Lights Out: Sacramento’s Lost Movie Houses

Posted on January 8, 2012 – 9:25 PM | by Admin
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Senator (FOX)

The FOX Senator’s 912 K St. entrance as it appeared in November of 1953.  This was Sacramento’s finest movie palace, built by architects Stark and Flanders and opened September 29, 1924.  They had also built the 14 story Elks Building in 1926 and later, the Alhambra Theatre.  The image is deceptive, as the theatre was not really on K St. at all, but built between L St. and the alley behind the building in this photo.  FOX theatres owned the L St. building with the 2,106 seat auditorium, but leased the center section of the first floor of the building in this photo to have a K St. entrance and marquee for the theatre, as K St. was the most trafficked theatre street of the 1920-50’s.  Oddly, the reason that the building in the photo is still standing and the theatre is not is because of this lease arrangement.  Patrons got a ticket at the box office in the picture, entered the doors behind, and traveled up a long mirrored Louis XIV style lobby corridor that went up and over the alley to the auditorium on L St. Opened as the FOX Senator, locals always called it the FOX theatre, as it was the FOX theatre chain’s Sacramento flagship.  This was the first Sacramento theatre installed with the wide screen process CinemaScope and Stereophonic sound on October 28, 1953 when it played the first film in that format, The Robe.   The Senator’s giant stage, Robert-Morton theatre organ and big seating capacity, augmented by the Trianon Ballroom above the K St. entrance and ”The Moderne” nightclub to the right of the box-office, would have been the multipurpose entertainment center to save for Sacramento’s future.  The last film was shown in 1972 and the L street auditorium was demolished the following year.  The K St. marquee remained until the mid ‘80s, and when it was dismantled, I took all of the milk glass from the reader board over to the Crest Theatre for use there.  The K St. building is now offices on both floors.


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  1. 7 Responses to “Lights Out: Sacramento’s Lost Movie Houses”

  2. avatar

    By John on Feb 7, 2012 | Reply

    The Rio actually lasted longer than 1955. When I came to Sacramento in 1962 it was still open and showing Spanish language films. It closed sometime later afterwards but then re-opened under a new operator for a while showing “pin up” (nude model) adult films. Live burlesque was later added to the film programs. I believe that lasted to about 1965 when it was closed for good. On the Cinema Treasures website in the comments section for the Rio there is a link to a picture of the theatre in the early 1960’s (obvious from the cars on the street) with mexican film titles on the marquee.

    Nice pictures and commentary Matias! Why don’t you do a book on the Theatres of our great city! I can’t think of anyone more qualified! Cheers!

  3. avatar

    By Theatre Historical Society of America on Mar 1, 2012 | Reply

    Thanks, Matias, great info and photos. THS will be in your city June 26-30 touring about 28 theatres throughout the Central Valley during our annual Conclave / Theatre Tour. Perhaps we will get a chance to meet then !

  4. avatar

    By Gary Parks on Mar 1, 2012 | Reply

    Wonderful collection of images, Matias. You solved the mystery of the names and dates of the theatre that I knew once occupied the space where Alejandro’s Taqueria is today.
    A portion of the Alhambra’s auditorium wall decoration is in the Oakland Museum of California, and I have seen other portions of its plaster ornament for sale over the years at antique shows.
    The neon marquee of the Capitol is identical to one still on the former Varsity Theatre in Palo Alto–Borders Books from 1996-2011. The Capitol’s pipe organ is still in use in a Winery in the Healdsburg area.
    The Theatre Historical Society is looking forward very much to visiting Sacramento’s remaining vintage theatres this June, as well as other theatre treasures throughout the Central Valley on our Conclave tour.

  5. avatar

    By Wayne Zimmerman on Mar 2, 2012 | Reply

    Many Thanks Matias!!!!!

  6. avatar

    By Mike Munson, DSP on Jan 11, 2014 | Reply

    Matias… Read the Bee article and am thoroughly enjoying your input on “Lost Movie Houses”. As I am my 70th year, I recall many of the old venues. Remember taking the no.5 bus downtown and going to the Senator, Crest or Esquire, if finances permitted.. the California in Oak Park, Capitol or Roxie (World) if they didn’t. Entering in the bright late morning light and exiting in the evening darkness.. an adventure nary equalled in today’s movie-going! But I am fascinated by your recounting of seeing “Jaws” first-run at the Esquire. Wouldn’t you have been around 6 or 7? Envy your powers of recall!! ….. All the best, Mike

  7. avatar

    By Scott on Apr 28, 2016 | Reply

    Wasn’t there a “Star Theater” on K Street not far away from Esquire Theater?

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