Empire Theatre

432 Main Street,
Placerville, CA 95667

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Showing 1 - 25 of 36 comments

paulnelson on March 5, 2015 at 6:10 pm

I saw that film too. Lots of fun. Must have been great on the big screen. Quite the satire on silly action pics.

Rootieboy on March 5, 2015 at 2:35 pm

The last movie I saw at the Empire Theater was “Last Action Hero” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 1993. I was 11 years old.

Mikeyisirish on April 27, 2014 at 6:45 pm

An April 2014 photo can be seen here.

rainestorm on October 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Thanks, Joe! That’s good information and I’ll check out that Google Book.

Mike, I probably should have been more clear. Yes, of course it’s a different building. I assumed from the photo that the Empire Theatre, in one form or another, had always been with the town.

Thanks to you both!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 24, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County California, published in 1883, (Google Books scan) says that Placerville’s first Empire Theatre was opened after the Placer Theatre, which opened in 1852, and both houses were destroyed by the Placerville fire of 1856. After the fire The Empire Theatre was replaced by the Placerville Theatre. I’ve been unable to trace the later history of the Placerville Theatre, though it was apparently still around in 1883 when the book was published.

The Empire building in the 1849 photo might have been the building that became the Empire Theatre. It was most likely a saloon or dance hall, and saloons and dance halls were sometimes converted into theaters during the gold rush period, as towns grew and became more prosperous and the miners and merchants began seeking more elaborate entertainment.

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on October 24, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Rainestorm, Yes of course, but that 1849 theater is not the building on Main Street today. There was another Empire Theater between the one pictured in the 1849 photo and the opening of the current building in 1930 as well—very fancy and equal to the fine San Francisco theaters of the day. It burned in one of the many town fires. When the Elite Theatre burned down in March of 1929, I suppose the folks involved thought they should return to the name “Empire” as a way of retaining some past history when a new theater was built.

rainestorm on October 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Hi, Michael. I was actually referring to the photo that I pasted the link for. Here’s one that’s dated 1849.


So it has to be as old as Placerville itself.

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on October 20, 2012 at 6:20 am

Dear Rainestorm, The reason the picture seems older than 1929 is probably due to the costumed parade participants. I assume a “Wagon Train Days” parade is in progress. The structure under the marquee is a built up “set” as part of the theme of the festival celebration. In another picture taken a year or two later you can see the same marquee without the set beneath it and the cars of the period parked along the street. The Empire was built new in 1929 because of a fire of the Elite Theatre that was down the street closer to the Bell Tower, robbing the town of its entertainment venue. Actually the Empire opened in the fall of 1930 with the film GOOD NEWS.

rainestorm on October 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm

I worked there during its conversion from a single screen to a twin screen. This was in the early summer of 1988. It was nothing short of butchery.

I’m surprised to hear that the theatre was built in the 1929. The following picture makes it seem as if it was there at least in the mid to late 19th century.


DeFragg on October 5, 2012 at 7:42 pm

yep- Cinema 4 has a familiar ring to it… I remember since they both belonged to the same company, we were able to go to movies at both for free. If there was room… lol

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on October 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

Dear DeFragg, I remember the split double screen era of the Empire. Horrid. The Empire was built new in 1929 and opened in 1930 on the site of a hotel. It was built after the Elite Theater burned down. The Elite was down the street a bit, closer to the Bell Tower. The El Dorado Theater was short lived in the 1930s and couldn’t compete with the Empire, which changed its first run program of films 3 times a week. The Placerville Cinema 4 had 4 screens and basically killed the Empire as a single screen theater. The Empire ran live shows during the 1980s before the twin movie idea happened. I tap danced on the Empire stage in a show called “Berta’s Here!” in 1986. See story about the opening of the Empire and burning of the Elite: http://mainstreetstories.blogspot.com/2012/09/when-elite-burned-down.html

DeFragg on October 3, 2012 at 9:04 am

Perhaps the El Dorado Theater became the Theater El Dorado group that held the tradition of stage plays at the fairgrounds..?

DeFragg on October 3, 2012 at 9:01 am

I worked at the Empire Theater in the 1990’s. It was split down the middle, making two smallish theaters and two screens. The old green room area behind the screens were used for inventory as well as storage of many old theater props from the pre-cinema era. The boiler in the basement suggested the place was built before the 1920’s, but it’s hard to tell for sure. It was cozy, it had the old-building smell, but you could not spend time in there without feeling connected to a rich and romantic history. Supposedly there was a ghost of a man in a tall hat, too, but I can’t say I saw him myself. It was owned or ran then by Redwood Theaters Inc. out of Jackson, CA, as was the old Placerville Theater at the top of the hill near a grocery store strip mall. P-ville had about 6 screens, and was more popular because of it… When the huge theater in Folsom was built, we all felt it in Placerville…

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on September 18, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Mystery solved. The address of the El Dorado Theatre is 469 Main Street. Current resident is Arian’s Supply Sergeant. I received this information from the El Dorado Historical Society:
In answer to your mystery question – Yes, there was an El Dorado Theater located in the Upper Fairchild Building (now the Supply Sergeant). It opened under Ruth Knacke’s management in April, 1936. The theater was located on the lower floor of the building, large enough to accommodate 500 seats. Ruth Knacke, who owned the Empire Theater bought the El Dorado in order to prevent further competition with her theater. If you would like any additional information feel free to contact us.

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on June 20, 2009 at 9:10 am

I am going to be in Placerville in August. Maybe for fun I’ll hunt around for the final answer to this El Dorado Theatre location question.

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on June 20, 2009 at 9:07 am

The Fairchild Building is across the street from the Empire Theatre building. Here is a link to a contemporary picture. The building, since the beginning, was prominently labeled “Fairchild” and still is.

View link

Having grown up in Placerville, I never knew of an “Upper Fairchild Building” though the Fairchilds might have owned another building that was referred to as that, but the Empire Theatre Building was always referred to as the Empire Building. There was, in the Empire Building, the Fairchild’s Pharmacy, which might be the confusion. The Fairchild’s Pharmacy was later occupied by Robbinson’s Drugs until they moved down the street a block.

The picture that Joe Vogel references of the Empire Theatre Building was built in 1931, so the caption information, which comes from a CSUS archive, is not correct. I am guessing that the use of “Upper Fairchild Building” might be a description, rather than a name that was ever used.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 19, 2009 at 12:44 am

It’s good to know the El Dorado did exist, but the news of its location brings new confusion. Here’s a photo of the Fairchild Building with the antique emporium that occupies the Empire Theatre’s space. The caption says it’s a twin of the Upper Fairchild Building, which is the building the El Dorado was in according to the first of those articles.

But where is (or was) the Upper Fairchild Building? Is it just the other half of the Fairchild Building, meaning the theaters would have been practically next door to each other? Does anybody know?

kencmcintyre on June 18, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Regarding the El Dorado, these are from the local paper in 1936, 1937 and 1940, respectively:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 28, 2009 at 10:40 pm

I’ve never seen any mention of an El Dorado Theatre in Placerville anywhere other than that one Boxoffice item, myself. It’s possible the El Dorado was not in Placerville itself, but in one of the smaller, unincorporated towns in El Dorado County.

Boxoffice sometimes gave the name of the nearest big town when a theater was actually in an outlying area. This was especially likely when two theaters were under the same owner. In any case, if the place never reopened after 1938, there’d be very few people around to recall it. Also, if it had only 300 seats (which might even have been an exaggerated number) it might have been only a nickelodeon-type storefront theater, not easily spotted in photos.

If it existed anywhere in El Dorado County, though, there should be ads for it in issues of the local newspaper from that period. And if it lasted more than briefly, it ought to appear in one or another issue of Film Daily Yearbook, too.

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on April 28, 2009 at 5:45 pm

…and I spoke too soon about there not being an El Dorado Theater, I’m sure there may have been, but there isn’t any history on it that I ever came by except for the mention from Joe Vogel and Boxoffice Magazine above. Maybe it was a short lived operation.

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on April 28, 2009 at 5:30 pm

A link to a pic of the Empire:
View link

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on April 28, 2009 at 9:37 am

There was an El Dorado Drive-In on the edge of town, but I never knew of a regular sit down movie house called the El Dorado, nor has anyone I ever knew in Placerville ever mentioned it, nor does it appear in photographs of the town of which I have poured over in the past. As far as any history of Placerville known, I don’t believe there was ever another theater other than the Empire, which dates back to the beginning of the town and was first a canvas roof structure seen in very old photos of the town. Every time it burned down and was rebuilt or even moved to another address, it was always named The Empire.

Michael D. Jackson
Michael D. Jackson on April 28, 2009 at 9:29 am

I’m not sure when the management renovated it as I knew it in the 1970s, but it had a late ‘60s/ early '70s decor of orange, red and gold curtains lining the walls and a gold curtain that opened and closed over the screen. The carpets were red with a pattern befitting a movie theater and I think the lobby actually had fake wood paneling on some of the walls.