Header Image - Working to keep California's oldest movie theater alive

Category Archives

14 Articles

The new owners are throwing a grand reopening party!

by Scott Brown 0 Comments

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
production.
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.

Talk about INDESTRUCTIBLE!

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

Save the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities: What You Can Do

by Scott Brown 0 Comments

Help save the NEA and the NEH

A great article from Pen America outlining things you can do to help keep funding for national artist and art programs from being gutted by the newly proposed budget.

President Trump is soon expected to propose a budget that would completely eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
» What do the NEA and the NEH do? The Endowments have been on the budget chopping block before. They survived because caring citizens who benefit from their […]

Source: Save the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities: What You Can Do – PEN America

Indie Movie Theaters Nationwide Screening ‘1984’ | The Huffington Post

by Scott Brown 0 Comments
Indie Movie Theaters Nationwide Screening ‘1984’ | The Huffington Post

We have secured a spot on the nationwide roster of art house screenings of the film 1984, now we just need a theater.
If we secure the El Rey on April 4th, we hope that everyone will join us for a night of classic cinema and support of the National Endowment Of The Arts.

A complete list of participating theaters can be found here.

It’s all happening April 4. Mark your calendars, comrades.

Source: Indie Movie Theaters Nationwide To Protest Donald Trump By Screening ‘1984’ | The Huffington Post

Bryn Mawr Film Institute – History

by Scott Brown 0 Comments

The Bryn Mawr Film Institute is another fantastic example of a community determined to keep it’s historic cinema alive. Their sponsored National Theater Survey is an eye opener for those who doubt the significant economical benefits of local Art House Cinema and civic performance spaces.

Source: History of Bryn Mawr Film Institute | Bryn Mawr Film Institute

A call to rescue the historic Seville Theater, a center of Bryn Mawr community life since 1926, inspired the creation of the innovative film exhibition and education center, Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

That call, sounded in 2002 by Juliet J. Goodfriend (shortly to become BMFI’s founding president and executive director), was answered by a group of like-minded civic and academic leaders equally alarmed at the prospective conversion of the derelict—but beloved—theater to a health club franchise.

After seemingly endless zoning hearing board meetings and fundraising events, the newly incorporated nonprofit, 501(c)(3), Bryn Mawr Film Institute purchased the building in December 2004 and began a decade-long restoration, renovation, and expansion project. With great community support, the theater complex today boasts four state-of-the-art theaters, classrooms, community gathering space, a café, and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Sundance Art House Convergence – National Theater Operations Survey 2015

by Scott Brown 0 Comments

Sundance Institute Art House Convergence
National Theater Operations Survey 2015

The Sundance Institute Art House Convergence’s comprehensive look at Art House theater operations ranging from concessions to fundraising. This survey, and others like it, confirm the viability of cinema and civic performance spaces for local economic and community growth.

national-theater-operations-survey-2015

Community Foundation Fund Now Open!

by Scott Brown 0 Comments

We are proud to announce that our fund at the North Valley Community Foundation is now open.

So, if you are still looking for a tax deductible donation on your 2016 taxes, and you want to help us keep the El Rey Theater open and vibrant, what better place than the El Rey Theater Alliance!

Visit our NVCF page below!

El Rey Theater Alliance

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)