Barbary Coast – San Diego’s ‘In Spot’ – New California Theatre – San Diego, CA – Mitch Paluszek

© Mitch Paluszek

The picture was taken from the corner of 3rd Ave and B Street in downtown San Diego; the building on which this is painted is at 4th and C. The building itself is a gem; the old “California Theater.” Shuttered now. – Mitch Paluszek

Saturated and hue altered to enhance text by Frank H. Jump - picture by Mitch Paluszek

This Spanish Colonial Revival theater was built in 1927 and seated over 2200 patrons. Once a premiere venue for the city, the theater has been in disuse for decades. Although the California was renovated in 1988, two years later it was again scheduled for demolition. Now, in addition to restorations, plans call for a wide redevelopment of the entire area, which should bring the theater back into the spotlight and out from the shadows of time.Cinema Treasures

Courtesy of San Diego Historical Society

Courtesy of San Diego Historical Society

Courtesy of San Diego Historical Society

Interior shot courtesy of San Diego Historical Society.

Second Anniversary Birthday Cake - San Diego Historical Society

The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night Premiere - San Diego Historical Society

The New California Theatre was one of the last two old movie palaces (Balboa being the other) . When opened in 1927, it was heralded as “the cathedral of the motion picture” and “an enduring contribution to the artistic beauty of the entire Southland”. Ceilings were gold leaf, murals were scattered throughout the theatre. A huge Wurlitzer organ was installed. The theatre had a seating capacity of 2200. The Aztec Theatre on Fifth was built in 1905 as a meat market and entered the show business in 1919 as the California Theatre — it became the Aztec in 1930, allowing the New California Theatre to drop the “New.”

The New California Theatre was owned by the West Coast Theatres and backed by San Diegan C. S. Judson. 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”, and Al Lyons and his band. Bernard’s Inc., an apparel store for women, occupied the entire second floor in 1927. Movies were discontinued in 1976, but the theatre was available for special performances.

The architecture is Spanish Colonial Revival and combines theatre, shops, and office in a three-level, reinforced concrete structure. The nine-story portion faces Fourth Avenue and incorporates theatre entrance and offices. The proscenium area is six stories and the auditorium almost five stories. The parapets of the flat roofs have red tile trim, decorated cornices and dentils or arched corbeling. Bands of cast ornamentation continue around the building at various levels and are trimmed with urns. Some windows have arches and baroque surrounds.

The side walls of the auditorium imitate a Spanish church. The “C” Street wall of the rear has a sign painted on it. On the office section, the windows are recessed and plain in style from the fifth floor upwards. A small penthouse is on the north side of the roof. The marquee faces Fourth Avenue. Cement quoins marking the corners of the first three floors include niches for statuary.

The Old Globe Theatre used the California Theatre downtown while its Balboa Park home was rebuilt after the 1978 arson fire.

A 1988 renovation of the building restored much of the appearance of the 1920s. The marquee “circus” box office was removed, new carpeting was installed, and the ornate sculptural decorations were restored. There were some changes made in the marquee. The building appears much as it did when built.

The building was scheduled for demolition in the summer of 1990 but is still standing in 2000. The Wurlitzer organ was moved to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Spring Valley, but in March of 1996, an arson fire destroyed the organ console and most of the pipework. – San Diego Historical Society

Mitch- I didn’t find much on the Barbary Coast – San Diego’s “In Spot” but I did find these cool  movie posters  (Barbary Coast – and maps of the actual Barbary Coast!

Samuel Goldwyn presents Barbary Coast - United Artists - Internet Movie Poster Awards Gallery (IMPA)

From the Halls of Moctezuma to the shores of Tripoli - Marine Corps - Barbary Wars

Lahaina Printsellers - Printsellers dot com

Internet resources:

3 responses to “Barbary Coast – San Diego’s ‘In Spot’ – New California Theatre – San Diego, CA – Mitch Paluszek

  1. Nice post. Wow…The Beatles and Elvis on the same double bill. And Elvis is the B picture, showing the shift in pop culture.

  2. Thanks Gunnar. I was so glad Mitch sent me some pics of his San Diego trip. He said there weren’t many he could see. I remember from years ago a cache of pics someone sent me from the late 80s. The seediness of San Francisco’s Tenderloin is disappearing as well. Some look at that as progress. One hopes they preserve some of the signs to remind us of the bygone days.

  3. James Crabtree

    The Barbary Coast in San Diego was mentioned in this article. If this is the place I remember (and the location seems to indicate so) I have many fond memories of it. As a young sailor stationed in the area, it was well known. One of my squadron mates was a bouncer there and another was the “steady” of one of the very attractive dancers. The girls were friendly, the beer was (relatively) cheap, and the atmosphere was basically hassle free.