gmhTODAY 04 gmhToday Sep Oct 2015 - Page 84

Written By Mike Monroe Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow … The Granada and The Strand Written By Mike Monroe “It may seem nostalgic to picture small town U.S.A (imagine Gilroy or Morgan Hill) in the 1920’s - when the place to be on a Saturday evening was at the local theater. After the chores were done around the house or ranch or on a hot summertime afternoon, young people needed a place to go to get away for a while and be with their friends. You could purchase a movie ticket and a soda or snack for less than two bits (50¢). Besides, their parents needed a break, too. The same held true for adults - socializing once in a while, free for a few hours from the rigors of home and farm, and being entertained by the antics of Charlie Chaplain or a swashbuckling performance by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. made for a most pleasant outing. In Gilroy, the inspiration for a place to hold social and cultural events began in earnest during the late 1800’s — 1874 to be precise. Citizens of the emerging tiny town of Gilroy formed a corporation with shares sold to construct a multi-purpose building for dances, theatrical performances, lectures and even indoor sporting events like basketball games. Over the main entrance was emblazoned “Theatre,” but more often it was called the “Music Hall” or “Gilroy Opera House.” It was located on Fifth Street between Monterey and Eigleberry Street. From photos and text by Claudia Salewske (Images of America series), the playhouse could accommodate an audience of 750, with a stage, a dressing room area and a balcony. Over the years, vaudeville touring acts, political rallies, and traveling choirs, bands and performances of all kinds appeared on the playhouse stage. On December 3, 1921 a more modern civic auditorium was built on Monterey Street with the intention of serving both as a meeting hall for fraternal organizations as well as a space for hometown entertainment. The Reid Bros. were the architects and the contractor was William Radtke. There were four large dressing rooms on the stage level for the star performers and a basement with accommodations for other cast members and props. It was called the Strand Theater - “a monument to the progressive spirit of the citizens of Gilroy,” boasted a promotional piece. The inaugural program called the Strand “a palace of amusement” plus it was a much more fire-safe facility than the old Music Hall. The Strand had a formal orchestra pit with a 2 manual, 5 rank Robert Morton pipe organ played by Harry Bannister that cost $15,000 - quite a sum at the time. Mr. Bannister was one of the premiere musicians of Gilroy. He played at the Strand for years accompanying silent movies and giving recitals. In a small doorway next to the Strand was a sandwich shop called Schilling’s that had an ice cream fountain that delighted both young and old patrons. Over time, the vaudeville performances faded away and the Strand became a fulltime movie house with a marquee and box office. The Strand finally closed in 1980 and was subsequently fully remodeled for the retail trade. The space has been used for different events over the past few years including the Miss Gavilan Hills Beauty Pageant. I can imagine during World War II, the newsreel footage from Europe being played on the big screen at the Strand and how vital the theater was to the life of the community. The Granada Theater has played a similar role in Morgan Hill since 1923. It was in April of that year that the “Old Granada” opened. Chester Miller was the architect and the building was situated across the street from the Skeels Hotel, today’s Ladera Grille, and would have been a former next door neighbor of today’s Rosy’s at the Beach Restaurant. In 1949, the “Old Granada” was destroyed by fire and from its ashes arose in 1951 a “New Granada” which was constructed one block north of the previous location. According to the late Ed Eanderson, who worked both at the “Old Granada” and later managed and then owned the “New Granada”, it was on June 22, 1951 that the new theater opened it doors next to the Votaw Building. The “New Granada” was originally a single-screen cinema with 650 seats. It had a full stage and was sometimes utilized as a live theater playhouse or for church meetings. The ticket booth was at first located next to the sidewalk but a speeding truck plowed into it many years ago so the rebuilt ticket office was relocated inside. In 1980, the theater was “twinned” with two movie screens. I remember going out for dinner and a show many evenings with my wife when we first moved to South County in 1987. The Granada fell upon some lean times in the late 1990’s but Mr. Eanderson was always hopeful that before his retirement he would be able to upgrade the property and keep it running as an independent movie house. Unable to lease out the theater to a new operator, the Granada was closed in 2003 and sold to a developer in 2005. Eventually, the Granada was purchased in 2008 by the Morgan Hill Economic Development Corporation (formerly the RDA and then the EDC). In 2012, the EDC allowed the Downtown Association and the Poppy Jasper Film Festival to temporarily access to the Granada for community events and has continued to do so for the past couple of years. Volunteers were recruited and they went right to work cleaning the up the interior and performing minor repairs. The EDC plans, which are still on the books, call for a complete renovation of the theater property with mixed-use retail or dining on the ground floor and offices or residential units on the second 84 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2015 Written By Mike Monroe Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow … The Granada and The Strand “It may seem nostalgic to picture small town U.S.A (imagine Gilroy or Morgan Hill) in the 1920’s - when the place to be on a Saturday evening was at the local theater. 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