Media Life: Auburn, Roseville Golden Age theaters rising again as movie venues

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Burnished balustrades. Shadowy balconies. Thick velvet curtains. The essence of buttered popcorn wafting through the air. The muffled clacking of a projector. Dust speckles shining like fireflies in the foggy path of the projector’s light dancing onto the screen. Perhaps you have that memory or something similar. Bob Burge, who recently retired after almost 40 years with Placer High, is working with the State Theater folks in Auburn to rekindle some of those memories and preserve them for future generations of film aficionados who deeply feel the history and ambience of a local movie house. Burge is looking for old photos of the State Theater and so far, hasn’t found much. The Journal at one time may have had those photos but there’s nothing in our files going back to the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The photo on this page is an example of the windows into another time that Burge and State Theater owners, the non-profit Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center group, are looking for. PHOTOS WANTED Provided by Placer County Museums, the caption reads “Guy Lukens plays the role of Santa Claus in this photo taken in front of the State Theatre in the 1950s. The occasion is the annual Christmas movie for schoolchildren. Lukens, of the Lukens Hardware family, was the fire chief in Auburn for many years.” While one could quibble with some of the details (for example, Lukens died in early 1948), the photo is a good example of the sense of community that is hardwired into the theater’s architecture. The State opened in 1930 and efforts are moving forward to return it to some of its original luster while expanding seating to allow an audience of 500. More old photos would help to give the theater more of the provenance it has already built up over the years – providing a visual link with the past that holds onto memories for future generations. The State is turning into a survivor and any surviving photos of it from the 1930s on would be greatly appreciated by Burge and the organization that’s breathing new life into it. CHRISTMAS MEMORIES Burge said he’s also looking for people with a memory or two. The annual Christmas movie, by the way, brought elementary school students from the nearby Auburn Grammar School (now the home of the Auburn Civic Center), who packed the theater and likely raised the roof a couple of inches. It was a high point for many Auburn kids from the Depression years into at least the 1950s and the Auburn Journal was the sponsor. Burge can be reached at Additionally, Burge said he’d like to know if anyone can identify one or more of the people with Lukens. Lukens was the city’s fire chief, having joined in 1902. He stepped down because of ill health in 1946 and died two years later. A plaque above a drinking fountain in front of the old art deco Auburn City Hall at the corners of High and Lewis streets pays tribute to a man who served his city long and well. ROSEVILLE THEATER SHOWINGS While events like this month’s Hitchcock Film Festival at the State Theater attest to the interest in Auburn’s venerable movie house, a new group in Roseville is starting to pick up the slack there by showing classic films. A little out of Media Life’s area, it’s worth a mention as an indicator of the buzz a Golden Age theater and a great piece of cinematic art can imbue. The Hitchcock festival sold out five of six films and the monthly film series at the State is also attracting good crowds. The Tower Theater in Downtown Roseville was first opened in 1939 and had a good run before closing its doors to movie-goers in 1982. It’s been used since then as a live, performing arts venue. That changes Friday night when Mystic Cinema, a venture spearheaded by Hector Marquez, owner of Live Media Entertainment, plays host to “Casablanca.” It’s the premiere for Mystic Cinema plans to offer three showings showcasing three different movies one day a month at the Tower Theater. “CASABLANCA” ON TAP “Casablanca” – one of the iconic movies of the 20th century – was chosen as a prestigious opener but Mystic Cinema will be inviting audiences to choose what they want in the future by voting on upcoming showings. The Tower will be in full party mode for Friday's grand opening, including a 1940s fashion show before curtain time. Complementary Moroccan tapas will be served and DJ Ariscotle will blend house beats with classic songs from the movie. Chocolate Fish Coffee – gotta love the name – will be blending coffee drinks. Marquez said he’s planning different restaurants, different movies and different coffees to help bring a little more culture to Roseville. The Tower/Mystic Cinema opening party starts at 7 p.m. at the 421 Vernon Street theater. Cover charge is $10. The movie starts soon after, we’re told. There will also be a 2 p.m. screening for $5. PLETHORA OF PICTURES Future Tower plans show perhaps a little lighter presentation than the State, which is showing classics like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (May 20), “American Graffiti” (June 17) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (July 15). Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” will be playing twice June 26 to make up for a distributor’s snafu. Mystic Cinema is planning a midnight showing May 15 of 1980s “The Goonies” in support of the Sierra College film program. “Ghostbusters” is another film that’s in the screening pipeline. One big difference between the State Theater and Mystic Cinema will be the delivery mode. The Auburn arts center group screens film with authentic 1950s 35 mm projectors and film stock while Roseville’s Tower uses DVDs. The equipment is top end, however, and supplied by high-end, home-theater experts Theater Xtreme of Roseville. If you’re willing to wait, and have a preference for celluloid, the State will be showing “Casablanca” Aug. 19. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at 530-852-0232 or