George Mann of Redwood Theaters Incorporated was the theater tycoon responsible for the 1937 construction of the Arcata Theater. West Coast theater designer, William B. David was commissioned as architect. David designed the Arcata, Eureka and Fortuna Theaters as well as the Cerrito Theater in El Cerrito, California.
By 1927, Humboldt County’s moving pictures business was controlled by George Mann, whose chain of picture shows included Arcata’s Minor Theatre. Confidant in the town’s future and its desire for a modern theatre, he built a “luxurious new show house” on the Brizzard block in 1937. Variously reported as costing from $40,000 to $60,000, the Arcata Theatre opened on February 5th , 1938 with “Thin Ice” touted as the “picture you’ve all been waiting for” starring Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power. Within a year, the theater was offering six movies a week with added attractions including cartoons like Popeye and Betty Boop, as well as news, sports and varieties with each film.
The Arcata Theatre is a striking combination of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture. This structure incorporates the geometric Art Deco design with the sweeping curved style of the Art Moderne; a frequent combination in 1930′s theater design. The marquee features neon lighting and is a focal point in the city’s skyline. In the original blue print designs, the neon marquee was nearly twice as tall as it was eventually built.
“Best advertising for the town is George Mann’s new sign on the G Street Theater which emblazons to the world at large that south bound tourists are now entering Arcata”. (Arcata Union, Jan. 28, 1938)
The auditorium of the theater was originally decorated in a simplified Art Deco tradition with geometric light fixtures, and a wondrous mural design of mermaids surfacing from the sea as legendary Selkies who had transformed themselves into voluptuous human form. The cumulus clouds and fanciful sea garden depicted life above and below the ocean. Geometric border designs edged the ceiling on two sides from front to back as well as around the back and center walls. The center wall featured a row of 10 circular windows where one could peek into the auditorium from the lobby.
In 1948 the theater was expanded an additional 30 feet to the east to allow for greater seating capacity. The length of the auditorium was increased by a third to accommodate a total of 900 seats. The original proscenium and screen was removed and replaced by a new, cinemascope screen that was larger. Acoustical plaster resurfaced the entire ceiling and a significant portion of the walls, thereby covering the Art Deco border designs and mural. New lighting fixtures, carpeting, seats with air cushions, as well as heating were installed to provide greater comfort. The current owners recently discovered eight of these circular windows. They had been protected with paper and covered over with plaster during the 1948 remodel.
Past Businesses and owners:
A number of businesses occupied the two small storefronts in the Arcata Theater Building. What is now Smugs Pizza was first the Varsity Sweet Shop in 1938. In 1945 it became a watch repair business that was replaced by a jewelry store in 1948, the Clarke Employment Agency in 1954, and around 1979 became Our Gangs Ice Cream Shop.
What is now Blue Grass Barber was in 1939 a beauty parlor. In 1945 it became a realtors office, than in 1955 a public accountant office. In 1963 Stan’s Barbershop occupied the space.
In 1982 Richard Mann of Redwood Theaters sold the property to David Phillips who continued to operate the theater as a movie house. The theater was sold in 2000 to Robert White. The present owners bought the Arcata Theater in May of 2004.