El Cajon Historical SocietyNOTE
The Lively Arts in El Cajon, 1892 - 1952
by G. Carroll Rice
inclusive dates are arbitrary. I have chosen this range, (beginning in
1892 with the building of El Cajon’s upstairs Town Hall, now at Main
St. and the Prescott Promenade) to the opening of the freeways in the
1950s. Improved transportation made participation in county-wide events
practical both for the observers and the performers from El Cajon. I
feel that the modern era began as the first Mother Goose Parade, a
community enterprise, marched down Main Street in 1947.
The El Cajon/La Mesa Connection
I began research for this article, I suddenly realized that a ‘twinned’
relationship exists between La Mesa and El Cajon. In spite of perceived
differences (El Cajon, rough and rural; La Mesa, quiet and ‘refined’)
the two communities have often shared cultural opportunities.
example, when La Mesa attracted producers from the fledgling motion
picture industry, their camera crews and actors were often dispatched
to the El Cajon Valley to take advantage of the scenery. When citizens
of both cities wanted to form a regular ‘little theatre,’ it was
founded (primarily by teachers) from both communities. Headquartered in
La Mesa, it was sponsored by the Cordtz Outdoor Advertising Company,
and drew performers and audiences from both sides of Mt. Helix.
I see it, the blending point was at Grossmont, particularly at
Grossmont High School, where La Mesa and El Cajon overlapped, and their
educational and cultural worlds merged to the advantage of both.
Some General Background about The Lively Arts:
1870’s and 80’s, the period in which El Cajon was first populated, has
been called The Golden Age of American Theatre and it was natural that
people would follow the news of Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt, Lily
Langtry and other favorites.
were theatres in San Diego which attracted some of these great
performers, and, by the 1890’s when passenger service was available
from the railroad, it was not unknown for the people of El Cajon to
travel into San Diego to see them. John Philip Sousa and his band
played at the Fisher Opera House in San Diego in 1899, and a tattered
program leads me to believe that a member of the Vacher family attended
the concert. The vaudeville stage was much more popular and featured
three performances a day. Then, a person from El Cajon, Lakeside or
Foster could take the train to San Diego, conduct business, and catch a
show before coming home.
the communities around El Cajon became social entities, the residents
pooled available talents and provided their own entertainment. As our
El Cajon Historical Society President Fran Hill told me, “For the
Hester, McIntosh, Brunson, Laabs, Saunders, Bond, Lamp, and Parsons
families, the Jamacha Clubhouse was the place for social gatherings.
They had dances with locals playing piano, fiddle, drums, etc. There
were also card parties, and on special occasions and holidays, like
Halloween and Christmas, the children gave presentations.”
Music Leads the Way
the first recognition that El Cajon had become a cohesive community was
the creation of the Town Hall, upstairs above the telephone company, in
1892. But, of course, before that, people gathered to sing and form
choral groups at homes, churches, and community buildings. One such
choral ensemble presented programs at the Town Hall and traveled as far
as Ramona to give concerts. There were some great voices in those
choruses that continued their performances into the 1930’s; soloists
like Lawrence Russell, George Kohnhorst and others had had formal
training in vocal music, and early member Josephus Asher was a graduate
of a New York conservatory. As schools and churches grew, musical
programs, cantatas, pageants, and choral performances expanded from
limited audiences and became community events.
1890’s ushered in an El Cajon tradition of marching bands, and the
sound of brass and the rhythm of drums ignited community pride at
gatherings and parades. Fancy uniforms as well as musicianship marked
McFadden’s El Cajon Band, sponsored by blacksmith Duncan McFadden, one
of the valley’s most dynamic citizens, ever. Before he died while
climbing the Chilcoot Pass during the Alaskan Gold Rush of 1898, he had
established his smithy, sponsored the band, fielded a baseball team,
and developed commercial and residential properties along Main Street.
All of this was accomplished before he was 44 years old!
by the idea of a Grossmont Art Colony1 proposed by developer Col. Ed
Fletcher and his partner, theatrical agent and author William Gross,
internationally famous operatic contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink
(1861 – 1936) bought property in 1910 and maintained a ‘second home’ on
the slopes of Mt. Helix. Her popularity was legendary, and newspapers
often regaled their readers with tales of her guests, her travels, and
adventures. One such report, unsubstantiated at this time, tells of an
admirer, so thrilled by a concert in San Diego that he hired an aviator
to drop rose petals on her Grossmont home the next morning.
Carrie Jacobs Bond (1862 – 1946) bought her property in 1916, built a
shingled cabin and named it ‘Nest O’ Rest.’ Over the years she modified
her house many times, but always said that she thanked God for bringing
her to Grossmont. She and Schumann-Heink maintained a warm friendship
over the years and often gave recitals together to benefit their
in the world of music, they brought their friends, many of whom were
legends of the opera stage, to visit their homes and exclaim over the
spectacular views of the El Cajon Valley, the mountains, San Diego, and
the Coronado Islands. They were soon joined by the famed classical
music critic William Havrah Hubbard and a cluster of other popular
performers who made their homes nearby.
recently, orchestral conductor Daniel Lewis lived in El Cajon and
graduated from Grossmont in 1942. After navy service in World War II,
followed by study in Germany, he taught at Helix High and Grossmont
College while also serving as concert master of the San Diego Symphony.
Renowned as a guest conductor of symphony orchestras and music
festivals in the United States and Europe, he is best known for his 25
years as professor at USC’s Thornton School of Music.
the 1920’s and 1930’s the local teachers in the public schools were
highly influential in the training of young musicians. The grammar
school bands, taught and led by the indefatigable Eugene Vacher,
regularly won prizes for musical performance and excellence in drill.
Vacher, himself, probably did more to develop young musicians than
anyone else in the valley’s history, going so far as to repair old
instruments and provide them to students who couldn’t afford to buy
stellar marching band tradition was blended with those of surrounding
communities and continued at Grossmont High School directed by their
talented teacher Harold Lutz. Mr.Lutz will long be remembered for a
40-year teaching career at Grossmont and El Cajon High Schools, as well
as founding the Grossmont Community Concert Association and a leading
proponent for the building of the East County Performing Arts Center.
of schools, other amateur ensembles formed for entertainment and to
provide music for dances. For example, clarinet-playing Grammar School
Principal John Montgomery, and Chiropractor Lawrence Bliss, an
accomplished trumpeter, organized a small dance band that was
exceedingly popular in the 1930’s. In 1946, teen-aged Dick Harvey and
his Men of Note proved to be among the best young bands in the United
States and played in competition at Carnegie Hall.
dance bands, such as led by Hamilton Judy played at the Bostonia
Ballroom throughout the 1930’s. Later, the scene in Bostonia became
increasingly ‘country-western’ and in 1952 it came under the
owner-management of Eugene ‘Smokey’ Rogers. It was said that almost
every country-western performer, except Elvis Presley, had played at
least once at the Bostonia Ballroom. In 1952, Smokey’s former partner,
Andrew ‘Cactus’ Soldi, established the Valley Music Store, contributing
another facet to the history of music in El Cajon.
For El Cajon Actors, The Play became Everything
actors presented a play called The Breakers in the Town Hall in 1894.
The names are unfamiliar and nothing is known of the play itself, but
their pioneering performance signaled the way for budding thespians for
all the years to come.
the earliest years, El Cajon’s citizens had little access to
professional theatre, but as train and bus transportation became
available, trips to San Diego for entertainment became popular. Dr.
Charles Knox, son of El Cajon’s Founder Amaziah Knox, told me how he
had seen players such as Frederick B. Warde and Lawrence Barrett in San
Diego. Eugene Vacher also told of going to San Diego on the train for
his weekly music lessons, and going to vaudeville performances with his
father afterwards to hear different kinds of music. Incidentally, his
father took him to a few shows, presumably burlesque, that he was not
to mention to his mother, El Cajon’s beloved first-grade teacher,
in the case of music, enthusiastic teachers led the way to theatrical
experiences in local schools. Beth Masterson was foremost in direction
of grammar school plays, developing such talented students as Jack
Thompson as actors; and directing pageant-like spectacles such as A
Mother Goose Picnic – I played Old King Cole - for the younger set.
Grossmont High was known for the quality of its theatrical
presentations due to the demanding direction of teachers such as Eva
Quicksall, Beulah Schriver, and Raymond Kniss.
1926 to 1988, Grossmont’s annual Christmas Pageant dominated the
holiday season. The hour-and- a half-long performance was a grand
spectacle of drama and tableaux, accompanied by a full orchestra and
the glorious voices of the Red Robe Choir directed by Merle Donohue.
The performances were free, but the attendance from around San Diego
County was so great that tickets had to be issued to avoid overcrowding
of the school’s 1200-person-capacity gymnasium/auditorium for each of
four presentations. It was truly a gift to the community from the
faculty and students of Grossmont High School, all giving freely of
their time and talents. A complete history of the pageant written by
Richard Dunlop may be found on the Internet, under the subject of Red
Robe Choir. The full and proper credits for the production of the
Pageant at that site are far beyond the limits of this article.
by the great ‘Little Theatre Movement’ of the 1920’s and 1930’s, a
group of teachers and interested people from El Cajon and La Mesa met
in 1937 to form The La Mesa Little Theatre. With the enthusiastic
support of a corporate sponsor, The Cordtz Outdoor Advertising Company,
the group began producing plays immediately. Attracting actors from La
Mesa, El Cajon and the back country, the theatre welcomed older players
who had been part of the early motion picture community. What an
exciting opportunity for newcomers like me to be exposed to their
theatrical knowledge, and overhear tales of legendary players recalled
by those gray-haired old timers! Bill Cordtz donated the complete
records and scrapbooks of the La Mesa Little Theatre to the La Mesa
Historical Society when the group reorganized as the Lamplighters in
Cajon had no amateur theatre in 1947, and a group of friends from
Grossmont High School joined me to create the Spotlighters. Our
original intent was to produce children’s plays during the summer. We
soon arranged with Principal John Montgomery to present our plays in
the grammar school auditorium. Our first play was adapted from the old
story of Rumplestiltskin, the second, The Ugly Duckling by A. A. Milne.
The Spotlighters lasted for two more summers, but school commitments
and other priorities absorbed the lives of active students and El
Cajon’s experiment in ‘little theatre’ came to an end. The full story
of our theatrical adventure appears as The Spotlighters: El Cajon’s
Home-Grown Theatre on the Historical Society web site
elcajonhistory.org under the subheading History. Today, there are many
opportunities for young actors to develop their skills in and around El
Cajon. Then, we were pioneers.
1949 collaboration between San Diego State College (it wasn’t a
University then) and San Diego’s Community Theatre led to the founding
of the annual San Diego Shakespeare Festival. By their agreement, the
City of San Diego provided the Globe Theatre in Balboa Park and its
facilities; and San Diego State College hired internationally famous
Shakespearean director B. Iden Payne to teach one class and direct one
play during the summer session. The State also paid the expenses of
faculty production personnel and materials. With many students from the
greater San Diego area, including El Cajon, attending the college, it
opened a door to a world-class theatre adventure. It should be noted
that many of the students seeking this adventure were teachers, actors
from the 1935 Shakespeare productions, full-time students and a full
array of business and professional people. The first play, Twelfth
Night, was double cast, changing players every other night, thus,
Feste, the Jester was played alternatively by El Cajon actors Jack
Thompson and Freeman Meskimen.
In my own
case, I played Sebastian one night and the Sea Captain who rescued
Viola the next. That Festival was truly a labor of love by people from
all over the County including El Cajon musicians Ben Cloud and David
Barker who played for the dancing on the green and Mrs. Catherine Knox,
wife of Dr. Charles Knox, who was among the volunteers working on
costumes. I know that there were other East County residents involved
in this and later productions whose faces have faded into the depths of
time. Much has been written about the Shakespeare Festivals, their
artistic excellence and how many of the actors and staff, like Marion
Ross, who played the Lady Olivia in that production, made them stepping
stones to stellar careers. But, they also demonstrated how El Cajon and
East County people could enter into San Diego activities through
improved transportation, even when the freeway system was still on
. . . And there were Dance Classes and Performances
Depression brought many pastimes into prominence such as the assembling
of jigsaw puzzles and a widespread popularity of tap dancing. In El
Cajon, the very talented Harvey family contributed to and encouraged
the development of dance programs. Through an arrangement with the
grammar school, former vaudevillian Dixie Harvey, taught dance classes
after school and produced programs with the assistance of her husband
Milton who was highly skilled at building scenery and adapting
vaudeville skits for student performances. The Kittlesons, another of
El Cajon’s ‘born-in-a-trunk’ performing families also helped promote
the lively arts in the valley. Their particular contribution in the
late 1930’s was using local students, mostly friends of Patty Kittleson
in a radio program advertising Dr. Pepper. Actor, author, and teacher
Ole Kittleson continues that family tradition.
Other Entertainments came our way, too!
west side of El Cajon was an army ‘tent city’ during the World War II
years, and army bands scheduled Sunday afternoon concerts in the park
in front of the library. There may have been more than one, but I
recall a memorable Sunday morning, when the Army bands played Onward
Christian Soldiers while thousands of men marched down Main Street to
enter the churches of their chosen denominations.
the late 1930’s some variety performers, including a young Charlie
Cannon, later of Starlight Opera fame, gave two evening vaudeville-type
shows at the school auditorium. There were also occasional assemblies
at schools featuring professional lecturers and performers such as
Tommy Tucker, the original Hollywood Sound Man (He created Tarzan’s
famous yell and was the original voice of Popeye). Circuses and Carnivals came our way, too, adding an exotic touch to the pageant of ‘lively arts’ in El Cajon.
Movie Glamour brightened the East County horizon . . .
mechanics of the motion picture; film, cameras, projectors and the
associated technical equipment were pretty much in their final stages
of development in the 1890’s. Early practitioners had begun filming
such landmarks as the Hotel del Coronado in 1898, but the industry
remained centered in the East, primarily in New York and New Jersey.
Producers trying to avoid patent infringement suits and domination by
the Edison and other interests moved West, and, impressed by mild and
sunny weather, settled in Southern California. ‘The Flying A’ Studios,
managed by Allen Dwan settled in La Mesa in 1910. Much has been written
about those hectic days of fast filming, quick processing, and rapid
distribution of films; for some of the best, I recommend reading the
publications of the San Diego Historical Society. Additional
information is available from the La Mesa Historical Society. Dwan, who
later became known as one of the greatest Hollywood directors of all
time, produced over 150 films, mostly Westerns, in the years 1911 and
1912. The El Cajon Valley, including Lakeside and Santee, offered
venues ranging from the wide-open spaces of the rugged frontier to the
sophistication and fashion of the Corona Hotel, offered a catalog of
cinematic backgrounds for the action films of the day. Most of the
Flying A films were only 10 to 12 minutes long (one reel), but packed
high adventure into every minute. Many of Dwan’s early films explored
the story-lines, themes and techniques that made his work famous. In
Bonita of El Cajon (1911), the daughter of a rustler falls in love with
the sheriff. Furious, the
shoots his daughter and suffers for his misdeeds. In The Poisoned
Flume, the story line is involves a villainous rancher attempting to
acquire the herd of a prosperous widow by marrying her daughter.
Rebuffed and ordered off the range by a handsome new foreman, the
rascal attempts to poison the herd by poisoning the water supply. With
plenty of gunplay and heroics, the villain ends up in his own poison
and you-know-who gets the girl. And all within a reel or so, a matter
Studios were here, featuring the best-known cowboy stars of the time,
including Gilbert ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson, Tom Mix, George ‘Pete’
Morrison and his wife, Lillian Knapp. Dozens of local people were hired
as extras in these films and as one man told me years later, “One day
we’d be cowboys, and the next day we’d be the Indians.” Dr. Charles
Knox told the story that one of the more popular cowboy stars, unknown
to his fans, was deathly afraid of horses. He was so well liked and
otherwise admired that no one ever told how in one close-up scene he
had to mount his horse without a double. The horse spooked and ran away
with him. It was the next afternoon before real cowboys from Lakeside
were able to locate him in Fletcher Hills and take him off the animal.
Still, many years later, although the incident was remembered, no one
would name the unfortunate actor.
Pictures was shooting in a barn near the Grossmont summit, and other
companies, less well known, had studios scattered around the region.
The unfortunate locally-financed S-L Film Company failed and was taken
over by Col. Ed Fletcher who with former stockholders renamed it
Grossmont Studios. Films were produced at Grossmont from 1925 until
1929, when the faltering economy forced closure. The Grossmont studio
building, where Anthony’s Fish Grotto is today, was later used as a
roller skating rink and burned down in the early 1930’s. [I was just a
little tyke when my parents drove up to see the burned-out shell, and
pointed out a car which had been burned by falling power wires.
history was made in El Cajon and La Mesa with the production of Flight,
an aviation/adventure film with sound. The theme of aviation was
exciting enough in 1929, but the development of sound systems brought a
new dimension to motion pictures. Flight, directed by Frank Capra and
distributed by Columbia Pictures starred Jack Holt, Lila Lee and Ralph
Graves. The production headquarters was at the Arthur Embleton property
on Chase Avenue (The Embleton’s house had indoor plumbing.), and the
film was dedicated to the United States Marine Corps, which provided
airplanes and technical support. Flight had currency in its story line
about the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua (1926 – 1928), and was an
immediate technical, artistic, and financial success.
We went to the Movies in El Cajon and Loved’em.
in 1914, the people of El Cajon were no strangers to the movies. The
Harris Store (‘near the Hotel’ is about all we know about it)
celebrated its opening by showing five reels of motion pictures (a reel
lasted between 10 and 12 minutes). They charged 10 cents to see the
films – not named – and 50 cents to attend a dance afterwards. As an
ugly sidebar they specified “Americans only; no Mexicans” at the dance;
perhaps that is why they are no longer remembered.
are fuzzy, but a paper by Hazel Sperry states that at some time in this
period, motion pictures were shown in a corrugated iron building on
North Magnolia, in the vicinity of today’s Crystal Ballroom.
Vacher once recalled his first viewing of the movies at the
Presbyterian Church, about 1920. They had put up sheets for a screen
and his Uncle Alpheus had hand cranked the sprocket-drive mechanism.
The film, itself, was a post World War I Erich Von Stroheim epic filled
with battle action and civilian excesses. The violence of war offended
no one, but certain ladies found scenes of smoking and drinking utterly
offensive. Henceforth, it was decided, there would be no more movies at
spite of any objections, the movies were here to stay. An advertisement
in the El Cajon Valley News for June 2, 1920, announced the regular
presentation of “first class’ motion pictures two nights a week at the
El Cajon Hotel Annex. The movies were offered by a Mr. Harris Anderson,
from Imperial Valley, operating as the ‘Moon Theatres.’ Showings were
Wednesday and Saturday in El Cajon; Monday and Friday at the La Mesa
Opera House; and Tuesday and Thursday at the Lakeside Hall. The first
showing was scheduled for July 6th featuring Norma Talmadge in
Forbidden City; and the following offering would be Charlie Chaplin in
The Fireman. Tickets? Adults, 20₡, Children, 10₡
1922 arrival of Andrew Molins, his wife Mary and daughter Rose, marked
the beginning of a new era of entertainment in El Cajon. Mr. Molins was
a man with the enthusiasm, drive and business acumen to bring his dream
of a movie theatre in El Cajon to reality. In January 1924, he bought
the old Stell-Burgess store which had been moved about 150 feet east
when the Lyon Building was built at the northeast corner of Main and
Magnolia. He immediately set about renovating the building and
purchasing the necessary seating, projection equipment, and piano for
the 250-seat theatre. Shrewdly, he kept his costs down by making an
arrangement to rent films from a theatre in La Mesa and returning them
immediately after showing. Opening in March, just about the time his
second daughter Josephine was born, the adventure soon proved to be so
popular that by May, the program had to be expanded to include matinees
as well as evening showings.
time went on, it became obvious that a larger, more modern theatre
would be necessary to meet the demands of his growing audiences. In
1926, he bought the land at the northwest corner of Magnolia and
Douglas Streets and drew up plans for a new building. From the
brilliant electric sign in front to the balcony seats, every facet of
the new theatre was judged by the local newspaper as ‘fireproof,’
‘grand, ornamental, up-to-date, and impressive.’ The grand opening took
place on May 18, 1927, with all 551 seats filled by the entire
membership of the Rotary Club and local dignitaries. Pharmacist Harry
L. Hill was Master of Ceremonies and the community enthusiastically
applauded Andrew Molins and the theatre builder Roy Fuller. The
admission for children remained at 10₡ and increased to 25₡ for adults.
the introduction of the ‘talkies,’ the nationwide weekly motion picture
attendance grew from 57 million in 1927 to 90 million in 1930. However,
as the Depression forced families to cut back on entertainment dollars,
attendance declined to 50 million in 1933. Facing ruin, the motion
picture industry and theatre managers like Mr. Molins had to invent new
strategies to cut costs and still draw paying audiences.
film producers responded with grand adventures (King Kong), musical
shows (Gold Diggers of 1933), and zany comedies (Animal Crackers) that
locked the hard times out of the theatre. Times were terrible in 1933,
but Disney’s Three Little Pigs sang “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,”
defying the fierce Depression. The next year, Shirley Temple broke
hearts in Stand Up and Cheer in April, then danced and warbled “Good
Ship Lollypop” in Bright Eyes in December 1934. For the next ten years
great films competed fiercely for the audience dollar, and in return
delivered escape from harsh reality.
popularity of the movie stars was further enhanced by professional
publicists and a host of publications, peaking in the 1930's. In El
Cajon, if not the whole world, the dimes and quarters that didn't go to
the movie theatre went for fan magazines that glorified the silver
screen. I remember how my high-school-aged girl cousins and their
giggling friends lapped up every gossipy morsel they could smell out
about the stars; every snippet was mulled over, discussed, and
embellished like a revelation from holy writ. Lana Turner, Mae West,
Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and flights of
other luminaries kept their admirers on mental tiptoe, breathless and
wide-eyed. Studio publicity departments, free-lance writers, and
publishers worked overtime to feed the demand for the latest, most
outrageous, flattering, and always ROMANTIC adventure from the world of
celluloid. I hasten to say, of course, that Shirley Temple was always
reported so charming, wise, pure and wholesome it must have been hard
to have lived up to the ideals and still smile . . . but, according to
all reports, she did.
on the technical side of the film industry fostered innovations such as
3-D, vastly improved sound systems, at least two color processes and
new animation techniques, all of which added to the 'gee whiz' aspects
of the medium. In the main, it appears that the creative response by
the film makers countered the depression-created difficulties and
powered the 'golden age of Hollywood.'
the El Cajon Theatre, not only did patrons forget their troubles for a
couple of hours, but door prizes such as mattresses, fresh fish,
groceries, furniture, and boxes of dishes added to the lure of
Wednesday nights. The younger patrons rejoiced in Saturday matinees not
only fraught with the breathtaking serial adventures of Gene Autrey and
his Melody Ranch, Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon, but they received
coupons for ice milk bars at Harry Hill’s drug store after the show.
Until sound systems were perfected and installed, Dorothy Smith played
the player organ and changed pre-recorded rolls to keep up with the
action on the screen.
passing it should also be noted that Andrew Molins, like other business
men of the community was active in civic affairs. For example, in 1926
he was appointed City Marshall, El Cajon’s law enforcement officer. The
post was not only an honor, but Molins was expected to actively enforce
City ordinances. When he resigned in 1927, he was appointed to the
position of Deputy Marshall. In addition to his civic duties, he was an
Rotarian and Grand Master of the El Cajon Masonic Lodge. At his death
in 1939, the El Cajon Theatre was sold to Burton Jones and then passed
on to Gerald Gallagher in November 1941.
restrictions forced the postponement of critical repairs and a
remodeling, but the theatre continued to operate at full capacity as
thousands of new residents poured into El Cajon. The new management
offered special rates to service personnel and gave tickets to reward
Boy Scouts and other groups gathering aluminum, steel, rubber and paper
in various ‘drives’ to recycle essential defense materials. In April
1945, the building, which had been believed to be ‘fireproof,’ caught
fire and burned to the ground.
the theatre during the war was unthinkable since lumber and all
building materials were being allocated to the war effort. However, the
resourceful management replaced the screen, brought in new projection
equipment and converted the ruin into an outdoor theatre. Seats were
replaced by benches and on chilly evenings the patrons bundled up and
grumbled, but still they came to the movies. I remember watching the
news reels of the Normandy invasion there under whatever stars might
have been shining through.
2, 1946 saw the opening of a new El Cajon Theatre on West Main Street.
First-class in every aspect, it featured beautiful décor,
state-of-the-art sound equipment, and excellent acoustics. Making life
even more comfortable for everyone, there was a ‘crying room’ so that
mothers with fussy babies could watch without disturbing their
neighbors and a ‘smoking room’ for those who needed a puff during the
performance. Owned and operated by the Gallaghers, the theatre was
built by pharmacist Chet Hardin in memory of his son James who was
killed in action during World War II.
has a way of changing economics and the advent of television brought
dwindling audiences. The theatre was sold to the Pussycat Entertainment
interests who used it to display X-rated films. As the novelty of sexy
movies wore off, the theatre was sold once more. Totally renovated, it
was operated briefly as the El Cajon Family Theatre, but television,
home air conditioning, and changing tastes in entertainment spelled the
doom of this beautiful theatre. It never recovered its early prestige
and, in spite of local protest and sentiments, it was torn down in July
Cajon theatres, like those elsewhere, have morphed into multiplex units
and have become integral elements of the great shopping malls; but we
still maintain our love for the movies and fondly remember the pioneers
who made them possible.
Tap to Ballet, from Country Music to Grand Opera, Black & White
Silent to Talkies in Color, and Variety to Shakespeare in only 60
Years! Oh, what fascinating trip it was!
people who chose the El Cajon Valley as home in the 19th and 20th
Centuries were generally prosperous businessmen, laborers, and farmers
who brought the culture of their former homes with them. They, and
those who followed, joyfully created entertainment for themselves when
it was unavailable from outside the community. As the population grew
and transportation improved, better facilities became available and the
opportunities for both expression and patronage expanded. Every step
thereafter has promoted participation, support and appreciation of the
lively arts. It’s the way it was . . . and probably always will be.
Crawford, Kathleen, “God's Garden" The Grossmont Art Colony, Journal of
San Diego History, SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY, Fall 1985,
Volume 31, Number 4
El Cajon Historical Society
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