November 02, 2015

Photo Essay: The Many Lives of the Oldest Theater in Orange County (With the Newest Interior)

I had the chance to snoop around the Yost Theatre—the oldest theater in Orange County—thanks to a group of paranormal investigators. Except I didn't actually do the investigation.

It was my first event with Valley Investigators of the Paranormal, who I'd encountered during a flashlight tour of Pioneer Cemetery. I drove two hours from West LA to Santa Ana in rush hour traffic. I arrived just a few minutes after 6...

...,and was surprised to be greeted by no one out front... the box office...

....or in the lobby.

After calling out a meek "Hello?", I discovered a few other ghost hunters, but nobody who was in charge. They'd been waiting a while.

So I started snapping photos of the historic landmark.

The Yost was built as The Auditorium in 1912 for vaudeville shows and was renamed The Clunes later that year.

Theater impresario Ed Yost (not the hot air balloon guy) bought The Clunes and renamed it the Yost in 1919, transforming it into the "Vaudeville Capital" of Orange County. And with it, Yost became the first and foremost cinema mogul of Orange County.

"Fatty" Arbuckle performed here in 1917. In 1927, singer/songwriter Ernest Ball ("When Irish Eyes Are Smiling") died of heart failure in one of its dressing rooms.

Now, the Yost is better-known as a live music venue rather than a movie theater, though in the late 1970s, other musical acts like Sonny and Cher and Ike and Tina Turner also performed here.

The theater was closed to the public for 25 years until 2005, and then it was open only intermittently for occasional cultural performances and one-off events.

In 2009, a couple of guys with a couple of bucks took over the theater with the hopes of revitalizing both it and the area, which was once known as Fiesta Marketplace.

Locals cried out against gentrification and—worse yet—hipsterification.

To take a look inside it now, you can understand why. All the red curtains and black-painted walls and floors indicate a place that looks much better under very dim lighting.

In the 1950s, the theater became a Mexican cinema house run by the Luis Olivos family—one of the first Spanish-language cinemas in Orange County. Olivos lost the theater in 1984 when he defaulted on a loan, and the City of Santa Ana snapped it up.

Back then, it was reportedly pretty dilapidated, but where are the historic features of the theater now? Where are signs of its subsequent colorful, cultural influence? Everything has been painted black.

On the other hand, down in the basement, everything has been painted white. In its Cine Yost days, the basement walls were covered with posters of Latin America's top old movie stars. Not sure what happened to those, now that the walls are lined with bottles of liquor.

In the vaudeville days, the basement was a kind of drunk tank, its rooms used as makeshift holding cells for drunkards and other criminals. Maybe that's why the paranormal investigators think this is the most haunted area of the theater, though nothing more happened to me down there by myself other than a vague creepy feeling.

Is it a slap in the face that the Yost now hosts "Taco Tuesday," after its rich history as both a Mexican cinema and a Latin Pentecostal Church?


But this area of Santa Ana is pretty nice now, with the 4th Street Market food hall and the arthouse Frieda Cinema across the street.

Having gotten all my snaps inside and out while I was waiting for our lead investigator to arrive, I ended up leaving before the investigation actually began. And the only apparition I encountered was the ghost sign on the rear facade of the building...

...which advertises Santa Ana as "The City of Gold" (La Ciudad de Oro) and the Cine Yost as the home of "Cine Y Variedad."

Historic photo added 11/3/15

For now, anyway.

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Photo Essay: The Art Deco Theater Inside Academy Cathedral, Inglewood

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