Atascadero’s newest theater — the third in the city’s history — opens to the general public Friday, March 18.
I know Galaxy is showing some special films for a few days this week in conjunction with the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, but the rest of us will get to enjoy a film without driving out of town in only a few days, for the first time in about five years.
Galaxy’s 10-screen theater replaces Plaza Cinema, which operated in the old commercial center from the 1980s until it was demolished to make way for the Colony Square project — one that includes the movie house and retail shops.
Atascadero’s first movie house, La Moda Theater, grew out of the original Atascadero Playhouse that was constructed on a site on Traffic Way, very near where the ball fields and community center now stand.
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But in 1924, a second playhouse opened in the 5600 block of El Camino Real next door to the Keetch Building and Ward’s garage. Both structures remain today. The theater was destroyed in a late-night fire in 1987.
The original playhouse fell on bad times and was purchased by Joe St. Mary of Oakland. The first movie shown in the theater was “The Man Upstairs,” featuring Monte Blue, John Roche and Heinie Conklin, and “Laughing Ladies,” a Hal Roach comedy.
In the very early 1930s, when movie houses were being outfitted with sound systems, an RCA engineer, Bill Peck, was hired to convert the Atascadero theater to sound. He fell in love with the place and bought the building from the Atascadero Development Syndicate, which had been formed to unload the enormous debt owed by E.G. Lewis, who by this time had been thrown into involuntary receivership.
Peck also fell in love with an ADS secretary, Carolyne Hurst, and they were married in 1934. The couple ran the theater up until the 1950s, when television’s impact put the little theater out of business because people stopped going to the movies.
The Pecks added a second story to the building. Carolyne played the organ during intermission. They named it “La Moda” because it had what Carolyne said was a Spanish flavor. They (and the town) dressed in black tie and tails for the showing of “Gone With The Wind.” They converted the theater into a bowling alley and continued to operate it until the mid-1970s.
Galaxy Theatres will be all digital. Its movies will come in electronically or on a little disc.
It wasn’t that easy for Bill Peck and his projectionist. After a film had run its course, they had to send it back immediately.
The film cans for a feature film were heavy. Bill and his assistant would meet the train late at night. Bill said the train didn’t stop. It only slowed down. So he and his helper would run as fast as they could and toss the film cans into the open door of the train.
In 10 days, Galaxy begins a new generation of moviegoing for Atascadero.
Reach Lon Allan at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.