As the restoration of the historic Lompoc Theatre continues to move forward, it is noteworthy to look back at the fascinating history of this building.
The Lompoc Theatre was built in 1927, a time of silent films, when grand organs played descriptive notes to signify verbal communication and physical action.
All that changed in 1929, with the installation of the Gennett Synchronizer for the “show house,” this being the first machine of its type to be installed on the Pacific Coast. It placed Lompoc in the lead and the theater soon began showing the first sound pictures in northern Santa Barbara County.
Owners of the theater, W.A. Calvert and a Mr. Baker, had decided on the Vitaphone type of talkies, and this was such an innovation that representatives from Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures and several other movie powers traveled from Los Angeles to Lompoc to give their unqualified approval, and declared the acoustics in the theater to be excellent.
Calvert, an ancestor of the well-known Calvert family who owned the theater for many years, traveled to Los Angeles and negotiated showings of drama, vaudeville and news events in talkies, to be shown at the Lompoc Theatre on a regular basis. The first talkie ever shown at the theater was “Weary River,” starring Richard Barthelmess in his talkie debut.
To commemorate the occasion, Eddie Cantor, a major stage celebrity of the time, and other stars appeared in person at the theater.
Imagine the excitement of witnessing the first talkie in the county on the screen of the Lompoc Theatre.
We can also look at the rich history of the MJB Coffee Why? building, which is attached to the Lompoc Theatre, and has been since the 1930s. This building was built in 1874 and was the Land Office for this part of Santa Barbara County. Every parcel of land that began the development of this area was sold out of this building. Being built of redwood, it has withstood the tests and tribulations of time, and is the oldest existing wooden structure in Santa Barbara County to this day.
Endless great films, concerts and celebrities have graced Lompoc Theatre, including Liberace, the Coasters, the Platters and many more.
Before the 101 freeway was built, Highway 1 was the main thoroughfare from south to north, bringing vibrant traffic and visitors through Lompoc. The Lompoc Theatre was a jewel in the crown of theaters all along the coast. With the advent of the 101, the main route of Highway 1 lost usage, and Lompoc lost patronage.
But we must remember, all of Lompoc Theatre’s history is not in its past. We are making history today, with the restoration and renovation of the theater and the adjoining street-front retail spaces. Within the next few months, there will be bustling businesses in these spaces. The theater itself has shown its first film since 1975, with “White Christmas” playing on the evening of the Christmas Parade, and we will be making history with the first wedding inside of the theater in 91 years this month.
Lompoc Theatre’s future is looking bright, and with the dedicated work of volunteers and generous donations, we are moving closer to the realization of a rebirth of the Grand Lompoc Movie Palace and Performing Arts Center that she once was.
Tours will be given monthly, and the public is welcome to walk through the theater, hear the stories, and get a glimpse of the future. Please go to www.lompoctheatre.org to learn more about our volunteer program, to donate, and to become a part of history.