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Remember This?

Remember This? Auburn’s State Theatre suffers major facelift

1974 work took away distinctive neon sign, took down balcony
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Contact Gus Thomson and ‘Remember This?’ at

or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.

The story of the State Theatre in Downtown Auburn got much worse in 1974, when the bulldozer moved in and the hammer came down on the once-proud art deco movie house.

It had been shut down the previous year and the new owner saw an opportunity.

But it was at the expense of much of what originally made the art deco building so special.

The Journal was onsite to show readers some of the activity as photographer Jean Davis snapped shots of Billy Santos, a subcontractor on the state theater renovation job, piloting a Caterpillar ripping away at the interior. At the top of the frame is a “star” embellishment that would soon be tossed out, a vestige of what the theater looked like when it first opened in 1930.

It wasn’t the end of the State Theatre, as we now know.

But it was the end of the State Theatre as generations of Auburnites knew it.

Two months earlier, Al Baccala, vice president of theater owner Herbie Green Enterprises, stood outside the State with theater manager Alex Grauert and architect Ron Lichau to mark in a staged Journal photograph by Merv Doolittle the impending start on the $250,000 remodel. The work would revamp the entrance, creating an indoor mall and nine offices. As part of the project, the theatre would lose its distinctive marquee. The balcony would also go, dropping seating from 1,300 to 500.

There was a hint of desperation in the changes. The State had been closed since January 1973.

Fast forward another nine years and the State Theater would have a new owner — Bernie Rawitch’s Sierra Amusement Corp. — and a new plan.

With another $100,000, Sierra Amusement would carve two cinemas out of the old theater, while installing new seats, updating the heating and air conditioning and lowering the ceiling. Sierra Amusements was also owner of Auburn Twin Cinemas on Highway 49, in a building now home to Crooked Lane Brewing Company.

In a statement to the Journal that sounds a trifle ironic today and sadly without vision, Rawitch proclaimed time was not on the State’s side.

“These old theaters are like dinosaurs,” Rawitch said. “They’re so large and drafty, it’s hard to fill them up, no matter what film you are showing.”

The rest of the story is a happier one, although the venerable State was on a slow, sad slide into oblivion through the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s. A local volunteer effort started in late 1990s to breath new life into the theater and one day restore it to its past glory. A new tower sign, marquee and facade were added by the nonprofit Auburn Placer Performing Arts Centre group two years after purchasing the property in 2006.

And by 2014, the effort was able to raise funds to tear down the wall separating the two theaters to create the 340-seat venue we have today.

1974 marked the beginning of the end for the state.

But as it turned out, its demise was happily preempted by a new beginning.

Contact Gus Thomson and ‘Remember This?’ at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.