by Christina Morgan Cree
Walking through the doors of the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, California, is like entering a portal to the splendor of another era. The opulent neoclassical styled movie palace whisks you back to a time before technology, television, and even home radio, to a pre-depression America where entertainment and distraction were sought outside the home. Beautifully designed and decorated with larges lobbies and mezzanines with chairs and couches where friends could sit and talk. Before Hitchcock’s Psycho, movie goers would show up to the theatre without much thought to showtimes. It was common to walk into the theatre mid movie.
The Stanford Theatre originally opened in June of 1925 with I’ll Show You the Town starring Reginald Denny who appeared in person on opening night. It was Palo Alto’s premier movie house and showed the major motion pictures plus live acts. One might come to see Marion Davies’s latest film and be treated to live acts of Walter D. Beaton The Eminent Scottish Baritone, and Elmer Vincent at the Baby Grand. The last showtimes reported in the Palo Alto Times shows Babes in Toyland with Annette Funicello in December 1961 and a New Year’s Eve party on the 31st featuring a “Demonstration of the Twist on stage by dancing teachers from the Arthur Murray dance studios. Attention: Local twisters: Twist contest on stage!”
There was some remodeling done in 1956, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the movie palace saw the return to its glory days through the benevolence of David and Lucile Packard. Their son, David Woodley Packard, told the story one night at the theatre that he had been a Classics professor and scholar of ancient Greek when someone invited him to a showing of Meet Me in St Louis at a local theatre. He was bewitched and it changed the course of his life.
The Stanford Theatre was purchased and restored and now shows classic films from Hollywood’s Golden Age (1920-1965). It also has frequent film festivals spotlighting a star or director (the Hitchcock is my favorite). Silent films are accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, skillfully played by one of the Theatre’s regular organists. When I was first introduced to the theatre, there were occasional guest speakers representing Old Hollywood. I had the great honor of seeing Joan Leslie, Rita Hayworth’s daughter, and attending a Q & A with composer David Raksin who wrote the haunting music for Laura among many others.
Tickets are just $7.50 for adults and concessions prices haven’t adjusted for inflation since the 80s.
You can find the current calendar here: www.stanfordtheatre.org/calendars/Summer%202015.html, and learn more on the Stanford Theatre website.
Check out more of Christina’s Santa Cruz area articles in our travel section.