by Anne Petersen
The History Center for San Luis Obispo County recently installed a new exhibit titled “Once Upon a Time in the West: a History of San Luis Obispo County” about the historic Obispo Theatre, a movie theater that opened in 1928 and was much beloved by the local community until it was lost in a fire in the mid-1970s.
In order to help furnish part of the recreated interior of the theater, Director and Curator Eva Ulz put a call out to area museums and historic sites inquiring about a loan of 1930s-era theater seats.
The timing was perfect for the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, as we had recently removed theatre seats which had been installed in the 1930s at the Alhecama Theatre and placed them in storage. During SBTHP’s restoration of the Alhecama, built in 1925 as the Pueblo Theatre to serve the Santa Barbara School of the Arts, we learned that the theater had originally been designed as a multipurpose space. As a result, we removed the later rake seating and restored the original hardwood floors.
We were thrilled at the opportunity to lend four of the seats to the History Center to help interpret a theatre in the region from a similar era. In late January of this year two members of the History Center’s exhibits committee made the trip down to pick up the seats, and Archaeologist Mike Imwalle gave them a tour of the Alhecama. In early March, SBTHP Board President Terease Chin and myself visited Eva Ulz at the History Center to see the Alhecama seats in the new Obispo Theater display.
SBTHP is proud of this great collaboration with the San Luis Obispo County History Center, and we encourage you to visit our friends there on your next trip north along the coast. We also hope you’ll join us at an event or program at the Alhecama Theatre, a beautifully restored historic resource in El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.
Anne Petersen is the executive director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.