By Linda Ruminer
Named “The New Tulare Theater” to distinguish it from the old Tulare theater, the magnificent, ornate, motion picture theater opened its doors on March 18, 1927, beckoning proud Tulareans, their envious valley neighbors and an entourage of Hollywood film notables, including a certified movie star.
More than 1,500 persons walked, drove or were chauffeured to the heart of Tulare for the gala grand opening of the New Tulare Theater, billed in newspaper accounts as the most lavish entertainment palace in Central California.
Timothy Ludwig Pflueger, 1892-1946, was the architect for the Tulare Theater. He was from San Francisco and designed 12 Cinema Treasures, all in the bay area, with the exception of the Tulare Theater. He was one of San Francisco’s most colorful artistic figures, and monuments to his extraordinary style were scattered throughout the bay area. When motion pictures grew into one of the nation’s greatest industries, large decorative and sometimes exotic theaters were designed especially for the “movies” and the stage pageantry, which generally accompanied them. Four of Timothy Pflueger’s Cinemas remain in business today.
The floors were plushly carpeted, and seating in the auditorium comfortably appointed. Intricately detailed murals and other handiwork graced walls and ceilings throughout the massive building. The façade derived much design influence from the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon. The auditorium featured rich sculptural ornamentation, and an unusual undulating ceiling with subtle twinkling stars. People from that era can probably remember the big figures on the ceilings, and the serpents.
A then modern heating and cooling system, which continued to work well nearly 50 years later, kept patrons in virtually unprecedented comfort.
The ladies’ “lounge and retiring room” had a fulltime maid in attendance.
Appointments for the theater’s more general use beyond opening night included soundproof nurseries and playrooms, equipped with heating and cooling systems and with full view of the stage and screen.
The owners of the theater, T&D Enterprises, Inc., provided the opening night crowd with an entertainment menu befitting the grand structure.
The theater managed to reign over downtown Tulare as the area’s key entertainment center for nearly two decades.
It was not until the 1960’s, under competition from television, that the theater lost much of its grandeur and respect and eventually its livelihood-customers.
During the many years it was big in Tulare, however, the theater played host to thousands of entertained Tulareans.
In the early days admission was 30 cents for adults for regular seats, 50 cents for loges and a dime for children. A child could spend all day at the movies for 10 cents. If they had nine cents they sometimes got in anyway. That’s when the line was clear down to Linder’s. That was the really big thing on Saturdays. The place was really packed.
In addition to feature films, the theater had vaudeville shows every Sunday night and held Mickey Mouse Club programs followed by children’s matinees on Saturdays. Also attending the Mickey Mouse Club programs was future Olympic champion and U.S. Congressman Bob Mathias.
There also were personal appearances, including personalities such as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and Roy Rogers. The original Rogers’ horse, Trigger, also appeared on the theater stage.
The Saturday shows included serials, each week ending with the hero in some precarious predicament. The poor guy would be hanging off a cliff and he’d hang there a week (until the next Saturday).
The latticework that adorned the twin towers was boarded up. The effort to “modernize” the look of the building also included the addition of a facade along the storefronts in the theater building that faced Tulare Avenue.
The theater’s sharp decline apparently began in the late 1950’s. There was a brief resurgence of patronage, that came with the remodeling in the early 1960s, but it was only temporary. Toward the end, the staff included only the manager, the ticket seller who also operated the concession stand, and the projectionist. The theater, once so clean and well maintained, had fallen on hard times. Seats were ripped and the floor sticky with spilled foods and drinks. The theater was condemned because it didn’t meet the State’s earthquake code.
The advent of television, management and the changing of the movie industry have all been cited as possible contributors to the death of what probably was one of Tulare’s most stately buildings.
Once the theater closed on August 26, 1975, it never opened again. 48 years after the grand opening, the theater showed its last movie, a bomb called “Once is not Enough.”
There was talk of a million dollar renovation to turn the theater into an office complex in 1977, but the project never got off the ground.
The theater was demolished in 1980 and Wells Fargo Bank now stands in its place.
Although, the theater is gone, it is not forgotten. It will live forever in the hearts of men and women of those early days.
The Encore Theater Company, a volunteer theater group, removed artifacts and stage equipment from the building to possibly use in a future theater building.
Painted decorations from the theater were incorporated into the design of the Wells Fargo Bank that stands in its place today. Also the Tulare Historical Museum has archived many photos and documents relating to this wonderful Tulare landmark for your research and enjoyment.