Empire Theatre

1130 1st Street,
Napa, CA 94559

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 11, 2015 at 3:10 pm

The Empire Theatre is mentioned a few times in trade publications in the 1910s. In 1916, the house was sold by Dave Solari to an Alois Fischer. There is a reference to Fischer’s Empire Theatre in 1917. By August, 1919, the Empire was being operated by Blumenfeld & Knox, who were having plans prepared for a new theater. I haven’t found what became of that project. In March that same year, the American Photo Player Co. had sold the Empire a Beethoven model organ.

A couple of articles in The Napa Valley Register have some information about the house. This article about the 1906 earthquake says that the Hayes Theatre was built in 1904. It also says that after the earthquake “[b]ricks of the destroyed Hayes theater building, at First and Coombs streets, littered its interior and the surrounding streets. While the building appeared to be a complete loss, the owner reconstructed the Hayes with a new infrastructure of iron and wood trusses.”

Another article indicates that the Hayes Building was not demolished in 1924, but was purchased by Samuel Gordon and later extensively remodeled. The NRHP Registration Form for the Gordon Building also says that some of the Hayes Building survived:

“The 1929 section of the Gordon Building was constructed incorporating the infrastructure of the 1904 Hayes building, a squat two story structure with a ground floor housing the theatre, five retail spaces and a stairwell entrance to the second story offices. The new construction saw the height of the building increased. The old theatre lobby space became the lobby entrance to the second story office suites. Two small and one double size retail space encompassing the old theatre were constructed on the ground floor. The interior retail spaces had high ceilings with decorative molding and were supported by tall columns with decorative capitals. The double size retail space had a small curving stairway leading to a full mezzanine. Stair banisters and mezzanine rail were of polychromatic glazed terra cotta.”
It sounds as though the auditorium’s walls were kept, but the roof was removed and a floor of offices built above the retail stores that were put into the former auditorium space. A new facade replaced the back wall of the theater’s stage house fronting on Coombs Street.