Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

The Early Years of the Montrose Theater


I’ve written about the Montrose Theater briefly before but it’s such an icon of Montrose that it really deserves a deeper dive. For those new to our community (and by that I mean moved here in the last 40 years), the Montrose Theater was legendary in the history of the valley. It was located right on Honolulu Avenue, perfectly placed in the heart of the Montrose business district. It sat in what is now a parking lot on the south side of Honolulu next to today’s Anderson’s Pet Shop. The theater opened in 1924 and lasted all the way until 1987, when it burned down in the middle of the night. That’s why it’s a parking lot today.

Take a look at that parking lot now and it’s hard to imagine a 600-seat theater squeezed into that tiny space. But it was. I clearly remember how tight those seats were, with my knees jammed up hard against the seat in front of me. I remember the tiny snack bar on the east side of the tiny lobby and the tiny restrooms on the west side.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
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Let’s look at how the theater got its start way back in 1924, when Montrose was very small. Today, the shopping district of Montrose is marked by a spirit of cooperation among the merchants. Several years ago, they formed into a cooperative organization, the Montrose Shopping Park Association. The Montrose businesses all contribute money and effort into events that will bring business to the area, such as the Harvest Market and the car show. They cooperate for the common good.

That was true way back in the early ’20s. In 1924, several Montrose merchants got together, pooled their money and built a theater hoping that would bring more shoppers to the area. The Anawalt family (who still own Anawalt Lumber) was part of that group as was Theo Belanger, who owned the Montrose Pharmacy (Rocky Cola building). Mark Collins put money in. He was the biggest local home builder and developer and hoped the theater would bring more families to the valley. Steven Meyer owned the land it was built on, along with many other lots. The Meyer family (under a different name changed by marriage) still owns that lot and many of the buildings along Honolulu. They, and many other merchants, hoped that the theater would draw shoppers. “Build it and they will come.”

In the 1924 Glendale News Press, the new theater is described: “The building is of Spanish design with interior decorations in blue and orange tones. The stage and drop curtains are done in orange. The new theater has a seating capacity of 600. There is a large organ, and improved ventilating system. The screen accommodates a projection of 13×14 feet. There is a stage sufficiently deep enough to accommodate vaudeville programs.” The organ mentioned here would have been to accompany the silent movies that were initially shown.

From what I’ve seen in some old newspapers the theater did well. Not only did it bring more business to Montrose but it also made a profit for the investors. But tragedy temporarily stopped the theater’s run. I’ve found no supporting documentation, but several sources say in the late ’20s a man committed suicide in the restroom of the Montrose Theater. It was apparently closed for a while after that tragedy. It seems that after that, at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1931, the theater was sold to Bernard Meyer, a relative of the Meyer family, who owned the land the theater was on.

Bernard Meyer had moved here from Minnesota where he had been a car salesman and he knew nothing about theaters. But he wanted to live in California and this seemed a great opportunity. Fortunately for Bernard, his timing couldn’t have been better. The Great Depression ushered in a “golden age” of attendance in theaters. People desperately sought escape from the harsh realities of life and theaters were always packed.

Next week I’ll continue with the history of the Montrose Theater in its later years.