The Magic Theater: Then and now |

The Magic Theater: Then and now

Dick Tracy
Special to Prospector
Folks get a tour of the new Onyx Theatre during the Thursday, April 12, grand re-opening.
Photo by Elias Funez

“I wouldn’t remove that pillow, sir,” a gentleman at the old Magic Theatre said. “There’s a very sharp spring underneath you wouldn’t enjoy making contact with.”

It was 1996. The advice came from the theater’s proprietor, who sold tickets, created the homemade chocolate brownies and other items at the tiny snack bar and ran the projector after a brief introduction about what the audience was going to see.

The pillow in question was atop an old sofa that might have come from a thrift shop. Comfy enough, though, with the protective pillow.

The films were generally of the “art house” variety, seldom seen on larger screens in the community, and drew an “eclectic” audience. Oftentimes including dogs. They might have been “service animals” or just pooches who loved being with their owners.

The films always stopped halfway through, because there was only one projector. And during the time it took to rewind the first reel, patrons were free to step out into the night air and discuss what they’d seen and meet new people.

Once my wife and I attended with a car that had all sorts of unfamiliar electronic conveniences, and putting the key fob in my pocket accidentally triggered the trunk release. Unbeknownst to us, it popped wide open and a light revealed its contents: The costly Nikon cameras and lenses I carried as garden editor of the Sacramento Bee. When we emerged for the mid-film break, we saw what had happened. It was an “oh my god” moment, but nothing had been removed!

The apparel worn by theatergoers was largely reminiscent of the “Hippie” era in the 1960’s, but there was no dress code. Come as you are. And a unisex washroom was right down front, next to the screen.

Now flash forward to 2018. The theater is in the same 107 Argall Way location, renamed, “The Onyx” and it still specializes in “art” films (no one under 21 is admitted) but is as different from the old days as Buck Rodgers sci-fi films are to “Star Trek.” And there are two screens instead of one, with showings at midday, afternoon and evening. With no intermissions.

Step inside ($10 admission) to see the modern snack bar under subdued lighting, flanked by two sparkling and spacious unisex restrooms. The employees are very neatly attired and welcoming. Inside the theater are comfortable padded chairs, some up front with “reserved” signs in place for those who are wheelchair enabled. Patrons may also make reservations by calling 530-648-0514 or visiting

Before the film begins, stylishly dressed employee Samantha Shady precedes the show to tell patrons a bit about the feature; the fact that admission is just $6 on Tuesdays; the location of the restrooms and the availability of blankets for those who feel chilly. “We ask you just leave them on your seat after the film,” she smiles, “so we can have them laundered.”

Owner Celine Negrete adds a footnote: “It has always been a consideration in programming films for the theater to look for voices that are not always represented, but now with two screens, we can make even more of an effort to bring those films to Nevada County.”

Our community is truly fortunate to have so many movie options, and the Onyx offers a significant addition to the menu.

Dick Tracy, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at

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