Sombrero Playhouse

4747 N. 7th Street,
Phoenix, AZ 85014

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ianej on March 15, 2019 at 11:30 pm

The Sombrero Playhouse, founded in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1949, was for many years a popular venue for touring productions featuring prominent performers, including a number of Hollywood luminaries.

Founded by artistic director Richard Charlton and actress Ann Lee Harris, the Sombrero became during its heyday perhaps the major performing arts center between Dallas and Los Angeles, attracting celebrity players such as Groucho Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Ginger Rogers, Gloria Swanson, Bob Cummings, Celeste Holm, Shelley Winters, Margaret O’Brien, ZaSu Pitts, Pat O’Brien, Walter Pidgeon, John Raitt and others.

These actors usually toured in established works, but new plays were occasionally tried out at the Sombrero, such as William Inge’s Natural Affection, which premiered in Phoenix in 1962, a year prior to its Broadway run.

sp_john on July 20, 2018 at 9:20 pm

Correction: It was a Strong Peerless lamp house. The optical sound head was also RCA. ……………… By the way, I believe we had only 464 seats, less if it rained.

sp_john on July 20, 2018 at 9:04 pm

The Sombrero Playhouse, originally built as a stage/dinner theater in 1947, added a screen and projectors around 1949 and was located at 4747 N. 7th Street, next door to the Islands restaurant. [br]……….[br] It reopened as a repertoire film theater on 28 Oct 1976 with a pair of Lina Wertmuller films. After a long dispute between the property owner (Richard C) and Maury (who leased the theater from RC) about our selections, we closed on 5 Mar 1981. [br]……….[br] Our staff was as wild and interesting as our audience and as funky as the interior. Our theater hosted all the over-the-top drama and excitement one would expect at a high school, with love shared, hearts broken, many wonderful friendships made, some crossing of swords, and a lifetime of vivid memories. [br]……….[br] On the technical side, we ran using a change-over process, with Century lamp houses burning carbon-arc rods, pulling the film through Brinkhert BX-60 projector headsand piping the sound through RCA Voice-of-the-Theater amplifiers. We had RCA mag readers atop the projectors when we ran films with magnetic soundtracks. I bought the amps when the theater closed. They are now in Albuquerque. [br]……….[br] Thanks to the Sombrero Playhouse, I learned a lot about film, from both aesthetic and technical perspectives, and about people, and about loss.

movieguyphx65 on May 9, 2017 at 10:33 pm

This was a great single screen theatre that was around before my time. I was in my early teens when I started subscribing to their monthly calendars. It was the late the late 70’s when this theatre competed against the Valley Art in Tempe who also had a monthly calendar. Although I didn’t even have a drivers license, I did manage to get my mother and a good friend to go with me for a movie. Although I would have gone to the Sombrero more often if I was able to, I did mange to see Days of Heaven, Badlands, The Other Side of Midnight and Pretty Baby before they closed in the early 80’s. I believe an office building now stands where this gem of a theatre once stood. I do remember Islands restaurant around the back too. The Sombrero must have been the place to be back in the late 70’s. Unfortunately no other theatres exist in the Phoenix area that allow us movie buffs to catch these great double features that the Sombrero once played. The Valley Art is still around and run by Harkins theatres a local first run chain. Would be great if someone could take it over and bring back the diverse classics once screened there in 35mm. Hey, I’ll even settle for classics on DCP. At least I can dream about the thought, but grateful to have experienced those great theatres in their calendar days.

denitera on April 20, 2016 at 2:16 pm

I was so pleased to find the ‘Sombrero" still listed among Phoenix Theaters despite being closed for so many years. It looms large in my coming of age. Just as I got both license and auto I discovered a favorite movie from my past was being screened at this location and I hurried over. Once there I say the monthly movies calendar, and it seemed that just about everything I had loved would be showing at the Sombrero some time soon. It was a time before VCRs, before DVDs, and long before streaming, so there was no hope of seeing Romeo and Juliet again after '71 or '72. And then, suddenly, there it is next week at the Sombrero. I was reunited with 'Straw Dogs’ ‘Brother Sun Sister Moon’ ‘The Point’ and ‘Woodstock’. I can’t name all the marvelous films this theater brought back to me. They changed films about every two days so I was usually there four nights a week, and then they brought in ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ in a midnight showing Fri & Sat and the experience broadened. It was such a great idea I wonder why no one else has done such a thing. I sure do miss it. Edie McElroy

anartsychic on January 27, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Hello! I found this page while searching for my dads art. My dad was Raymond Westfall who did the artwork in The Islands restaurant in Phoenix. He created the magical Black light diamond head painting of Waikiki that had the rain machine built into it. It was placed behind the bar. I was about 6 years old when he made the artwork. I remember him working on it until sunrise until it was finished. When he completed the painting, we all got to go and eat there and dance to the music. I have been searching for the painting panels for years. I hope that they were not destroyed. Without the black light shining on it, the painting would have appeared to have been plain black boards. He used invisible black light paint to create the illusion. Does anyone have any idea what happened to the painting after the islands closed? please message me at if you have any leads to help me find it. Thank you. Please put “THE ISLANDS” in the subject title. Mahalo!

frankandernest on January 3, 2014 at 8:09 am

I worked there in the late 60’s…I was born in Phoenix and have lived here my whole life. The exact address of the playhouse/theater was 4747 North 7th Street. It had a fire in the early 60’s in the dining area and had closed for sometime. Then Mr. Langert (an advertising executive with the Weekly American Newspaper, which was owned by Evan Mecham) opened the place back up in the late 60’s into a theater. I worked full time during the day for Evan Mecham’s newspaper and at night at the Sombrero. When he reopened it as a theater, he ran a continuous showing of the Sound of Music, every night for months on end…and every night we’d have a crowd. When I worked there, there was no snack bar inside (we sold cold coke outside on the patio). After I left, they later opened a small snack bar in the lobby of the theater. What great memories I had of that place.

carlekennedy on December 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Hi Frenchy

Great to hear from you. Yes I owned Big 7 After Hours along with my 2 partners Mike Metko who you mentioned and Jim Musil Jr whose dad Jim Sr built and owned JD’s in Tempe where Waylon Jennings became famous. Jim Jr took over JD’s after his dad passed.He also recorded Waylon’s first live album from JD’s

Most people just called it and knew it as “After Hours” but the name we put on all the flyers/leaflets we put out and the free black/gold match books was “Big 7 After Hours”. We sure packed'em in that place. It was the only “After Hours” in Phoenix at the time except for a very small place in south Phoenix called “The Ebony Door”, which was mostly black people and a few of us “whiteys” who they tolerated.

B7AF was in between Sombrero Playhouse and the Islands restaurant. you entered from 7 St and drove east down a long driveway on the right side a vacant lot to a large parking lot. …The B7AF building was to the far left as you entered the parking lot from the far right. It was a warehouse we renovated into our after hours club. There was a large dark blue sign with “After Hours” in silver sparkle and some silver sparkle stars with a spotlight shinning on it so the copy and stars glittered or sparkled.

Yes you remember all those things correctly. The canal was to the back/rear of the club and the parking lot. Mike Metko’s group was our house band with bands from all over the valley setting in. We even had The Righteous Bros(Bobbie and Bill), Jan and Dean and many others from Stage 7 set in.

Yes the bandstand was located on the back/rear wall with burlap wall curtains behind bandstand. Curtains were 4ft wide red and yellow alternating stripes from ceiling to floor and all the way from left wall to right wall. You entered the club from door in middle. there was a snack bar to the far left where we sold coke, seven up, orange pop, coffee, hot steamed tamales and chile dogs. Restrooms were also to the far left behind or next to snack bar. Tables with red table cloths and alternating red and yellow glass candle containers lined both sides of the club with a few tables connecting both sides of table rows close to club entrance,4 chairs per table. The very large rectangular dance floor was of course in the middle. We had 3 Phoenix police officers Chuck S, Bob S, Bernie T (motorcycle cops) in full police uniform out front to make sure everything remained peaceful and everybody felt safe.

I spent a lot of time in the “Night Life”. Yes Phoenix had some great blues clubs and the music and dancing was fantastic. Also spent a lot of time in “Char’s Has The Blues” I’m trying to remember “Frenchy”(Karen)…. do you have red hair?

You’re right Frenchy …… really great memories Yes I’m happy in Thailand, thanks for asking

Really great to hear from you Let’s stay in touch …

AZFRYBABY on December 22, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Well Mr Carl Kennedy I was surprised but happy to come across your post. I have been trying to remember the name of the after hours club on 7th ST north of Stage 7 and I thought I remembered you owned it or ran it. What building was it in? I remember a canal that ran along side it or in front of it, behind the parking lot. Long building. Band was in the back and I remember the sign with the stars so may have been seeing the Sombrero sign. So the name of the after hours was what? BIG 7 Doesn’t sound like what I remembered. Hope you are very happy in Thailand. I remember you well. I was the obnoxious flirt according to Mike Metko at the Night Life. We had fun going to some awesome blues places and dancing bad so good LOL. I finally got my teeth fixed not that it matters so much now. Hope you are well and very happy. Good Memories Karen (Frenchy)

Tillthen on November 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm

My sister and I saw “Unfaithfully Yours” in 1948 at the Sombrero. My sister, newly married, and I were sore from hysteria afterwards. We loved it so much that she wanted her husband to see it the next nite, so the three of us went, and her husband sat there like a bump on a log. He was from Texas, I mean really from Texas. I am now 77 and I have seen it 5 times and it is still as fresh as ever. Please treat yourself to an incredible acting job by Linda Darnell and Rex Harrison in slapstick comedy. Thank you, “Sombrero”

Scenicartist on July 13, 2013 at 9:18 am

I was a scenic artist at Sombrero in 1968 under designer Bobby Soule. I still have some of the playbills. The owner was married to a Woolworth heir and bought the theatre to meet some stars. I lived in a motel behind The Islands with John Barnett. Room was sparce with a small kitchen. I didn’t meet Henry, the waiter that you mentioned. There was a kitchen area in the theatre that wasn’t used anymore. I brought an oval frying pan home to IN. The Islands was an upscale exotic place with a Marley type band. I remember the huge waterfall and plants. Ann Southern was fat and bitchy. Not the cute pert gal on the TV sitcom.

LilRonnie on April 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

This brings back the memories. I just asked last night if anyone remembered the name of this theatre. The group was 50 to 65 years old. All I got was blank stares. My most entertaining experience was in the early 1970’s, when I was a young Phoenix Police Officer. The Playhouse was in my beat this night and Rocky was playing. Not Stallone. These events always brought out the strangoids. The crowd was gathering awaiting entry when I was dispatched on a person threatening suicide. As I role into the Rear (West side facing 7th Street) the crowd of about 200 was gathered screaming “Jump, Jump, Jump in a rhythmic manner. I get out of my police car and follow the eyes and and see and young overweight man in this huge tree. He was dressed in black, wearing black makeup with a noosed rope around his neck. He was about 15 in the air and I had parked my car right under him. Knowing that I would get in serious trouble if my car was damaged I asked him to wait until I moved my car. He was ablating I moved it. AS I got out he screamed over the crowd that the "PIG” was not going to stop him and they began their chant again. I told radio to send an ambulance and my boss. Now I have to tell you this rope was about 2 inches in diameter and tied in a really cool looking noose. Before I could utter another word he jumped and with a loud thud he hit the ground. The crowd cheered and went wild. It seems he should have climbed higher because he brought a 25 foot rope. I walked up to him and he turned to me and said “Am I dead”. I said nope you just broke your legs. The ambulance arrive and took him away. The crowned went wild as the theatre opened and they all went inside. What a way to start the evening.

Vada on December 10, 2012 at 12:40 am

I was a cocktail waitress at the Islands in the early 1970s. When I worked there we wore fresh Gardenias every night. I remember the back bar being a scene of the Hawaiian Islands with Diamond Head and it lit up. I remember the night we had a streaker. The only part I caught was when he was streaking across the dance floor and he jumped on one of the booths next to the bar area, jumped over the railing and headed out the door. That’s when streaking was really in!!! LOL! I also worked next door at the Sombrero when it was L'etoile.

carlekennedy on July 28, 2011 at 12:23 am

Hi gang My names Carl Kennedy. I lived in Phoenix for 46 years. 1960 to 2006…….I left at 68 years old to live in Thailand, where I am now

I was Advertising/Promotion Director KPHO TV Ch5 for several years. Acct exec for various ad agency’s. Sales Mgr for several graphic firms. Bartended in many clubs. Was head bartender At JD’s the double decker night club in Tempe where Waylon Jennings recorded his first live album and became famous. Ricky Nelson, Everly Bros etc played there to packed houses, 750+ upstairs, 350+ downstairs. Owned a bar. Owned the first after hours club in Phoenix. Did and saw a lot in Phoenix’s growth years

The Sombrero was not at 7st and Highland. You have Camelback Rd Going south you have
Mariposa St
Pierson St
Sombrero Playhouse
Big 7 After Hours (I owned it) Islands Retaurant (4839 7st)
Highland Ave Coolidge St Char’s has the Blues (4631 N 7St) (NE corner Coolidge) Hazelwood St canal

Sombrero was many things to many people Excellent movies, plays etc in it’s heyday Got to be a hangout for social wannabe’s Just a great great place with lots of nostalgic history.

There was no bridge between Sombrero and the Islands Rest. Just plain old cement side walk The bridge they are remembering was the entrance to the Islands Rest. There was a fake moat, water and all (approx 10/12 ft wide) in front of the Islands with lots of tropical folaige on both sides. The bridge spanned this neat moat and you had to walk across it to enter/exit the rest. Inside was all beautiful bamboo walls, tabels chairs, bar walking ramps etc and carpet in all the right places Yes Rusty Warren did appear there many times but the big draw was “The Ricardo Lemus Trio” piano, bass and drums, Ricardo was on the drums. He did a drum routine twice a night that featured him with reverb(echo) effect electronically attached to his drums. When he hit drums the beat would echo quite a bit while fading away. It was fascinating to hear and watch. The crowd went wild. The rest owner was “Mr White” who quite often got drunk in rest and was hustled away by the Mgr “Jimmey” who was a very handsome Asian getleman who dressed impeccably in dark suites mostly black sharkskin, white shirt and a beautiful white silk tie. He ran that place like a well oiled clock. I worked there for quite a while. was called assisstant Maitre’d. Just a glorified name for host. I greeted people in the anteroom/entrance which was also where the cashier was and the exit. Also where all the polynesian mugs, cups, nik naks etc were sold People waited for their table also when bar was full. In it’s heyday reservations was a must. Once you left anteroom and headed for your table you walked down a ramp into the sunken dinning area which you entered at the far right and all tables to the left. On the complete left wall was a beatiful tropical garden setting complete with waterfall. Running gurgling water sounds were subtly piped into the whole place just loud enough to sound genuine but not loud enough to tell it was electronic. The bar on the same level as anteroom was to the left and also had several tables and chairs some chairs being the beautiful hi-backed Queens chairs. In back of the bar was an electronically lit (lights etc) 3D topographical display layout of Phoenix and Valley of the Sun. Camelback Mtn, Sky Harbor AP etc

Another story about Islands. A very quiet but effeciant oriental waiter named Henry worked there for years. Had people who would not dine unless he was their waiter. Lived on the rest. grounds, little small units in back of parking lot. Rumored to have only 3 pair of under wear and 2 sets of waiter attire. He washed all every night and rotated them daily. Never went anywhere. Saved all his tips and lived like a hermit. Some people joked about his existance, some pitied him. When he left it was found he owned a couple blocks of RE in downtown LA and lived like a king the rest of his life.

Phew….. that was long huh! If anybody would like to hear about JD’s and Waylon let me know an I’ll post. Will keep it short

chrisxxx on June 14, 2011 at 11:25 am

The Island’s Polynesian restaurant—sorry I don’t remember the Sombrero Playhouse but I have a very vivid memory of the Island’s…my family went there to eat and everyone loved it except me. I got deathly ill after taking a few bites. Everyone wondered why I got so ill from eating the food that didn’t affect anyone else. As it turned out I was in the early stage of influenza and that was the cause of my awful illness. Even though I knew the food did not cause my illness, I was unable to eat at the Island’s restaurant again. Sad but true.

looker1208 on November 18, 2009 at 7:14 pm

I frequented the Sombrero mostly in the late 1970’s. There were some wild, wild nights there when Rocky Horror was playing. I got to know some of the people who worked there at the time and my friends and I would often stay behind after the movie was over to help clean up. For anyone who never got to witness the Rocky Horror then you would bring rice, newspapers, toast and various other items as your own personal props to enhance to screen experience. The theater was usually a mess afterward.

bassoonhipster on June 1, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Here is a link that discusses the Sombrero in conjunction with its midnight showings of Rocky Horror (late 1970s until it closed in 1981):

I remember that in the lobby there were signatures of great artists who played there (does anyone know if the artists actually signed the walls or were these fake?)

JonE on December 21, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Here is a link with some additional information.

BluesGal1 on December 10, 2008 at 11:08 am


We lived behind the Sombrero Playhouse in the 50’s (in that Spanish looking house). There was what looked like a built in laundry hamper in the hall that when you opened it gave us a clear view of the wine cellar! LOL.
Behind our house, lived the Gene Salyer family. I played with their kids, a daughter (forgot her name) a younger brother I think his name was Bobby and might have also had a baby. I think Gene was manager (I thought of the Playhouse and also the Palms Theatre). They had a dog named ‘Trio'
Down from them was a row of pink apartments (L shaped) and all the band guys used to stay there. We loved that! They gave us real silver dollars to go way and make noise somewhere else!
My older sister spotted Montgomery Cliff one day walking briskly to the Playhouse. She asked for his autograph but he was too busy. I wondered why she’d want an old, short guy’s autograph, anyway.
Next door to the south was The Island’s Polynesian restaurant/bar/entertainment often with Rusty Warren on the marquee. (I think that might have been her band members in the apartment).
I remember sitting in the playhouse before showtime. It was so cool with air conditioning and my sister and I loved the piped in music before showtime, 'The Grand Canyon Suite’ playing in the
background. ~

finnikko on September 7, 2008 at 9:13 am

My Mother took me and my Brother to the Sombrero back in ‘79. There used to be an Asian restaurant right next to it with a little bridge that connected the two properties. We had dinner and then walked across to see Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Great movie, great night, great memories!

sgaskins on May 7, 2008 at 11:56 am

I just found out that my Uncle Duke Gaskins was an owner of the Sombrero Playhouse in the 1950s and 60s. Has anyone found the history of ownership after Anne Harris??

Stacy Gaskins

JackMarquardt on March 9, 2008 at 9:04 pm

How well I too remember Ann Lee’s wonderful “Sombrero Playhouse.” I was living in Phoenix in the mid-‘50s and was a supporting actor in three great productions there; “Anything Goes,” “The Barretts of Wimpole Street,” and “Dinner at Eight” . . all with superb Hollywood leads. Sadly, when I moved to Tokyo in 1973, my playbills for the three shows were somehow lost. If anyone has copies of these programs, I would dearly love to obtain them. Please contact me.

pugbooter on May 26, 2006 at 9:06 am

In 1950 I was a young aspiring hoofer gigging around town and teaching dancing at a local studio. One day a phone call came in from the Sombrero Playhouse requesting the studio to provide a dancing partner for some actress named Norma Terris who would be appearing in the revived 1940’s Broadway hit “Lady in tne Dark”. Not until years later did I come to realize who I had held in my arms each performance.For,you see, her past theatrical credits included the starring role of Magnolia Hawks in Jerome Kerns 1927 Hit,“Show Boat”. And yes, she was the one who introduced to the world those beautiful and memorable songs,“For its Make Believe”,“Why Do I Love You”, etc. Sadly, this great actress is gone from us,but her memory remains and stands in tribute as the “Norma Terris Theater"in Chester Connecticut.Oh my,what we do miss in our youth.

lydiacypher on February 9, 2006 at 8:12 am

I loved the old Sombrero Playhouse! I am 55 and a Phoenix native. As a kid in the 60’s my Campfire Girls troupe attended a Russian ballet performance of Swan Lake, one of the most memorable experiences of my childhood. I will always remember the sound of toeshoes on the wooden stage and the tragic beauty of the “dying swan” scene. Later, I spent many a Saturday night with friends watching independent, foreign and art films and hanging out in the intimate courtyard chatting during intermission or before and after movies. What a great place! In those days, it was still possible to find places with character – populated by real characters! Unfortunately Phoenix has become far too homogenized and sanitized for its own good!

theatrebrat on January 27, 2006 at 7:43 pm

Hello—-now I can make a comment: Sombrero brings back many memories for me as a ‘theatre brat’ growing up in Phx. I saw wonderful productions with name stars who could ‘act’—which surprised many of us—-and, of course, Ann herself on stage…I got to meet her several times…Even though I was away for many years (returned with my family in 1994) those Sombrero Productions influenced me and gave me great pleasure…So glad to see it has not been forgotten, even though it no longer exists…I love the photo of it—-and i can still smell the backstage area….several of my friends were apprentices there for several productions and I will never forget it….thanks….JB