Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another Theatre Saved

On November 1, 1928, El Campanil Theatre opened its doors to the City of Antioch (CA) and the Diablo Valley.

At the time it was referred to in news reports as “the most pretentious building in Contra Costa County.” Built, owned and operated by Ferdinand Stamm and Ralph Beede, El Campanil (the tower of bells) is Spanish in both name and architecture (Moorish style).

As with many theatres of the era, El Campanil originally offered seating for approximately 1,100, as well as a limited stage and “back of the house” areas to support vaudeville entertainment. El Campanil was also a single screen cinema with what was state-of-the-art projection capabilities in 1928.

Over the years it became a movie palace and later a church. It was shuttered for a number of years before the El Campanil Preservation Foundation purchased the facility in 2003 and restored it to its original grandeur.

Located in the heart of downtown Antioch, along the waterfront in what is now known as the Rivertown Business District, El Campanil seemed to us to be major force in the revitalization of downtown Antioch.

As is often the case, bringing an old theatre back to life is the vision and dream of one or two persons. In this theatre's case, those persons were Rick Carraher and Nordyn Anderson.

Rick Carraher, the current manager and executive director, has lived in Antioch for over 33 years. When he and his wife Janis opened their restaurant, Rick's on Second in 1986, the El Campanil Theatre, across the street from the restaurant, was still showing movies.

In July, 2003 the El Campanil Theatre Preservation Foundation purchased the Theatre that had been owned and operated by the Stamm family for 75 Years. A small group of local citizens, including representatives of the Rivertown Business District Association, began the process of converting the building to a community performing arts venue.

The first phase of the proposed four to five million dollar project included restoring the historic mural on the wall above the stage.

On July 4, 2004 the first phase of the rehabilitation was complete and the doors once again opened to the public.

El Campanil Theatre presents a wide variety of entertainment opportunities including classic films, live theatre, concerts, symphony, ballet, comedy and is host to numerous local dance and community based organizations.

My (Chuck) aunt Phyllis, uncle Hank, and cousin Barbara had taken us to lunch at Rick's on Second (more tomorrow), where Phyllis and Hank are regulars. After lunch, Hank checked to see if Rick was in the theatre. He was.

Rick was kind enough to take time out of his day to provide us with a tour of the theater.

He was honored with the Outstanding Contribution to the Performing Arts Award earlier this year. The award cited his accomplishments that included promoting businesses in Antioch’s downtown Rivertown District, including leading the successful effort to restore and reopen the El Campanil.

Recently, El Campanil was selected as Antioch’s small business of the year.

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