The year is 1920. Those of Eureka’s music loving public who admire vaudeville and motion pictures will soon have their desires gratified as the Hippodrome, Eureka’s new theatre, will open it’s doors soon. Eureka Mayor, Richard Sweasey is building it to offer vaudeville, motion pictures and musical comedy to downtown Eureka. The theatre will compare favorably with any theatre in San Francisco or LA.
The building, according to the plans being prepared by Architect Frank Georgeson, who is associated with Reid Bros, a well known architectural firm of San Francisco, will be 70 by 120 feet, built of reinforced concrete and fireproof material and will have the latest of heating apparatus. Interior decorators, artists, plasterers and painters are well on their way to giving Eureka a magnificent theatre. It will be equipped with a full stage, an orchestra pit and dressing rooms.
The theatre has been fitted with a massive pipe organ intended to add sound to silent films. The new release movies will be presented as part of a double bill with live stage shows of elaborately choreographed dance reviews or a mix of song, dance and comedy acts—variety shows known as Vaudeville.
This theatre should be so spectacular as to become essentially the opening act for the show on the stage or screen, and that together the building itself and the show will make an unforgettable experience.
So may the shows begin!
Loew’s State Theatre opened on December 16, 1920. With nothing left out; the evening hosted the best of dramatic art, coeval and instrumental music, aerial thrill producers and a picture bill consisting of the great romantic play: “The Branding Iron,” followed by the mirth-making comedy, “One Week” by an all-star cast.
From the moment a patron crossed the threshold, he was cut off from his ordinary world and made to feel special because he was now in an extraordinarily lavish setting where he was welcome. And from the grandeur of the ornate walls and crystal chandeliers that now surrounded him, he sensed the wonder of the performance he was about to enjoy.
Moving through the 20’s live vaudeville theatre was eventually replaced by talking movies, so in 1929 the Loew’s State Theatre was remodeled to accommodate talkies. The new RCA Photophone equipment, installed at a cost of $15,000 handles all types of sound pictures and gives a lifelike reproduction of music and speech. The synchronization of the sound and picture is perfect; words spoken by the characters seemingly coming directly out of their lips, not from other parts of the house. The feature sound picture presented at the Grand Re-opening Friday, April 5, 1929 was “The Leatherneck.” The theatre continued to be a focal point of the community.
Just shortly after this grand debut an explosion of a boiler caused a fire that swept through the State theatre, leaving behind a huge financial loss and blackened building. Within an hours time the most beautiful show house in Northern California had been reduced to a charred mass of ruins.
The loss was estimated at approximately $90,000.
This fire, however was not to be the end of the State Theatre. In the same year they were quick to report that the theatre would be repaired. Fortunately the management behind the theatre was determined to make sure the patrons would not be deprived of this entertainment and in barely no time at all, the theatre was up and operating again.
So, beginning in the 30’s and moving through to the 1940’s the theatre would come to be known as a “first run” house, showing the newest pictures at practically the same time they were released in San Francisco.
Films such as; The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Walt Disney’s Fantasia and All the King’s Men.
And then….., on June 12, 1943 another fire tries to take down the State Theatre. Again this blaze caused a costly aftermath, but this time the main cause of damage was not actually the fire, but the water used to extinguish it.
Again, the State Theatre would not allow a fire to dampen the desire to bring motion pictures to the North Coast and in this beautiful building. So the show went on because they completely restored and redecorated the theatre and re-opened just a few short months later with yet another “first run” picture.
That’s the life of the theatre. It started with vaudeville, moved to silent movies, then talkies and onto “first run” pictures and all the way through the 70’s it operated as a top notch place for the citizens of Eureka.
In 1973 Loew’s State Theatre closed it’s doors and it was purchased by Daly’s department store and that is what the theatre was used for over the next 20+ years.
Then in 1995 Daly’s department store closed it’s doors and it was a vacant building for the three years. In 1998 Humboldt State University purchased the theatre to use it as a venue for the Performing Arts. The university, however, never made it there and in 2003 sold it to Rob and Cherie Arkley. Rob and Cherie Arkley purchased the building to help revitalize the downtown Eureka area and to bring top notch entertainment to Humboldt County while providing a center stage for the community.
In 2003, Rob and Cherie hired Kramer Properties to begin the restoration.
Rehabilitation of the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts, previously known as the State theatre, began in July 2003. The exterior was the first phase of the project. Contractor Kurt Kramer of Kramer Properties, Inc. had the goal of maintaining the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture while preserving what historical elements remained. The façade was given a fresh coat of stucco and paint, missing windows were re-installed and missing elements such as the two shields were recreated from old photographs. The Churriguerseque panels had to be repaired and many sections rebuilt. An entirely new marquee was built using original photos as a guide. The signature three flagpoles were also replaced. The exterior was completed in June 2005.
Interior rehabilitation began with the removal of the temporary floor and suspended ceiling installed when the theatre was converted to a department store. Once these were removed the raked floor, stage, orchestra pit and the carved proscenium arch were revealed. A plan was then formulated and the real work began. The goal, once again, was to maintain the Spanish Colonial Revival theme and retain as many historical elements as possible while creating a ‘state of the art’ performing arts venue.
The interior work began with re-raking the auditorium floor and the extension of the original lobby floor. Missing stairwells have been built; the orchestra pit cleaned and repaired; the basement floor has been dug out, lowered and new concrete floors installed; removal of a steep ramp on the mezzanine was replaced with stairs; and the repair of interior plaster trim and walls. Local painter and plasterer, Peter Santino, has recreated the organ lofts from old photos and has almost completed the interior plaster repair and painting.
The basement was transformed into a downstairs lobby and reception area with a catering kitchen and restrooms. The basement also consists of dressing rooms, a green room and storage. The last phase included tile, carpet, chandeliers, seating and completion of the concessions areas. The most complex and technical jobs were the on-stage rigging, stage lighting and the sound system.
The entire project was completed by February 2007. On February 12th 2007 the Arkley Center held is Grand Opening with acclaimed performer Kenny Rogers.