San Bernardino County Sun (California)
December 1, 2010 Wednesday
San Bernardino theater takes its place in history
By Michel Nolan, Staff Writer
SAN BERNARDINO – The city paid tribute to a queen on Wednesday.
The 82-year-old California Theatre of the Performing Arts, a venerable queen among Southern California’s historic theaters, was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historic Resources.
Community leaders celebrated the commemoration in the downtown San Bernardino’s theater’s balcony-level California Room with a presentation of the official National Registry plaque.
Since 1928, local audiences have been entertained in San Bernardino’s renowned art deco performance palace.
The theater has welcomed such performers as Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and cowboy humorist Will Rogers, who appeared there in 1935, his last public performance before he died in an airplane crash six weeks later.
“This building is a cultural jewel, another gem in the crown of the Inland Empire,” observed 5th District county Supervisor Josie Gonzales.
The theater is owned by the San Bernardino Economic Development Agency and managed by Theatrical Arts International.
Emil Marzullo, interim director of the Economic Development Agency, said that when it comes to rebuilding downtown, the theater is the one constant in the last 80 years.
“There’s a certain respect – a certain reverence – in the community that we have found with this building,” he said. “We have noted there has been no problem with grafitti here.
Mayor Pat Morris said the landmark theater is the beginning of the city’s revitalization.
“The council will act this month on a contract with Regal Cinemas, the nation’s largest cinema operator, to launch a $4 million renovation of our cineplex here. That’s very exciting,” Morris said.
Wednesday’s celebration kicked off San Bernardino’s Holiday Festival.
The “12 Days of Greetings” is a series of events through Dec. 12, designed to bring holiday spirit and commerce to downtown.
“As big as we’re able to dream is what we’ll do in this theater,” said Theatrical Arts producer Joseph Henson. “I look forward to today and what’s coming tomorrow.”
California Theatre of the Performing Arts Timeline
1928: Built as a vaudeville house, showcasing comics, song-and-dance performers and silent films, it was a favorite proving ground for Hollywood filmmakers, who would test market their latest movies here before releasing them to the public until the late 1940s.
June 28, 1935: Cowboy humorist Will Rogers makes his last stage appearance before dying in an August plane crash at Point Barrow, Alaska.
June 1939: “The Wizard of Oz” is screened for a San Bernardino test audience.
1984: The theater undergoes another reincarnation, as home to the San Bernardino Civic Light Opera.
1999: The San Bernardino Economic Development Agency undertakes a renovation of the theater, which had fallen into disrepair.
March 26, 2000: The theater glitter as more than 1,000 celebrities and local VIPs gather for “Symphony With the Stars,” welcoming Carlo Ponti Jr. as guest conductor of the San Bernardino Symphony. In attendance are Ponti’s parents, film legend Sophia Loren and film producer Carlo Ponti.