No you’re not in Detroit or near the subway station somewhere in New York City. This is the latest on how San Diego’s historic California Theater is being treated. It wasn’t a gang that let loose on this once regal movie palace. It is “art” commissioned by the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.
Just what every local would like to show out of town guests. That we actually pay people to spray up buildings. Never mind that it is a historic landmark desperately trying to survive.
The California Theater is a Spanish Revival treasure. It was the most ornate of all San Diego movie theaters. The building itself was part of an evening’s entertainment; its magnificence a reason to see a movie there.
Sadly today The California sits nearly dilapidated. In the words of an urban poet: “She’s a wounded survivor, limping but displaying her teeth.”
Showing her teeth, or from this view, showing her bones–the distinctive California Theater bow string trusses.
The “In Spot” ad is painted on the theatre entrance and office tower along Fourth Avenue. That portion is nine stories high. The auditorium stands nearly five stories high and contains 2,200 seats–by far San Diego’s largest movie palace. The proscenium area facing third avenue is six stories high.
Besides the “In Spot,” The billboard art at the back of the California Theater also speaks to a different era of San Diego history, not to mention that of old Tijuana as well. For decades the Caliente Race Track was a major tourist attraction. The “fabulous 5-10” was a Caliente innovation that was copied widely at U.S. race tracks.
The Caliente dog racing advertisement was painted over. However, a bit still shows through. The race dogs used to chase “‘Pepito,’ the mechanical bunny.” The sport fell out of favor when when people became aware of the sports inhumanity.
Details of the Spanish Colonial Revival ornament.
It was upon opening in 1927 that the California was celebrated as “the cathedral of the motion picture” and “an enduring contribution to the artistic beauty of the entire Southland”
Cracks and damage to the figures.
At its grand opening on April 22, 1927, the theatre presented Constance Talmadge and Antonio Moreno in “The Venus of Venice”, Fanchon and Marco’s “Book ideas.”
The movies I saw here included several James Bond pictures. I remember seeing a Mel Brooks double feature of The Producers and Blazing Saddles. The California went dark as a movie theatre in 1976.
In 1978 an arson fire destroyed the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. The California became the temporary Old Globe Theater during reconstruction.
The interior was decorated in gold leaf and murals. The side walls of the auditorium were inspired by a Spanish church. A huge Wurlitzer organ was also a proud asset. Things were looking up for the California in 1988 when the building was spruced up a bit.
It was about that time I saw concerts there. English Beat and The Specials were two I recall.
The California’s run as a concert venue was short lived. By 1990 it was slated for demolition. However, the wrecking has been held off.
In the mean time it suffers demolition by neglect. Each passing year makes it more difficult to bring her back. And now the insult and degradation of her being used as a urban canvass for an “art” project. C’mon, let’s show her some respect.