Tag Archives: #Restored Theater

The Movie House Which Refused to Die

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More from our trip to Sonoma CA:  As the days of the Mexican war came to an end and California was annexed into the US, the square where Spanish soldiers once drilled was turned into a lovely park, with businesses along the the perimeter. As white settlers and immigrants from Europe and the Far East  poured into California, the rich soils yielded great fortunes in cattle, crops and eventually the vineyards which would one day be among the worlds best. Among the families who prospered in the wine business were the Italians family  Sebastiani. Civic-minded Samuele Sebastiani, the patriarch of the successful family winery, thought there should be an entertainment facility on the square befitting Sonoma’s growing status and prosperity. In the early 1930’s he built the Sebastiani Theater, designed by famed theater designer James W. Reid. The show house featured a stunningly colorful neon marque which proudly trumpeted the talkie showing that week, or an upcoming stage show or musical review. The interior was ornately decorated, and all in all it was quite a showplace.

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However, as the decades went by, television and other diversions lessened the demand for a theater, which in the 60’s closed on Monday and Tuesday, and would cancel an evening’s presentation if there were less than seven paying customers in the house. The building began to crumble, and was eventually saved from demolition by local devotion and the now corporate Sebastiani Winery’s generous financial support. We went to see a movie at this historic venue (The current release “A United Kingdom”, which I recommend highly) and were very blown away by the new, state of the art sound and digital picture.

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We learned the theater regularly shows classic movies using the old 35MM projectors, along with quality live music presentation. You can even purchase three strands of either red or black licorice for just 25 cents (mix and match if you wish). The lobby was also covered by hand-drawn color portraits of the great movie stars of the 20s-30’s by a local artist during the depression, but not discovered until recently. We followed the moving with a knock-out dinner at The Plaza Bistro (theplazabistro.com) just a few doors down on the Square. I think that’s one of the reasons I like Sonoma so much. It’s a farm town with class, but little pretense.

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