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Montez Theatre opens during Hollywood’s golden era

The Union StaffThe Montez Theatre on West Main Street in Grass Valley.
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The opening of the Montez Theatre in Grass Valley occurred just prior to what would be later regarded as the Golden Years of Hollywood – from 1934 to 1943.

Two theaters would open in Grass Valley during that era, the Montez Theatre on Main Street and the Del Oro on Mill Street, which would open in 1942.

Grass Valley already boasted the Strand, and motion pictures were shown at the Legion Theatre (thought to be in the Veterans Building) while Nevada City’s Nevada Theatre, California’s oldest existing theater building (opening Sept. 9, 1865) had been turned into a movie house by the time the Montez opened.



The Nevada Theatre showed motion pictures, as well as being used for other performing arts, and had replaced Nevada City’s first movie house the Crystal located on Commercial Street. The Crystal had a short life, opening in 1908 and closing in 1909 because it could not hold large crowds.

The Nevada Theatre would undergo a major change and become the Cedar Theatre in December of 1949 before the Liberal Arts Commission later reclaimed it and restored it to its former glory.




The Montez, of course, was named after the famous Gold Rush entertainer Lola Montez, who lived in Grass Valley in the early 1850s. Although her length of residence was short in our history, the impact she left on the town was larger than life. She lead a flamboyant lifestyle for the times, and even Lola may have been impressed by the new huge neon sign boasting her name.

The marquee suspended against the face of the new building had a green background and the name “Montez” was lettered in white and edged in red neon.

It was 24 feet tall and was proudly advertised in the newspapers at its opening as the biggest neon sign in Grass Valley. It was locally crafted by the Ace Sheet Metal manufacturing plant, which also furnished sheet metal fittings to the theater.

Every modern convenience was in evidence, including the plumbing and heating systems which were installed by the Alpha Store, Limited. This included a new type of heating and cooling system ” . . . which would keep the theater cool in summer, without draft, and pleasantly warm in winter.”

The interior lights of the theater consisted of six modernistic wall lights, three on each side, that cast a soft orange radiance when the house lights were turned on. During performances the lights were switched to pale blue.

The seating capacity was 500, and the seats were backed with a rich tapestry and had deep leather cushions with a brown motif.

The architect was William Mooser Jr. from San Francisco and his associate Charles Rector Lindley. The two sets of double doors were oak trimmed with nickel fittings.

The wide foyer extended the width of the building with rest-rooms on each end, and the interior’s colors were in browns, tans, golds and oranges with a rich Oriental patterned carpet. Aisles on each side of the foyer led into the theater, and the decorated ceiling was fanciful, with scrollwork in gold and silver and a center stairway leading to the balcony.

The first motion picture viewed by the opening night crowd was a Paramount comedy, “Thirty Day Princess,” starring Sylvia Sidney, who got top billing, and Cary Grant, billed as ” . . . one of the handsome, clever young men of the picture world.” The program schedule printed in The Union showed that each motion picture played for two days.

Maria E. Bower is a member of the Nevada County Genealogical Society and the Nevada County Historical Society. The Nevada County Historical Society normally meets the last Thursday of each month at the Transportation Museum, Kidder Court, Nevada City, at 7:30 p.m. On Jan. 30 Hank Meals, archaeologist and local author, will present a slide program on various types of mining used in the area. The general public is welcome to attend.


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