4525 Soquel Drive,
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Previous Names: Osocales Theatre, Soquel Theatre, West Abbey Theatre
Opened in 1951, this no-nonsense buff brick and concrete stadium-seated theatre on the edge of Soquel’s little downtown has been through many incarnations. It began life as the Osocales, the original Native American name for the area now known as Soquel, then at some point it became the Soquel Cinema.
In the mid-1970’s, it switched from mainstream movies to porno, a policy which continued into the early-1980’s. Next, a local theatre group acquired the house, installed cabaret seating, and renamed it the West Abbey Theatre, producing plays and musicals.
This lasted perhaps two years, then it became Dexter’s, a teen and college age New Wave/Alternative nightclub, run by local rock musician Joe Sharino.
After this brief incarnation, the Soquel became a church, which it has remained since the late-1980s.
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From Boxoffice magazine, May 1950:
One hundred seats were installed in the Osocales Theaters in Soquel, Charles J. and Robert L. Ide, owners, announced.
The recent opening of the Osocales Theatre was announced in the September 25, 1948, issue of Boxoffice Magazine. The October 2 issue of Boxoffice added that the theater had cost $60,000, was 50x100 feet in size, and seated 500.
I’m not sure if the May 6, 1950, Boxoffice item Ken cited just above referred to a replacement of 100 seats or an addition of another 100 seats. In any case, the building was large enough to accommodate the 500 seats it had on opening.
Having seen several musicals at the West Abbey (ex-Osocales/Soquel) Theatre in the early 80s, I can well confirm the estimate of an original capacity of 500 seats. My memory of the room’s size is certainly consistent with that seating number. At the time I attended the musicals, work had been completed to turn the area in front of the cross aisle into cabaret seating. Original seats still filled the stadium section in the rear—but over the months, that area was also terraced and filled with tables and chairs, although I do remember that a couple of rows of original seats were retained.
The auditorium’s ceiling was covered in perforated acoustical tile, and a large sheet metal five-pointed star was affixed to it in the center, which had lavender neon hidden in it, which up-lit the ceiling. The walls were bare, showing the structural concrete pillars and crosspieces with tan brick infill. I’m sure these must have been covered with acoustical material originally, and may have been removed to better serve live theatre use.
My family attended several of the live productions here. The West Abbey opened with a very successful run of “The 1940s Radio Hour.” We also saw “A Chorus Line,” a very nicely presented revival of “George M!,” and a locally-written, family friendly show called “Jubilee Way Out West,” which was a sendup of “Oklahoma,” and other Western-themed stage productions and movies.
When it was converted to the New Wave nightclub, Dexters, the section forward of the cross aisle was leveled for dancing. The thrust stage that West Abbey had built was mostly removed, and a new stage more appropriate for live bands and DJs and “house dancers” was build, extending just a little beyond the concrete proscenium opening.
Comparatively trivial memories—but they are a part of history: On the hill above the theatre sat Soquel High School. It goes without saying that kids would walk down the hillside paths and try to take a peek inside during the porn days (certainly they did this during the theatre’s mainstream movie days as well). My best friend at the time time went to Soquel High (I went to Aptos High), and he told me that this one acquaintance of his bragged that he was going to go take such a peek. After he and some other guys did so, it was plainly obvious that his young eyes got a bit more than he bargained for.
A family friend—part of our church-affiliated circle—confided in me several years later that he was relieved when the porn policy ended and the West Abbey took over, as he had taken to popping by the theatre on occasion to catch an adult film. As a traditionally religious person, he was wracked with guilt for this. He has been gone for many years now, and will remain anonymous, but his feelings were no doubt typical of many folks who patronized adult theatres in the days before video and the switch to adult entertainment being experienced privately.
The old Osocales Theatre in Soquel CA has a new church group taking over this former movie theatre and church. The big remodel job is going on now mid Feb 2015. They were nice enough to let me see what was going on inside and gave me a tour. The large downstairs part Is being turned into a indoor Skate Church with wood tracks ect. I toured the former movie theatre I went to as a kid and had not been In for over 60 years. It brought back so many memories. I think this new church venture will be a good thing for the skate kid crowd. The inside is still in very good shape with the former back loge area now used for church offices. Some day they may rip the offices out and turn the whole place back into one church type theatre building used for for many church events. Good luck to them for saving this great old Santa Cruz Theatre. I will soon be doing a story along with Gary Parks on all the old Santa Cruz CA theatres and Drive-Inns for the local Good Times Mag in a few months.