by Michelle Swift
The historic Warnors Theatre in downtown Fresno has developed a special way for Central Valley residents to enjoy the beauty of the theatre with their family and friends. On the third Thursday of every month, they show classic films. Films that strike a heart-cord across many generations, and that the crowd can really get into. Warnors staff and volunteers help patrons to get in the spirit by dressing in themed costumes, and inviting guests to do the same. In fact, for each film, anyone dressed in a theme to match the film gets in for free! For example, for Singing in the Rain on February 19, anyone in rain gear will get in for free.
Their first film series began in 2013 and consisted of Silent Films. The soundtrack for these films was provided by a 1928 Robert Morton Theatre Pipe organ. This series was highly attended, and gave folks a chance to see film as they had probably never seen before. The next year, 2014, they brought back their film series, but this time with classic films. Both were very well attended. The largest showings reached over 1,100 and 1,200 patrons in attendance! When designing the 2015 film series, the Program Manager asked the patrons what they would like to see on the Warnors BIG screen. The result was a Classic Film Series that required broadening the definition of classic film. Warnors realized that many films are instant classics, and began to incorporate them into the 2015 series. One such instant classic on the roster for 2015 is Jaws, to be shown in April.
Warnors makes each film showing a special event by including incentives to dress in costume, raffles, and sometimes even vendors selling things like classic Hollywood books or vintage clothing. The doors open at 6 p.m. for each film showing. The film program begins at 7 p.m. Many folks come early to see the antique organ played by the Warnors house organist. It is the only organ left in the world of its kind, and this is one of the few opportunities to get up close and personal to it. Every film is given a brief introduction by a local film aficionado, and consists of facts about the production of the film, cast, and special things to look for while watching. Of course, no movie would be complete without concessions. Warnors has popcorn, candy, chips, hot dogs, soda, and all at much more affordable prices than modern Cineplex’s! Sometimes special concessions are available as well. For example, there will be a candy buffet at Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in January, and alcoholic beverages will be available at the films that will draw a more mature crowd—such as A Streetcar Named Desire in March.
2015 Classic Film Series
January 15 – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
February 19 – Singing in the Rain
March 19 – A Streetcar Named Desire
April 16 – Jaws
May 21 – Back to the Future
June 18 – The Land Before Time
July 16 – The Wizard of Oz
August 20 – The Goonies
September 17 – Grease Sing Along
October 15 – Night of the Living Dead
November 19 – King Kong
December 17 – It’s a Wonderful Life
All films are shown on the third Thursday of the month, and begin at 7 p.m. Admittance is $5 for each adult and children 12 and under are free. Series Passes are available at www.warnors.org on the ticketing page. Series passes are good for all 12 films in 2015. The best bargain is the Family Series Pass. It has a limit of a whopping 10 people! Series passes will only be available for a limited time, and make great gifts, so hurry over to the website or box office and gets yours while you can!
But wait, there’s more! Thanks to their sponsors, Warnors provides tickets to various youth organizations to attend the films showings. They do this in order to encourage youth to learn about the history of film, and witness the social norms within various decades. In the past, Warnors has given tickets to schools in Fresno Unified, Clovis Unified, and Madera Unified. The Boys & Girls Clubs have also gotten tickets as well. If you know a group of students that would benefit from attending Classic Films at Warnors Theatre, or are interested in learning more about sponsorship, call Program Manager Michelle Swift at (559) 264-2848.
If you haven’t been inside Warnors Theater, then you are sadly missing the most impressive historic building Fresno has to offer. Warnors Theatre is a National Historic American theatre built by Alexander Pantages—one of the most prominent managers of vaudeville entertainment and a renowned theater magnate. Opening on October 20, 1928, this theater was originally built to house vaudeville acts, and there’s even a room backstage designed to accommodate live animals.
In 1929, this Pantages Theater was purchased by Warner Brothers, and its name changed to “Warner’s Theatre.” Fresno thus became the second West Coast city to have a Warner Brother’s motion picture theater. The theater was used primarily for silent movies until “talkies” came out in the 1930s. Mr. Caglia bought this theatre in 1973 from the City of Fresno, at which time it was doomed to be torn down—like so many other of Fresno’s Historic buildings. At this time, the spelling of Warner’s was changed to Warnors for copyright purposes.
Warnors Center for the Performing Arts is now a 501 c.3 Community Benefit Organization that manages Warnors Theatre, Franks Place, and Star Palace. Any event that you attend at each of the venues enables the staff and volunteers to keep this incredible building open for the public to enjoy. The Warnors staff and volunteers believe that these gorgeous spaces are only valuable if they are being enjoyed by the community, and welcome any opportunity to show off the building. If you have never seen the inside of Warnors Theatre, then you’re missing out on quite possibly the most beautiful thing man ever built in Fresno.
Check out more local arts and entertainment articles in KRL’s A & E section.