rey Theater to assist in improving and preserving a Chico performing arts
landmark. Since the building’s purchase in the summer of 2017 we’ve made quite a few
changes on the inside spending over $500,000 to structurally improving the venue’s
foundation, securing the roof from any further water damage to the majestic fairy murals,
extending the stage along with adding in a large standing room area in front of the stage,
sandblasting and uncovering the original natural brick to give the stage the perfect backdrop
a historical building such as this deserves, and installing a professional level audio and visual
The venue now features a state of the art RCF line array sound system, a 10×20 foot high
definition LED video wall, and additional ceiling mounted trussing, pars, spots, and moving
lights. This is just the first phase in continuing our journey to make the El Rey Theater Chico’s
premier performance and event venue, but we need your help to keep our dream alive!

Event Overview
• The event will begin with a silent auction and all guests will be invited to participate.
Auction items will be given to the El Rey from local businesses as a donation to help promote
their own product or service.
• Following the auction, our partners will be discussing the current state of the theater and
the improvements we plan on making in the upcoming years.
• The remainder of the event will support our local bands and groups involved in the local
music scene and showcase some of the area’s best talent. There will be dancing as well as a
no-host bar.

Sponsorship of our Grand Opening Community Fundraiser will promote your
business or product by inclusion in our marketing campaign as well as at the
event itself. We want you to be a proud sponsor of this event and expose your
brand while helping us keep a piece of Chico history alive. We hope this event will
help grow and sustain a long- term relationship between the El Rey Theater and
your business.

More info can be found at their Facebook event listing.

ATTN: The El Rey Theater Alliance is NOT hosting this fundraiser. We ARE however encouraging everyone to be a part of it.

Some Great News

by Scott Brown 2 Comments

More details to come later, but suffice to say….it looks as if the El Rey will remain a live performance/event theater according to the new owners. I had the opportunity to meet one of the new owners this afternoon and got to see their initial interior renovations. They seem very passionate about keeping it a theater and are hoping that the community can rally behind their enthusiasm to make the El Rey a centerpiece of our downtown community.

ERTA will continue to work with them to be sure it remains a vibrant, accessible and economically sustainable part of the community.

More to come…..

A great personal story from Jack Tillmany

The following is Jack Tillmany’s email to us (sent via Gary Meyer of Eat Drink Films).

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.


Here are some historic photos of El Rey/Chico, first as the MAJESTIC, then as the AMERICAN.

As the AMERICAN, it was Golden State’s B House, the nearby SENATOR being the A House.

The Mad Doctor of Market Street and The Lone Rider and the Bandit is just exactly what you could have expected to find there in 1942.

The EMPIRE was across the street, as you can see. Apparently, it was Chico moviedom’s 3rd leg;

if you look close in this 1940 photo, the marquee reads “ALWAYS A GOOD SHOW AMERICAN AND SENATOR THEATRES” so apparently it was closed, at least at the time of that photo. It had been torn down by the time I got to Chico in 1962, replaced by a parking lot. But the EMPIRE keys still hung on a hook in the closet. When I asked the District Manager where the EMPIRE was, and he told me it had stood across the street, but was no longer there, I asked him why we were keeping the KEYS. He said just to leave them there, so I did. I had just gotten out of the Army so was used to this kind of intelligent supervision.

By this time, AMERICAN had been re-named EL REY and was being used by UATC for “special” films that did not fit the format of the double features which still changed twice weekly at SENATOR and also for the more “ADULT” fare that was beginning to push the envelope beyond Production Code sensibilities at that time, as well as for a testing ground for the more popular imported titles that were already proving so successful in San Francisco & would hopefully appeal to the college trade from nearby Chico State.

In the first group were such titles as Judgment at Nuremberg, The Manchurian Candidate, El Cid, King of Kings, and West Side Story, all of them very popular, with long hold overs lasting many weeks. Apparently, judging from the films in the 1980 photo, that policy continued to be successful.

Interestingly,by 1980 those cast iron marquee letters visible in the 1940 photo were still in service.


In the second group were such titles as Walk on the Wild Side and Irma La Douce; Irma ran week after week during the summer of 1963 & just wouldn’t quit. Ultimately, our total ticket sales totaled more than the entire population of Chico (at that time around 9500), and became the subject of a bit of controversy in the local newspaper, which, of course, only extended the run even further.

In the third group were the misfires. The Balcony (in the photo) featured Shelley Winters as the Madam of a Cat House, and, since the pressbook offered the titillating tag line “Meet Madam Irma and her girls from the House of Illusion … they make men live their wildest dreams !” I stole a bit of it as marquee bait, since the name of Shelley Winters would not have sold one single ticket. It was pretty obvious UATC knew they had a stinker on their hands, because they gave me an oldie with Alec Guinness (totally inappropriate, as usual, of course) as the second feature. The photo is a joke, as I’ll explain below. The Kiss of Death were the sub-titled films, particularly the Ingmar Bergman ordeals which may have been hot in Berkeley, but dead in the water in Chico. In the immortal words of one of my patrons, “Is this one of them things yer gotta read?”

UATC paid their managers starvation wages, which we were supposed to bolster up with a small commission (3%-4%, something like that) on candy sales. So I instituted a series of Kid Shows on Saturday afternoons, selecting the films (with the cooperation of UATC’s Booking Dept) myself and even going so far as to print them up a little calendar, which the kids took home & treasured. The kids you see lined up outside in that photo are not waiting to see Madam Irma & Her Girls; that was the evening show. They’re waiting to get in for the matinee. On an average Saturday afternoon we usually sold about 500 tickets (at 50 cents apiece), and even if there was a Disney show at the Senator, we could still count on about 200-300 if only from the overflow, since they would usually sell out their 2000 seats on the first show.

UATC also urged their managers to promote Kid Shows on School Holidays, such as Memorial Day or during the Easter Break. For these I would throw in some kind of giveaway, such as a live bunny for Easter. That one sold out the first show, so I quickly scheduled a second show, and while the cashier knocked off another 800 tickets, I made a fast trip to the Chico Pet Store for another live bunny. Total sales for the 2 shows was around 1500 tickets; the tons of candy wrappers, popcorn boxes & drink cups on the floor afterwards required 2 janitors to give the place a complete cleanup before the evening show, common now, but unheard of at that time.

For one of these shows, a baby lizard from the ever dependable Chico Pet Store stood in for a live baby dinosaur, backed up by 2 Dinosaur Hits on the Giant Screen and another sellout crowd including the very happy holder of the lucky ticket number. Only cloud that appeared was later that evening when I got a phone call from his mother asking what she was supposed to do with the little beast when it started growing…. I told her just to let it go, into Bidwell Park. I wonder if that kid just might have been Steven Spielberg?

Song cue: “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end…”

Jack Tillmany


Progress Update

A quick progress update

We have locked in two investors and plan to have proof of funds within just a few days. From there we will assist in drafting a formal offer for the theater. We are working from a solid business plan that shows that the theater will be profitable and bring larger numbers of locals and tourists downtown during normally slow business days, helping to enhance our downtown’s national visibility and economy. We feel that this, along with the support of the community that has been both vocal and supportive, will usher in a new vitality to our amazing city. It’s taken us a bit longer than we’d hoped, but it looks like all the pieces are finally coming together.

Thanks again to everyone for the continued support.

More to come soon.

Kids getting ready for a matinee – 1963