1520 Solano Avenue,
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Previously operated by: Syufy Enterprises
Architects: Vincent G. Raney
Functions: Martial Arts School
Styles: Streamline Moderne
Opened on June 5, 1941 with 695-seats. The Rita Theatre was the first theatre in what would become the Syufy Enterprises chain. It was later expanded to 912-seats. It was damaged by fire in 1947 and never reopened. It was converted into the Rita Car Wash. By 2019 it was in use as a martial arts training center.
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Recent comments (view all 15 comments)
I was born in Vallejo,Ca. 2/6/37
I mowed lawns for $0.25 in Carquinez Hights in the late 40's
Saved all my money & went to all most all of the theaters in Vallejo on the week end.
Does anyone remember the name of the theater out on Sonoma Blvd at that time.
I grew up in Valljeo from 1947 to 1965. I have read and heard various stories about the number of indoor movie theaters that once flourished, many of them 24 hours a day during and after World War II, and those sotries indicate either nine or 10 theaters open and operating at the same time.
And that’s not counting drive-in theaters.
The Vallejo Auto Movies, with separate screens, parking areas and box offices for two theaters. Located at the intersection of Benicia Road and Rollingwood Drive/Glen Cove Road, adjacent to four cemeteries, Carquinez, St. Veincent’s, All Souls, and Skyview Memorial Lawn, the Vallejo Auto Movies closed around 1992. After more than 10 years of neglect and decay, the site was demolished around 2003.
The Crescent Drive-In opened in 1948 on Flosden Road near American Canyon Road and was eventually purchased by United Artists. It was demolished a few years ago and became part of the housing subdivision of American Canyon.
Of the indoor theaters that I can (barely) remember, I think that there was a movie house on Sonoma Boulevard near the California National Gaurd Armory at Chesnet Street (Theater No. 1). It was possibly called the Chesnut (?). There was another theater on Sonoma Boulevard (Theater No. 2), near Kentucky Street, on the northeast corner of the intersection, but I have no recollection of a name for that venue.
The original Empress opened in 1911 (Theater No. 3), at its present location of 338 Virginia Street. In 1912 it became the Republic, in the 1930s it wss the Vallejo, and in 1951 it was renamed the Crest. It reopened in the 1980s once again as the Empress. In 1989, following the Loma Prieta earthquake, the theater closed in need of seismic refitting.
The Empress now has a web-site which indicates that the theater is once again open for business.
Across the street from the Crest (300 blcok of Virginia Street), were two movie house, the Crown (Theater No. 4) and the Rio (Theater No. 5). Most of that lot eventuallay became a downtown parking lot.
One block east (400 block of Virgina) was the Hanlon (Theater No. 6 – I think). One block south on Georgia Street were two theaters, neither of which has a name in my memory. On the 300 block of Georgia was a theater (theater No. 7) that became the Gallenkamp’s hoe store, and at the foot of the lower Georgia Street hill (200 block of Georgia) was another movie house (Theater No. 8) that was demolished before the start of the major downtown renovation project of the 1960s that produced the new post office and the John F. Kennedy Library.
The last indoor theater to survive—and may still be in opeation—before the advent of the multi-plex theaters in the shopping centers, was the El Rey (Theater No. 9) located near the intersection of Tennessee Street and Broadway.
The Rita (Theater No. 10) was located at Georgia Street and Solano Avenue, near the Municipal Courthouse. It became Taylor Auto Sales, Porsche and Audi in the 1970s.
And there may be more of which I have no knowledge or suspicion.
There were three theaters on Georgia St. One was the Val-Mar. Another the Rita
On Virgina St were the Rio, MarVal, Hanlon, something that became the Crest.
There was the Studio on Sonoma St with folding chairs for seats.
There was the Victory theater on 5th St in South Vallejo.
The El Rey was on Tennessee St.
There were two theaters called the Rita in Vallejo. The first was the one taken over by Ray Syufy and his father, William Syufy, in 1940, and was their first theater. The second Rita was the one Syufy had built in 1948. I’ve been unable to find out what became of the first Rita Theatre.
I’ve had to reconsider my assumption that there were two theaters called the Rita in Vallejo. It now seems more likely that the theater project from 1948 was the house that Rita operator Ray Syufy opened in 1949 as the El Rey.
The card in the California Index which was my source cited the 1948-1949 Theatre Catalog, listing an illustration of Vincent Raney’s plans for the Rita Theatre at Vallejo on pages 114-115. If somebody has that edition of the catalog, they could check the illustration and see if it looks like the Rita or the El Rey.
A Rita Theatre was in operation in 1940, and I’ve found no sources saying that the name was moved to a new theater at any time. Judging from the photos ken mc linked to, the Rita certainly looked as though it could have been built as early as 1940.
I haven’t found any sources identifying Vincent Raney as the architect of the Rita (other than the Theater Catalog I now suspect was actually reporting on the El Rey,) but the building looks like his style, and he definitely designed theaters for Syufy Enterprises through most of the second half of the 20th century, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he had designed Syufy’s first theater.
The Rita Theatre was definitely designed by Vincent G. Raney. The entry for architect Tristan Parego Smith in the 1956 edition of the AIA’s
American Architects Directory lists the Rita Theatre as one of several projects on which Smith served as a participating associate while he was working in Raney’s office.
Let’s not forget the AMC Theater on Sonoma Blvd when Larwin Plaza was renovated and became Vallejo Plaza, and the Cinedome 8 that was located on Admiral Callahan Lane, where Kohls now sit. It was built by the Syufy family to replace the old El Rey-Cine 21-Cine 3, which became a bargain theater for a while, before closing when the AMC opened. Also the 16 screen multi-plex on Plaza Dr, which now serves Vallejo.
http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/united-states/california/vallejo I guess the above link says it all.
OK, Directly across from the Crest were the Rio and the MarVal (Crown). My friends Bobby and Arnold Bel were the sons of the manager of the MarVal and I got in free. The MarVal was a Fox theatre. Empress was previously: Republic, Vallejo, Senator and Crest My Mother was an usher at the Senator and I got in free.
If you drew a perpendicular to Virgina St at the Crest it would cross Georgia St at a point where there was the Fox Strand
The ValMar was down closer to the water on Georia St. in what was the “red-light' district. Vallejo could not clean up this district so it took a bulldozer to the entire waterfront area for several blocks. There went the ValMar.
Another friends father owned Neils Liquors but I didn’t get any liquor.
My uncle owned Lakeside Dairy.
My Grandmother lived on the corned of Florida and Alameda and shared the intersection with a Jimmey Richlieu’s Shell Station, Georgias Quick Lunch, and Ellis Creamery.
The advertisement from the Vallejo Times Hearld about the Rita Theatre, the article appears on 11/30/1940 but the Grand Opening wasn’t until 6/5/1941. The address shown was Solano at Georgia Central. There was only 1 Rita Theatre in Vallejo, the only discrepancy is the number of seating’s from 695 to 912. Because the theatre is so close to I-40 and the dates match. The open date of 1948 is probably when it closed due to a small fire. The building reopened later as a drive in car wash, called the Rita Car Wash(see advertisement of Rita theatre in photos).
Also, (see article of Raymond Syufy – Times newspaper San Mateo, 1966) – mentions that Ray Syufy took over the Rita Theatre in Vallejo because the previous owner at the time could not get supplies to finish building because of WWII)
Syufy’s first theatre is called the Rita. – Below is a timeline of Vallejo theaters that Raymond Syufy had owned:
Rita – Opened in 1941 at 1520 Solano Ave. 1 screen (originally 695 seats) then add to 912 seats, it had fire damage in 1947, it turned into the Rita Car Wash.
Victory – Open 1942, 909 Sonoma Blvd and Chestnut, 1 screen, 700 seats.
El Rey – Opened in the summer of 1949, located at 910 Tennessee St., 1 screen later 3 screens, 575 seats. Later it was renamed Cine 21 in 1968 then Cine 3 in June of 1980.
Crest – Built 1911 the Empress renamed the Senator,took over by Syufy 1952 and rename the Crest. 1 screen, 500 seats sold off to the Elliot family.
Syufy Enterprise: In 1948 went against the motion picture industry to help break the monopoly power they (Paramount, MGM, Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox) held over the exhibitors of the films they produced and they won! The Big Five, as these producers came to be known, were fully integrated across all three vertical stages—production, distribution, and exhibition. The very small exhibitors who was instrumental in helping the district courts, and later the Supreme Court, break this monopoly was Ray Syufy. The Big Five were ordered by the Supreme Court to divest themselves vertically of all holdings (first-run theaters) and relinquish their control of the first-run exhibition market. (later on, ala Century Theatres – the saga goes on)…
Hey RussellW – I have a glass milk bottle from the Lakeside Dairy in Vallejo, CA stamped 1-11-14. I saw your uncle owned it – would this be something you are interested in acquiring? You can contact me at and I can get you a picture of it