Sunday, March 8, 2009

Brian and the Saguaro

We have found many reasons to re-visit Wickenburg, northwest of Phoenix. The most recent was the chance to tour the Saguaro Theater.

The Saguaro was built in 1948 by Dwight Harkins, who had stopped in Tempe (AZ) on his way to Hollywood and a dream of a career in the "talkies." He could not afford to leave Tempe, so he sought out a new career dream operating a grand movie-house. In 1933, he opened the State Theatre in Tempe. It is speculated that at the time, he was the youngest movie theater operator in the world.

Touring with the owners of these restored theaters is a special experience. At the Saguaro, it was Brian who shared his enthusiasm for this 299-seat theater, which he purchased in 1995.

With the advent of larger screens, larger sound systems, and safety regulations, these old theaters often have to reduce the number of seats in the restoration process. As he pointed out the unusual old speakers behind the screen, Brian noted that there are about 100 fewer seats in the theater today.

The theater seats have been replaced twice since Brian began the restoration process.

The Saguaro shows movies seven nights a week alog with matinees on the weekend. During the annual Gold Rush Days, held in February, there is a play put on by members of the community.

Covering the walls were lengths of this turquoise pleated fabric. I'm not sure what the original wall covering was, but the ornate murals and decorative artwork present in theaters built in the 1920s were not characteristic of the theaters of this era (the 1940s).

In the lobby, Brian pointed out a portion of the wall with posters. They covered an opening in the wall of the original refreshment area. The interesting characteristic of the space was that sodas, popcorn, candy, and other items were sold to theatergoers in the lobby through this window and to pedestrians outside the theater out of a window opening to the sidewalk.

Brian, who also owns a theater in Payson (northeast of Phoenix), is another member of that unique group of people who are passionate about restoring these old theaters. Fortunately, there are people like him and the others we have met in our travels through towns that are learning that these theaters can aid in the revitalization of the downtown districts.

In the lobby is this photograph of the exterior of the Saguaro. Yes, that is a hat covering the corner (over the refreshment area) of the theater. I asked Brian if he had plans to recreate the "hat on the Saguaro." At this time, that was not high on the list of projects.

Now there is a fund-raising project I could get behind--Bring Back the Hat!

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