Modesto Theatre

927 10th Street,
Modesto, CA 95354

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Star Theatre, Modesto

Additional Info

Architects: John J. Foley, Ralph Morrell

Functions: Retail

Nearby Theaters

Modesto Theatre

The Modesto Theatre opened on February 6, 1913, with the stage opera, “The Pirates of Penzance”. The advertisement in the Modesto Evening News also said it showed ‘The Cream Of Motion Pictures’. It was designed by Stockton based architect Ralph Morrell. There was previously an old Modesto Theatre, location unknown, mentioned in the News that opened in 1908.

On December 9, 1913, a fire estimated to cost $30,000 destroyed the Modesto Theatre. The next day W.R. Mensinger, the owner, announced plans to rebuild and said the venue would be bigger and better. It was designed by San Francisco based architect John J. Foley. The Modesto Theatre reopened on July 2, 1913, with the movie “From the Manger to the Cross”. Sometime in late-1925 it came under the control of the National Theatre Syndicate, a major player in the Northern and Central California theater turf.

On August 12, 1935, it was again greatly damaged by fire and plans were immediately put into place to rebuild. Evidently those plans were never realized because in September of 1936 a building permit was taken out to remodel the former theatre into stores, with the structure being reduced from three stories to one.

From the looks of the building today, it appears that the front third of the structure was lowered and the balcony removed. The theatre has been used for commercial stores since 1936 and has outlasted many other landmarks in Modesto. Anyone searching for it would not have to look long as this massive building, especially its back, is very visible from the surrounding streets. In 2010 it was home to a nightclub, the Copper Rhino. By 2016 it was in retail use.

Contributed by Ron Pierce

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 25, 2010 at 5:25 pm

There must be a typo in paragraph two of the intro. The line “The Modesto Theatre reopened on July 2, 1913….” should probably say 1914, as the theater burned in December, 1913. Unless, of course, time occasionally runs backward in Modesto.

According to a card in the California Index, the Los Angeles Examiner of January 25, 1914, reported that Ralph T. Morrell (his middle initial was actually P) was the architect of a theater to be built at Modesto. There aren’t any details on the card, but the project referred to was most likely the rebuilding of the Modesto.

Morrell was a fairly significant architect in the San Joaquin Valley. His office was in Stockton, where a large number of his works were built. A 1920 issue of Architect and Engineer said that the offices of Ralph P. Morrell had let contracts for the construction of an Odd Fellows Lodge in Stockton which was to have a movie theater on the ground floor. So far I’ve been unable to discover which theater this was.

terrywade on June 12, 2016 at 5:42 pm

It is now called the Century and used for rentals.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 20, 2022 at 12:25 am

A history of Stanislaus County published in 1921 has two sections with information about the Modesto Theatre. The first is on the history of Modesto (Google Books scan) and the second is embedded in the biographical sketch of the theater’s builder, W. R. Mensinger (scroll down to the last paragraph on page 550.)

Both sections say that at the time Mr. Mansinger conceived building the theater, the location where it was built had been vacant, so the claim made by modern local sources such as this web page that the Modesto’s location had been the location of the original Star Theatre must be wrong. The 1914-1915 American Motion Picture Directory lists both the Modesto and the original Star, and they could hardly have occupied the same lot.

However, the Directory lists the Modesto at 917 10th Street, rather than 927, and the Star is listed without an address. As the Modesto was rebuilt on the same lot as the burned theater, either the town has shifted its lot numbers or the Directory made a mistake. I’ve wondered if maybe the Directory gave the address of the Star as the address of the Modesto? As the local sources say that the New Star at 928 10th was across the street from the original Star, it does seem plausible that the original Star was just down the block from the Modesto, and the local memory of the exact location has been lost over the years. But in any case, it’s clear that the Star and the Modesto could not have been on the same lot.

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