By 1927, Humboldt County’s moving pictures
business was controlled by George Mann, whose chain of picture shows
included Arcata’s Minor Theatre. Confidant in the town’s
future and its desire for a modern theatre, he built a “luxurious
new show house” on the Brizzard block in 1937. Variously reported
as costing from $40,000 to $60,000, the Arcata Theatre opened on
February 5th , 1938 with “Thin Ice” touted as the “picture
you’ve all been waiting for” starring Sonja Henie and
Tyrone Power. Within a year, the theater was offering six movies
a week with added attractions including cartoons like Popeye and
Betty Boop, as well as news, sports and varieties with each film.
The Arcata Theatre is a striking combination
of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture. This structure incorporates
the geometric Art Deco design with the sweeping
curved style of the Art Moderne; a frequent combination
in 1930’s theater design. The marquee features neon lighting
and is a focal point in the city’s skyline. In the original
blue print designs, the neon marquee was nearly twice as tall as
it was eventually built.
“Best advertising for the town is George Mann’s new
sign on the G Street Theater which emblazons to the world at large
that south bound tourists are now entering Arcata”. (Arcata
Union, Jan. 28, 1938)
auditorium of the theater was originally decorated in a simplified
Art Deco tradition with geometric light fixtures, and a wondrous
mural design of mermaids surfacing from the sea as legendary Selkies
who had transformed themselves into voluptuous human form. The cumulus
clouds and fanciful sea garden depicted life above and below the
ocean. Geometric border designs edged the ceiling on two sides from
front to back as well as around the back and center walls. The center
wall featured a row of 10 circular windows where one could peek
into the auditorium from the lobby.
In 1948 the theater was expanded an additional
30 feet to the east to allow for greater seating capacity. The length
of the auditorium was increased by a third to accommodate a total
of 900 seats. The original proscenium and screen was removed and
replaced by a new, cinemascope screen that was larger. Acoustical
plaster resurfaced the entire ceiling and a significant portion
of the walls, thereby covering the Art Deco border designs and mural.
New lighting fixtures, carpeting, seats with air cushions, as well
as heating were installed to provide greater comfort. The current
owners recently discovered of eight of these circular windows. They
had been protected with paper and covered over with plaster during
the 1948 remodel.
Past Businesses and owners:
A number of businesses occupied the two small storefronts in the
Arcata Theater Building. What is now Smugs Pizza was first the Varsity
Sweet Shop in 1938. In 1945 it became a watch repair business that
was replaced by a jewelry store in 1948, the Clarke Employment Agency
in 1954, and around 1979 became Our Gangs Ice Cream Shop.
What is now Ottavio’s Barbershop was in 1939
a beauty parlor. In 1945 it became a realtors office, than in 1955
a public accountant office. In 1963 Stan’s Barbershop occupied
In 1982 Richard Mann of Redwood Theaters sold the
property to David Phillips who continued to operate the theater
as a movie house. The theater was sold in 2000 to Robert White.
The present owners Lara and Brian Cox of Arcata bought the Arcata
Theater in May of 2004. The Arcata Theatre Lounge is tentatively
scheduled to open in spring/summer of 2006.