Empire Theatre

311 4th Street,
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

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Beginning in the fall of 1930, $50,000 was spent for a showplace with the installation of talkies. Listed as the latest palace of amusement coziest in the entire Redwood Empire as of January 1931, the theatre was listed under the ownership of Dan Tocchini (who also had a brother who opened the Strand Theatre nearby in January 1924) and the management of Louis Stone who was the manager of the theatre.

The Empire Theater being located on 311 4th Street between A Street and Washington Street according to the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, was actually being located in 3 different addresses: 309, 311 and 313. The Empire Theatre is a double-fronted building next to a clothing store that formerly occupied by a large department store, which was very short lived with the store being only operated 3 months prior to the construction of the Empire Theatre.

The Empire Theatre opened its doors on January 13, 1931 with the comedy duo Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey in “Half Shot At Sunrise” along with a comedy named “A Peep In The Deep”, a short subject entitled “Humorette”, a newsreel, and a performance by Paul Marcucci, Jr and his 8-Piece orchestra.

The Empire Theatre is mostly an RKO operated theatre, which apparently at the time had its studio simply named as “Radio Pictures”. However, RKO’s relationship with the Empire Theatre didn’t last very long at all. The front was remodeled temporarily for conform in appearance and general architecture to the other RKO operated theatres in California. There is also a spacious outside lobby and an inside foyer, in front of which is a modern and electric-lighted marquee designed with all-metal texture. The marquee is 25ft and demonstrated automatic flashing devices with vertically letters representative the theatre name. On each side of the lobby, there are retail establishments operating under the owner of Tocchini himself. The rest of the Tocchini family was also apart of the Empire Theatre, such as Norma, who presided over at the ticket window, which is being located at the front, and Leonora, who was one out of the 2 ushers, with the other being Angelina Chiverelli. The capacity of the theatre as of grand opening in 1931 is 700. The main seating capacity was marked 500, and there is also a spacious balcony up above with 200 seats, a wide balcony with its seating being so arranged in sharply ascending tiers as to make every seat as desirable as those on the ground floor. The balcony front is artistically curved and there are no posts, pillars, or other obstructions. There was also an air conditioner inside, completely changed every 3 or 4 minutes through the employment of a large and modern ventilating system, including 2 large perforated baffle plates being set in the Celotex padding ceiling to take care of overheated or vitiated air by drawing it away from and entirely out of the building, but the air that is actually oxygenated by patrons is rendered germproof, through the regular spraying of the auditorium, balcony, foyer, and stage with a special deodorant and disinfectant preparation manufactured for such purpose by local chemical concerns.

Apparently enough, the Empire Theatre during their earlier portions of the decade in the 1930’s also delivers special events and even a cooking program actually did show up at one point in May 1937. The Empire Theatre would later reopen back again as a movie house right before World War II began a couple of years later in 1939, as a third-run movie house, which demonstrates B-films, Christian films, and foreign films, including special events such as musical performances, subjects, church services, and radio bible schools for radio station KSRO-AM 1350. This apparently lasted for a very short amount of time.

Approximately many months right after Pearl Harbor past by as World War II continued, the theatre was under its last legs. As of their last year in operation in 1942, were showing mostly special events, Christian films, and church services. This apparently had shattered the Empire Theatre, and the theatre itself closed its doors for the final time during the Summer of 1942.

There is no other information right after the theatre closed its doors. A parking garage structure now stands on the site.

Contributed by 50sSNIPES
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