January 9, 2010

San Leandro's Best Theater

Best Theater ad

In 1973, the California History Center published "Saga of San Leandro," a 70-page history of San Leandro funded by the San Francisco Federal Savings and Loan Association [now part of Citibank] and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Citibank is one of the current occupants of the Best Building at 1300 E. 14th Street.

Below is an excerpt about the Best Theater, which was built by Daniel Best in 1911, and was located at what is now E. 14th St. just south of Estudillo Avenue. The excerpt was written by Terry Sinclair and appears on pages 46-48 of "Saga of San Leandro."

The Best Theater

Soon after the completion of the Best Building, on September 25, 1911, Daniel Best once again hired architect W. H. Weeks to draw specifications for Best's new theater. The new theater was to be built on his property on Hayward Avenue, which at the time was occupied by A. J. King. Work was to commence on the new theater building after Mr. King vacated the premises. This was to be the second movie theater in town which ran silent films." A theatrical syndicate conducting vaudeville and motion picture shows, to the accompaniment of a nickelodeon or an organ, took a lease on the new building for a term of years (not specified)." "Though he rented the theater, Daniel always paid the admission price to see the movies. It was operated in 1912 by Mr. Bridges, serving as manager; and reports claim that his son Lloyd Bridges, who later entered the acting profession, may have been a frequent visitor."

Normally, the number of reels shown per movie numbered between four and seven. In the earlier days of the theater, a different movie played each day of the week. By 1914, one movie or a small number of movies played each week. The heyday of the Best Theater was probably before the war, when the local residents could afford to be entertained.

Typical movies that appeared were:

"David Copperfield"
"Peg o' the Movies" (acclaimed at the time to be the greatest picture ever produced by Edison)
"Uncle Tom's Cabin"
"A Picture of Bull Fights"

In April of 1912, under the management of a Mr. Peterson, the Best Theater staged "Ybur the Great, Queen of Handcuffs." "Ybur" was acclaimed to be a "genius" in removing any set of handcuffs from her wrists, but she, also performed many other mysterious feats which reportedly kept the audiences guessing for weeks. "On July 19, 1913, Edison's first moving and talking picture was shown at the Best Theater. This was the first time this movie, or any of its type, had been shown in the state of California."

Daniel Best's Theater was also used for other purposes than showing movies. For instance, on May 4, 1912, there was a political rally in support of Teddy Roosevelt. The principle speakers were Medill McCormick, of Chicago and Senator John W. Stetson, of Oakland. "Mr. McCormick was one of the National managers for Col. Roosevelt. State Senator Stetson, was President of the California State Roosevelt League, and he had managed the campaign for the former President in California. Music and movies were featured along with the rally. Because of the limited space in the theater, at the time of the rally, only adults were admitted with no charge."

During the summer of 1914, along with the normal entertainment, the theater was the site of local benefits. Two known benefits were held, one for the San Leandro Junior Baseball team and another for the Boy Scouts. "The theater was also used for preliminary voting in local elections. How it worked was first a card of each candidate was flashed on the screen and the amount of applause each candidate received determined the voters favorite. This type of community action was often thought of as "lots of fun."

Added attractions, such as free gifts, often helped business at the Best Theater. One evening the theater advertised as ladies night, it was to give away six electric irons. A normal attraction, especially for children, was free ice cream. One movie, Jack London's "Valley of the Moon," was of exceptional interest to the people of San Leandro, since some of the scenes were shot near the eastern limits of the town."

The price of admission varied as to what movie was showing, but normally the cost was fifteen cents for reserved seats, ten cents for adults, and five cents for children. The Best theater had many managers in its day. After Mr. Bridges left the theater, F. Holliday took over the management in 1914. By 1915, a new man named Arvidson became manager. But no matter who managed the theater, the advertisements basically stayed the same. Normally when a new movie was to appear, the Reporter ran a complete description of the movie, including the number of scenes, the number of people in the movie, where the movie had played, and who staged the movie, including a brief outline of the text of the story.

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at January 9, 2010 6:03 PM | TrackBack
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