The El Rey Theater has gone by a few names over the last 111 years.
The Majestic Theatre, The National, The American and finally The El Rey. Through it all, it has maintained it’s long tradition as a film screening and civic gathering place.
The Majestic Theatre was originally commissioned to be built by the Chico Elks Lodge in May of 1903 on a vacant lot on W. 2nd Street, adjacent to the Chico Public Library. In early 1906 is was opened as the home of the Chico Elks Lodge 423. The lower floor at street level was leased out to the owners of the Majestic Theatre Company, and on April 9th 1906 opened as The Majestic Theater to much Northern California fanfare.
14 days after it’s opening, on April 23rd 1906, it showed it’s first set of motion pictures, a series called “Whitney’s Celebrated Life Motion Pictures”, that consisted of six or more short films of everyday life and included titles such as “Scenes Of The Russian Revolution”, “Great Mine Disaster”, “The Fire Bug” and “Spanish Bullfight“. It also screened a film of the Chico fire department that would have been produced locally.
This screening date officially makes The El Rey Theater the longest continuously operated movie theater
in California and the 3rd in the entire US.
|On March 8th 1924 the National theater chain of San Francisco acquired The Majestic, as well as several other theaters in Chico, and renamed it The National. It operated as The National for a relatively long period from 1924 until 1939. In 1939 The owners, T & D Jr. Enterprises (which later became United Artists Theatre Circuit), reopened the theater as The American.|
|The American theater prospered in the early 1940’s within the heyday of prewar and wartime cinema only to have that prosperity cut short on October 24 1946 when an arsonist started a fire that tore through the interior of the theater. He was caught by the Chico Police a week later, but the damage had been done. The owners at the time, T&D Jr. Enterprises, vowed it would reopen and a little over a year later, it did.
|When it reopened in 1948, it was renamed the El Rey, because (or at least as the story goes) the owners had a sign that was the only feature to survive a fire at one of their other theaters, The El Rey, in the Bay Area.
The El Rey continued to screen first run films until 2005, when the competition from the new local multi screen cinema became too great, and was scheduled to be gutted and converted into office and retail space with parking. However, in late 2007 it re-opened as a specialty cinema house and live performance venue and has been operating as one ever since.