Modesto’s theatres/Modesto, CA

Modesto Bee

February 13, 2011 Sunday

ALL EDITION/LOCAL NEWS; Pg. B6

MODESTO’S 10TH AND J STREETS THRIVED ON THEATER

By COLLEEN STANLEY BARE

Years ago, 10th Street was Modesto’s banking and shopping street. But it also became the town’s entertainment avenue, with J as its closest competitor.

Within two years after its founding, little Modesto Village had its first “theater” in the hayloft of a barn on I Street near 10th. In 1877, it was replaced by the popular firetrap, Rogers’ Hall.

Reprieve came in 1892 when the Platos built a new building for their men’s clothing business, which included a hall. Located on 10th Street between H and I, the store was on the ground floor, with the hall upstairs. It accommodated up to 800 people and remained until 1910, when it was remodeled into a 13-room hotel called the Hotel Plato.

Another performing arts building during that period was Eastin’s Brick Hall on I Street near 10th. It advertised “theatrical, concert and minstrel troupes at reasonable prices.”

Beginning in 1911, Modesto sprouted several new theaters, including the Star at 927 10th St. between I and J. Opened in February 1911, it had 372 seats and was described in the Morning Herald as “the cleanest, neatest, safest playhouse in Modesto.” It later moved across the street to 928 10th.

During the teens, other downtown theaters rose, each featuring short films and vaudeville shows for a 10-cent admission.

These were the Isis at 916 10th, which seated 600 and changed pictures every day; the Dreamland Theatre, around the corner on I Street, advertising “exits and ventilation”; and the Modesto Theatre at 913 10th, which had three stories and seated 900.

After it burned in 1913, that theater was rebuilt and functioned until 1933 when another fire led to its closure. However, the tall dome over its staging area is still visible on 10th Street.

Some recall the Lyric Theater, next to the fire station at 721 10th St. Sounds of screaming sirens often penetrated the walls, disturbing the audiences next door. It was later renamed the Esquire Theater and was torn down in the 1960s.

The most beautiful of Modesto’s early theaters was the Strand, opened in December 1921. Situated on 10th near K Street, it had carpeted floors, crystal chandeliers, wall murals in the lobby and 1,800 seats.

Costing $250,000, it featured silent and then talking movies, plays, vaudevilles, musicals and community events, such as recitals and graduations. Typical were the 1940s-’50s Omega Nu Follies, produced by the sorority as fund-raisers, featuring members as the dancers.

The Strand story ended sadly, with years of decline and its eventual burning in 1984. Today, Brenden Theatres occupies the Strand’s original site.

In 1922, the Auditorium at Sixth and I streets, originally built as a hall in 1911, reopened as a movie theater. Admission was 15 cents for adults and 5 cents for children. The opening movies were “Daddy Long Legs,” starring Mary Pickford, and “Haunted Spooks,” with Harold Lloyd.

Another popular movie house was in the Hotel Covell, built with its lobby facing J Street. Through the years this theater changed names four times: the Richards, the National, the Princess and finally the Covell Theater.

Only one of Modesto’s early theaters remains today: the elegant Art Deco-style State Theatre on J Street. Opened on Christmas Day 1934, featuring “Flirtation Walk” with Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, it has been completely restored and technologically updated. It is here that Modestans can really get a sense of the “good old days.”

Bare is author of several books about area history and the official historian of the McHenry Mansion. E-mail her at columns

No Comments

  1. Gary Lee Parks

    I might add that the folks at the State in Modesto are also most hospitible. They invited me to give a slide lecture as part of a seminar on historic theatres held at the Strand about two years ago (one of only two times my name has actually made it onto the marquee of a historic theatre!), and took very good care of my wife and I. The State is a beautiful and simple Moderne design by S. Charles Lee with a rather unusual original proscenium that I might call Mandarin Moderne (!) There are nice Deco murals on the auditorium sidewalls, and the exterior features much neon.

  2. Gary Lee Parks

    I might add that the folks at the State in Modesto are also most hospitible. They invited me to give a slide lecture as part of a seminar on historic theatres held at the Strand about two years ago (one of only two times my name has actually made it onto the marquee of a historic theatre!), and took very good care of my wife and I. The State is a beautiful and simple Moderne design by S. Charles Lee with a rather unusual original proscenium that I might call Mandarin Moderne (!) There are nice Deco murals on the auditorium sidewalls, and the exterior features much neon.

  3. The State also has a great neon marquee. They do a big 50′s night with old cars in town and play ‘Grease’ in 35mm stereo plus a live 50′s type band in June.

  4. The State also has a great neon marquee. They do a big 50′s night with old cars in town and play ‘Grease’ in 35mm stereo plus a live 50′s type band in June.

  5. Alisa Rodriguez

    Love the history of Modesto your information have been very well presented Thank You

  6. Alisa Rodriguez

    Love the history of Modesto your information have been very well presented Thank You

  7. I remember the Strand on 10th street…I remember my father and a fellow projectionist and myself unlocking the front door and going in to say a sad goodbye to a once beautiful theatre. The fire had eaten up much of the roof and the sun was shining down. As a little girl i remember playing on the stage in the velvet curtains as my father prepped the film to be shown later that day, Many fond memories of a grand old theatre…memories are in the heart forever. We wiped a lot of tears away that day just before she was to be torn down.

    • What a beautiful memory – sad but beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Carolyn, I just tried to send you an email but it was rejected. Wanted you to know that you should check out our THS Weiss Competition and consider putting your memories into an essay and submit it for possible award judging and selection to be published in Marquee magazine! See our website for details http://www.historictheatres.org or contact the office for more information.

  8. I remember the Strand on 10th street…I remember my father and a fellow projectionist and myself unlocking the front door and going in to say a sad goodbye to a once beautiful theatre. The fire had eaten up much of the roof and the sun was shining down. As a little girl i remember playing on the stage in the velvet curtains as my father prepped the film to be shown later that day, Many fond memories of a grand old theatre…memories are in the heart forever. We wiped a lot of tears away that day just before she was to be torn down.

    • What a beautiful memory – sad but beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Carolyn, I just tried to send you an email but it was rejected. Wanted you to know that you should check out our THS Weiss Competition and consider putting your memories into an essay and submit it for possible award judging and selection to be published in Marquee magazine! See our website for details http://www.historictheatres.org or contact the office for more information.

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