La Moda Theatre

5670 El Camino Real,
Atascadero, CA 93422

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Previous Names: Atascadero Playhouse

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La Moda - Atascadero, CA

Originally opened by 1925 as the Atascadero Playhouse, located on El Camino Real (US Route 101), the theatre was renamed the La Moda Theatre by the 1940’s. Later converted into a bowling alley, the Atascadero Bowl, the building was destroyed in a fire in 1987.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

kencmcintyre on September 16, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Here is a November 1926 item from the Placerville Mountain Democrat:

A $40,000 motion-picture theater was opened October 28 in Atascadero. The theater has been built with a seating capacity of 550 and is equipped with an $8,000 pipe organ, the report indicated.

jerryelsea on July 9, 2010 at 8:20 am

This was a charming little theater, well run and nicely equipped — right down to a crying room for patrons with infants. It offered double features on weekends and single features on weekdays. In 1954, it encountered a crisis: introduction of CinemaScope. With the marvelous Fremont in San Luis Obispo (20 miles south) and the Fox in Paso Robles (10 miles north) installing wide screens, Atascadero’s La Moda desperately needed an upgrade. Problem was, the auditorium was almost too narrow. But the owners, the Pecks (who also owned the town newspaper), persevered. They installed a wide screen that, while slightly irregular, nicely accommodated the big-screen hits of the day. My 3-year friendship with the La Moda ended when my family left Atascadero in 1955. I later was saddened to read that it had been converted into a bowling alley. Alas, CinemaScope, heralded as one of the movies' answers to television, couldn’t save the small-town movie houses for very long.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 3, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I’m not sure if this item refers to this theater or some other early house in Atascadero, but this is what the July 31, 1915, issue of The Moving Picture World had to say:

“The theater recently opened at Atascadero, Calif, by Emil Clark has been taken over by the Atascadero Colony and Mr. Clark has been retained as the operator.”
There was a movie theater operating in Atascadero in November, 1918, as it was listed as one of the houses ordered to close by State officials due to the influenza epidemic, but the list didn’t give its name.

AndrewBarrett on October 1, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Too bad to hear this theatre is all gone. I would have liked to have seen it.

According to “The Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ” by David Junchen, pg. 628, the “Playhouse Th.” in Atascadero, California, had a two manual, three-rank Smith theatre pipe organ installed in 1926.

No other information on the organ is given (such as blower info, nameplate, which would probably be Leathurby-Smith, etc).

However, there IS a photo of the organ’s console still in front of the stage at the theatre, complete with Glen Playman’s (1930s dance band) Orchestra on the stage. It is/was a very tiny console, since this three rank organ must have been one of the smallest that Smith ever built. I have no idea if it even had percussions but I would hope so.

I will try to scan and post the photo of the organ console in the theatre from the book, sometime in the next few weeks/months.

It is the only California Smith installation pictured in the book in a photograph, and one of only a handful of Smith organs/consoles pictured in that section of the book (most of the chapter is devoted to reprinting an exceedingly rare Smith theatre pipe organ catalog from the 1916-1920 period).

Does anybody know what happened to the Playhouse Theatre’s organ, and where it, or its parts, is/are today?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 1, 2018 at 9:06 pm

This 2011 article from the San Luis Obispo Tribune has some information I know to be inaccurate (the Playhouse/ La Mode was not Atascadero’s first movie theater), and awkward writing makes it difficult to puzzle out in places, but it indicates that the Atascadero Playhouse on El Camino Real was the second theater of that name, and another article I came across suggests that the first, out on the east edge of town on Traffic Place, might also have shown movies for a while.

The linked article gives the location of the Playhouse that became La Mode Theatre as being “…next door to the Keetch Building and Ward’s garage….” both of which are still standing (though the garage is now a print shop) at 5660 and 5680 El Camino, respectively. That would put the theater’s site at 5670 El Camino Real. The parking lot at that location has, in the current Google street view, a sign offering it for sale through Peabody Commercial Real Estate.

The second Playhouse was built in 1924, and the first movie it ran was Roy del Ruth’s The Man Upstairs, released in 1926, which coincides with the installation of the organ noted in the previous comment by AndrewBarrett. I know of at least two earlier movie theaters in Atascadero, one of which might or might not have been the first Playhouse on Traffic Place. I’m still trying to track down more information.

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