Merced Theater - Merced, CA
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member Big B Bob
N 37° 18.032 W 120° 28.826
10S E 723315 N 4131188
A classic old theater being brought back to it's original grandeur by the local community.
Waymark Code: WM3QDT
Location: California, United States
Date Posted: 05/04/2008
Published By:Groundspeak Regular Member lilluckyclover
Views: 153

Merced Theater

Merced Theater, 1934

From the Merced Theater Foundation website:

The Merced Theater opened on October 31st , 1931 with the world premier of Local Boy Makes Good staring Joe E. Brown. The building was constructed over the previous nine months at a cost of $380,000.00. For the next 47 years it would serve the Merced community in a wide variety of ways including concerts, graduations, dance  performances, weddings and of course, movies. It was and still is treasured by the people of Merced County. The Tower is the most recognized landmark in Merced.

The Theater was  designed by the Reid Brothers , prestigious  architects from San Francisco  for the Golden State Theater  Corporation, and boasted 1,645 seats with the first air conditioning for any building in the County. The City of Merced had a  population of only 7,066 at the time. We believe the Theater is the last project completed by the Reid Brothers as one of them died 3 months after the opening. The Theater building includes five retail spaces  and ten second floor apartments on the Main Street frontage.

What made the Theater so special was the Theater's interior.  Sitting in the Theater was a like being in a Spanish castle courtyard with blue skies and even a cloud machine.  I heard from a projectionist, that the cloud and star projector was stolen many years before I arrived.  It had been attached to the foot of the balcony and someone during a show had detached it and walk out of the building with it.

Nighttime, 1978

In 1978, I work as an usher at this Theater.  At that time, it was owned and operated by United Artists.  The company had decided to change the way they did business in Merced, so, they first offered the theater to the city, but the city was, at that time, not interested in purchasing the theater.  The local art community tried gallantly but failed to save it.  That fall, the Theater's interiors were demolished and removed. A central full height partition was constructed and a four screen multiplex was created. The multiplex configuration remains to this day.

The tragedy is that the new configuration was never financially successful and ultimately could not compete with the newer movie theaters as a movie only operation. The building slowly fell further into disrepair and the doors were finally closed in 2002.

View of North Wall from above the stage.

These are photos I took a week before the demolition.  My friend, Anders and I climbed up into the rafters to record what would no longer exist in a few days.  I remember coming in as the work was being done,  they literally tore out the beautiful history of this once majestic theater.  The intent of the Merced Theater Foundation to restore the interior to match the original scheme to the degree possible while updating theatrical, lighting and sound systems to a state-of-the-art standard.


View of the South Wall from the balcony.

In 2002 the City of Merced Redevelopment Agency purchased the Theater Building. Since that time the Merced Theater Foundation has leased the Theater from the City and is responsible for day to day operations. Theater Two remains operational with 300 seats  and a  small stage where movies are shown monthly and other events are held by arrangement.

One day soon, the Merced Theater will return to it's majestic look and serve the community as it was meant to be.

Hit Counter
Year Theater Opened: 1931

Ticket Price (local currency): 0.00 (listed in local currency)

Matinee Price (local currency): 0.00 (listed in local currency)

Number of Screen(s): 1

Concessions Available: yes

Web site: [Web Link]

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