Lights Out: Sacramento’s Lost Movie Houses

Posted on January 8, 2012 – 9:25 PM | by Admin
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By Matías Antonio Bombal  Images courtesy of the Center For Sacramento History

There was a time when Sacramento movie going was held to a high standard.  Where you went to the movies was as important, or even more important than what you went to see.   This was an era where showmanship was a high art.

Continuous shows were the order of the day.  There were no set show times, but a ‘programme’ lasting up to three and a half hours, repeating continuously, all day, from 11AM until midnight. You came in when you felt like it, and left some time after you saw, again, what was on screen when you arrived. This brought a popular phrase into the vernacular: “This is where I came in.”    Or, to escape the oppressive summer heat, you could stay all day, “cooled by refrigeration

There are many “lost” motion picture theatres in Sacramento, more than we will share in this photo essay.  Some of the lost were just recycled, renamed, remodeled, and reused for new types of show business or screen attractions.  (How ‘green!’)  Fate was not so kind to others.  Here are photos that remind us that in the golden age of the movie theatre, you were drawn to the entrance by miles of marquee neon and bought your ticket to see your screen stars in an acre of seats, amid a garden of splendors.


The reasons for the loss of Sacramento’s theatres are varied, but only one was torn down as a result of public vote when a bond measure election was held to save and buy the Alhambra Theatre for the City of Sacramento, and voters said NO.  Odd, since public enthusiasm was so big for the theatre at the time of its September 22, 1927 opening that 31st St. was renamed Alhambra Boulevard in honor of the Moorish style marvel there, at the east end of K St.  This color photo was taken shortly before the “Showplace of Sacramento” was razed in May, 1973.


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

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    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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