1949: Crest Theatre's Gala Premiere

"When you pass thru this portal
You leave all cares behind you."

The above quote greets all who enter the Crest Theatre -- a historic city landmark and a place of many memories for multiple generations in Sacramento. In this post, I'm going to share some pictures and information regarding the Crest Theatre's Gala Premiere on October 6, 1949.

The Crest Theatre has had a long and complicated history dating back almost 100 years. Here is a brief overview:

Empress Theatre: In 1912, it was first built as the Empress, a vaudeville theater started by Big Tim Sullivan and John W. Considine. They hired Seattle architect Lee DeCamp and the doors opened on January 19, 1913. Alexander Kaiser, father of famous mid-century designer Ray Eames, was the manager.

The Hippodrome: In 1918, the Empress became the Hippodrome, which showed both vaudeville acts and films. In 1927, the Hippodrome became a full-time movie theater. A fire gutted the interior in the 1940s and later, in 1946, the marquee came crashing down without warning, injuring three people and killing Mrs. R.S. Potter who was visiting from Alta in Placer County. Subsequently, Fox West Coast Theatres decided to tear down the Hippodrome to the original brick walls and start anew.

Via the Center for Sacramento History's Eugene Hepting Collection

In 1949, construction began for the Crest Theatre, designed this time by architects Cantin and Cantin from San Francisco.

According to a two-page advertisement placed in the Sacramento Bee on October 5, 1949:
"The Crest Theatre is the consummation of an ideal. In creating it, we of Fox West Coast Theatres sought the ultimate in perfection in Motion Picture Theatre Construction. To achieve this goal, we engaged the most progressive and modern creators in the engineering, architectural and decorative professions. To their knowledge, we added the years of research of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- together with the exhibition experience of our own organization. All were carefully welded to bring to reality -- the perfect theatre -- a model of theatre construction for years to come; a theatre embodying the miracles of modern science and comfort, blending beauty and graciousness with practical utility...."

The Crest Theatre's Gala Premiere was held Thursday, October 6, 1949. Five-thousand people attended the festivities, including: several stars of the film That Midnight Kiss; Governor Earl Warren; and Mayor Belle Cooledge. According to the article in the Sacramento Bee the next day, there were "giant searchlights... two floor shows, free orchids, sleek black limousines" and lots of "stiff shirted Fox West Coast executives."

The event was also covered by a MovieTone news reel: "Governor Warren Attends Opening of Crest Theatre" which can be seen via History of Movie Theatres in Sacramento by KVIE.

The Crest Theatre continued to show films until 1979, when it closed, according to the Crest's website, due to "a variety of factors including the decline of the K Street mall, television and multiplexes....  From 1980 to 1986, various people tried to operate the theatre with out much luck." In 1986, a spirited group of people renovated the Crest. Go here for a fascinating, amusing and detailed history, which included a re-opening featuring the film Singin' in the Rain and a visit by Donald O'Connor.

In 1995, the Crest was treated to a $1 million dollar makeover to restore it to its original grandeur. More recently, the Crest's neon marquee was refurbished after 60 years. The sign for the September 21, 2009 re-lighting ceremony proclaimed "10 stories high, 2 miles of neon, 1 fantastic sign!"

The future of the Crest continues to look bright after Bob Emerick purchased it earlier this year with the promise of protecting and preserving it. More here.

If you're like me and can't get enough of the beautiful Crest Theatre, I highly recommend checking out photographs lovingly taken over the years by talented photographer Tom Spaulding.