One of the area’s architectural gems is celebrating its 80th birthday this year, and a Humboldt County Historical Society lecture this weekend is paying tribute to that building — the historic Eureka Theater.
Chuck and Wendy Petty — board members for the nonprofit Eureka Concert and Film Center, which operates and oversees restoration of the 612 F St. theater — will present a free talk, “The Eureka Theater at 80,” Saturday at 1 p.m. in the first-floor conference room of the Humboldt County Library, 1313 Third St., Eureka. Everyone is welcome.
“The history of the Eureka Theater tells a lot about what was going on in Eureka at the time of construction and how optimistic this project was for the end of the Depression and just before the war,” Wendy Petty said in an email interview with the Times-Standard.
During the lecture, the Pettys will talk about the history of the Redwood Theaters chain and its founder George Mann. They’ll also discuss Mann’s original plans for the Eureka location, which included a six-story hotel, as well his eventual building of the theater, which was dedicated March 3, 1939.
“… The Eureka Theater was the flagship theater for the Mann/Redwood Theater corporation,” Wendy Petty said. “Mann owned or operated existing theaters and built a series of new theaters throughout the north part of the state of California, and yet chose Eureka as the location of his flagship theater. This was the (premier) destination for Eureka moviegoers from 1939 to 1995. This was the largest single-screen theater between San Francisco and Portland, originally seating 1,700.”
The theater stopped showing regularly scheduled movies in 1996 after the opening of local multiplex theaters and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
“The meat of the presentation,” Wendy Petty said, “is on the theater through the years, various movie promotions, changes to the lobby, triplexing the theater in the late 1970s, closure in the 1990s and the rebirth of the theater in the 2000s to present showing all of the work going into the restoration.”
Since 2005, Chuck and Wendy Petty — and a host of other community members — have been actively involved in restoration efforts to bring this Art Deco/Streamline Moderne structure back to its original splendor.
“There are so few grand theaters that have been restored,” Wendy Petty said. “So many have been cut up, turned into multiplexes or torn down. It is important to preserve the history so that present theater-goers can experience what an event it was just to go to the theater.”
For more information about Saturday’s program, call the Humboldt County Historical Society at 707-445-4342 or visit www.humboldthistory.org. For more information about the Eureka Theater, go to http://eureka-theater.org.
Heather Shelton can be reached at 707-441-0516.