Fine Arts Theater

429 S. California Avenue,
Palo Alto, CA 94306

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Renaissance Rialto

Architects: Gale Santocono

Functions: Retail

Styles: Mission Revival, Streamline Moderne

Previous Names: Mayfield Theater, Cardinal Theater

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Fine Arts Theater

Originally named for a small community, Mayfield, which was later annexed to Palo Alto. The Mayfield Theater was originally a simple Spanish Mission style structure, but was given a plain Moderne style façade and marquee in 1951. It was still listed as the Mayfield Theater in the 1957 edition of Film Daily Yearbook. Following renovations in spring of 1951 it was renamed Cardinal Theater. The last chain to operate it was Renaissance Rialto as the Fine Arts Theater.

Closed in the late-1980’s, the building is now an oriental rug gallery, though conversion back to a theater would be relatively easy. The marquee still reads Fine Arts in neon, and the original façade still exists in part behind the 1950’s era fascia.

Contributed by Gary Parks

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

Mikeyisirish on June 27, 2012 at 10:12 am

A 2010 photo can be seen here.

Logan5 on October 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm

The Fine Arts theatre appeared briefly in the Walt Disney Productions film “Escape To Witch Mountain” (1975).

GaryParks on February 27, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Last year, I got a quick tour from the lady who owns the running gear store and cafe which operate in the former theatre. There is very little to see, theatrically, in the former auditorium, which is almost totally given over to retail area. Some textured stucco walls and simple pilasters clearly date to the movie era, as do several cast plaster bowl-shaped light fixtures. Backstage, there has been very little change over the years. The wooden stage surface is still there, and for the most part, the walls have never been repainted. The proscenium is walled-off from the rest of the building. The owner told me that the neon letters on the marquee are still operational.

GaryParks on February 27, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Interesting to see that Gale Santocono did the work on the theatre’s remodel in the 50s. He also did the decorative work in the Seavue Theatre, Pacifica, and the Varsity, in Davis. Early in his career, he did muralwork for the San Francisco Fox.

cjval52 on April 16, 2014 at 2:52 pm

My father managed the Park and Guild theaters in Menlo Park, the Altos in Los Altos and the Find Arts in Palo Alto in the 1960’s when the theaters were owned by Roy Cooper, Westside valley Theaters. I do not think Mr. Borg was in the picture after 1960, unless there was a lease rather than a purchase.

arbcdavid on May 22, 2016 at 5:52 pm

My father who just recently passed away was the projectionest at the Fine Arts during the early eighties. Edie was the manager at the time. I have many fond memories of sitting in the booth watching my father run the projectors. I learned a lot from him about old carbon arc projectors and the change over signal in the upper right hand corner of a movie. I will always have a warm place in my heart for the Fine Arts and secretly wish the old girl will become a theater again. RIP dad and thank you for the experience at the Fine Arts.

cain1950s on June 1, 2016 at 12:20 pm

This was the Cardinal Theater when I first went in the 1950s. I don’t remember it ever as the California. I think it changed from the Mayfield before 1953 then to the Fine Arts in the 1960s.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 1, 2016 at 10:03 pm

The Mayfield Theatre is listed at 165 Lincoln Street (the former name of California Avenue) in a 1925 directory for Palo Alto and vicinity.

The 1951 remodeling of the Mayfield Theatre was probably occasioned by a fire in 1950. This photo from the Palo Alto Historical Association depicts ruined seats piled in front of the theater, and is dated April 7, 1950.

The Stanford Daily of April 28, 1960, said that the Cardinal Theatre, after a brief closure for renovation in May, would reopen on May 18 as the Fine Arts Theatre. It would be under the same management as the Guild Theatre in Menlo Park, also an art house.

davidcoppock on August 16, 2018 at 9:19 pm

The scene in “Escape to Witch Mountain”, the kids were seen leaving the theater after watching a screening of the movie “Snow White and the 7 dwarfs”(both Disney movies).

MichaelKilgore on October 11, 2021 at 5:04 pm

Motion Picture Herald, Feb. 24, 1951: “The Mayfield, owned by Westside theatres, at South Palo Alto, is undergoing complete renovation and will be renamed the Cardinal.”

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