El Cajon Historical Society

The Lively Arts in El Cajon, 1892 - 1952
by G. Carroll Rice

The 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

As 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.

For 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.

As 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:

The 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.

There 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.

As 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

Perhaps 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.

The 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!

Attracted 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.

Composer-lyricist 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 favorite charities.

Acclaimed 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.

More 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.

Through 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 them.

This 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.

Outside 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.

Professional 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

Local 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.

In 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, Josephine Vacher.

As 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.

From 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.

Spurred 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 1976.

El 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.

The 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 paper.

. . . And there were Dance Classes and Performances

The 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!

The 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.

In 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 . . .

The 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 father 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 of minutes!

Essanay 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.

Columbia 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.

Big 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.

Even 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.

Details 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.
Eugene 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 the church.

In 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₡

The 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.

As 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.

With 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.
The 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.

The 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.

Competition 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.'

At 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.

In 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 active 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.

Wartime 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.

Rebuilding 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.

April 2, 1946 saw the opening of a new El Cajon Theatre on West Main Street. First-class in every aspect, it featured beautiful d├ęcor, 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.

Time 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 1992.
El 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.

From 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!

The 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.

1 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
All Rights Reserved

Top of Page

Go Back to History Main Page

El Cajon Historical Society Homepage - Knox House Museum