Saturday, September 10, 2011

Arlington Theater, 1317 State St., Santa Barbara, CA

The site was once the location of the earlier (19th Century?) Arlington Hotel. (Gary Parks)

The architectural firm responsible for the design were architects William Edwards & Joseph J. Plunkett and the original seating capacity is given as 1,776 in 1931. During the the 40's seating would be reduced to 1810 seats. This was increased to 1,825 in 1973 with the removal and replacement of the loge seating. In 1976 the theatre was completely restored for live performance use and additional rows of seating was added, increasing the total capacity to 2,010.

The Fox Arlington Theatre opened on the 22nd May 1931 with the movie "Daddy Long Legs" starring Janet Gaynor and Warner Baxter. Not listed in city directories until 1932, the Fox Arlington Theatre became the Arlington Theatre in 1961. (magicllantern-cinematresures)

The Arlington was done in Mission Revival-Atmospheric style in a period when Santa Barbara was being rebuilt in that style following a devastating earthquake. The exterior takes the form of an immense church oddly lacking in windows (there are a few in the upper stories) and notable mostly for a Mission Revival steeple that ends in a dramatic art deco finial. The effect is of a space ship about to launch from the steeple of an immense Spanish colonial church placed on a church into which the architect forgot to insert windows.

This Mission Revival/Atmosperic styled theater built for the Fox West Coast Theaters circuit in 1931 has been beautifully restored.
The postcard depicts the original arch-shaped proscenium arch which lasted until wide-screen movies came along in the 1950s at which point the arch was replaced with a conventional rectangular proscenium arch in the same Spanish mission style of the rest of the auditorium.

This was built on the site of the old Arlington hotel. It offered 3 levels, orchestra, balcony, and 2nd class. The 2nd class has been walled off, used as the tech booth, to this level you could only access from the outside. There is a club / restaurant over the auditorium, no longer used. The spire used to rotate with a neon 'FOX'. Metropolitain theaters runs the property and occasionally offers 'walking tours' in the summer on the weekends. The programs alternate between the cinema (summers and in between) the symphony (school season) the ballet (winter and spring), concerts (in the rainy season) and the occasional road / touring show. The event ticket office is to the right of the theater doors, after the courtyard, this is the best place to inquire about tours.(scottpad-cinematresures)

The Arlington Theater's atmospheric interior is just one part of its majesty. After walking past the free-standing ticket booth, under the marquee and through the spanish courtyard and fountains, visitors enter the small lobby on their way into movie paradise.

During the 30's the alcoves on either side going into the theater used to contain live parrots in the trees and on perches. The highlight of our Saturdays was to go the Saturday morning serials (10 cents) and see the parrots lining the walkway. (golfgalw-cinematreaures)

The coolest thing about the decorations is the Trompe l'oeil mural work around the proscenium. It looks three dimensional until you get a few feet away. Mind boggling. If you visit, be sure to walk all the way up to the front.
There was a rumor that there was a tunnel leading from the box office to somewhere inside the theater, like some banks have from the ATM islands to the bank itself, but I never got a chance to look. (Lyle Gunderson-cinematreasures)

From the LA Times, November 18, 1931:
Santa Barbara Theater Robbed
A nervous bandit late last night held up the box office at the Fox-Arlington Theater, and escaped with $127, taken from the cashier, Mrs. Alice Thuresson. The bandit shoved a note through the grating, reading, "Turn over all your money or I'll drill you". (ken mc-cinematreasures)

Entering the theater, the auditorium is flanked on both sides by faux-spanish villas while lanterns, windows and staircases adorn both walls. The ceiling is also filled with twinkling stars that give the illusion that the viewer is watching a film in an outside courtyard.
The Arlington is a can't miss experience and a beautifully restored example of the great Fox palaces of the past.

 It is built to give the theatergoer the impression that he is sitting outside in the plaza of a colonial Spanish town, each wall features houses, staircases, and balconies, not painted on but built out from the walls.

The proscenium, in the original theater, was formed by what appeared to be a large stone arc, through which could be seen a river and hills. These were painted on the curtain for the Grand Opening by John Gamble. He is known for his California floral coastal and landscape paintings, especially fields of poppies and lupines, influenced by French Impressionist Claude Monet. He was one of the leaders of the California plein-air painting movement. He opened a studio in San Francisco but lost it in the 1906 fire, then moving to Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, the postcard shows only half of the original proscenium arch, which resembled a stone bridge connecting the two sides of the auditorium. Further helping the illusion was a magnificent hand-painted safety curtain showing a river winding off into the distance through mountains. A B&W photo can be found on page 219 of David Naylor’s “Great American Movie Theaters.”
Today, this effect is gone, and the proscenium is topped by the equipment necessary for lighting stage shows. Anyone know where the Gamble-painted stage curtains went?

One of the Arlington's signature treasures is an old-fashioned organ hidden from view, that rises on a platform into view when played before a performance.

The stage alteration took place in 1955, according to David Naylor's "Great American Movie Theaters." However, most key theatres around the USA switched to wide screens in 1953. (Warren G. Harris)

Main Chambers I and II are in the spanish village on the left.  Solo Chamber is in the spanish village on the right.  The percussion shelf is in back of tower at the left of the stage.  The organ rises on a lift from the middle of the forestage.  The ceiling is semi-elliptical which is acoustically very kind to the organ.

In early Hollywood, the theater was used frequently for sneak openings. Today, it’s the S.B. Film Fest’s spiritual center

Jerry performed here
1/13/78 Grateful Dead(11)
3/11/83 Early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band(12)
"It was to be one show and the day before they added a late show. The early show was only one set, so no one would leave, kind of a peaceful protest scene. That lasted for a hour or so. The Arlington agreed if we all went to the lobby/courtyard, after they let the folks in for the second show, they would open the doors until the place was full. Well, only 30 or so folks had bought tickets for the second show. What a fun nite that was."(10)
5/19/84 Jerry Garcia Band(13)

3.)^MagicLantern, comments, 2004-05-24,
4.)^gflinn, comments, 2001-06-30,
5.)^scottpad, comments, 2002-09-18,
6.)^kencmcintyre, comments, 2008-10-25,
7.)^lyle, comments, 2005-07-19,
8.)^caroldickerson77, comments, 2007-07-22,
9.)^Warren G. Harris, comments, 2009-05-20,
10.)^tio loco, (Dennis), comments, 2012-11-12,

1 comment:

  1. I was at the 3-11-83 Jerry Garcia Band show. As I remember the second show was added because the box office was robbed just days before the concert so there was no money to pay the band. The rumor was Jerry agreed to add a second show to help recoup the losses. Awfully nice of him. Place was less than 20% full for the second show and that included people from the 1st who stayed. That must have been a bit demoralizing to him and the band. Sometimes I feel we as the fans asked too much of Jerry and the boys. They played Dear Prudence that night.