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Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara

Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara

First Opened: 22nd May 1931 (89 years ago)

Reopened: 22nd May 1976

Former Names: Fox Arlington Theatre, Arlington Center for the Performing Arts

Website: thearlingtontheatre.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (805) 963-9580 Call (805) 963-9580

Address: 1317 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

Featured Photos

Overview

The Arlington Theatre is the largest movie theatre in Santa Barbara and was built in 1931 for Fox West Coast Theatres. Although the theatre has undergone several renovations it retains its atmospheric Spanish Colonial / Mission Revival style. The theatre is home to a 4-manual, 27-rank Robert-Morton organ, one of only five “Wonder Morton” theatre organs to have been built.

The Fox Arlington Theatre, as opened in 1931
The Fox Arlington Theatre, as opened in 1931

In the early 1930s, Fox West Coast Theatres wanted to build a movie theatre in Santa Barbara to compete with the Granada Theatre, owned by Warner Bros. The resultant Fox theatre was named for – and built on the site of – the Arlington Hotel, which suffered catastrophic damage in a major earthquake (estimated at ~6.5M) on 29th June 1925. While officially called the Fox Arlington Theatre, everyone knew the new movie palace as just “The Fox”.

Local architects William Edwards and Joseph Plunkett designed the theatre, and the interior was decorated by the Los Angeles-based Robert E. Power Studios. The building was transferred to investors The Arlington Corporation of California, Ltd and Fox West Coast took out a 25-year lease.

The Paseo
The Paseo

The theatre has a relatively small lobby, however the building is set half a block back from the street with an outdoor covered lobby (“the Paseo”) providing lobby and circulation space. Other theatres of the time which were built with these “courtyard” lobbies were Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre and Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, the Fox Fullerton (all designed by the architectural firm of Meyer & Holler and completed in 1922, 1927, and 1925 respectively), the Pasadena Playhouse and the Alex Theatre (both completed 1925), and the Geffen Playhouse (completed 1929 as a masonic lodge). The Arlington is the only one of these theatres to have a covered exterior lobby, the sidewalls being open with large Spanish arches. In the center of the Paseo is a tiled fountain as would have been found in smaller Spanish villas of the time.

Mural above theatre entrance, depicting various traditional Spanish dances
Mural above theatre entrance, depicting various traditional Spanish dances

Above the theatre entrance, in the Loggia, is a mural depicting a Spanish dancer, helping to strike a theatrical note upon entrance to the theatre. To some the mural suggests a passing of time and gathering maturity of the female dancer, however in that interpretation the mural somewhat oddly runs right-to-left. The mural, reported at the time as depicting various traditional Spanish dances, was executed by Samuel Armstrong.

The interior lobby features a vaulted ceiling with handmade Catalonion chandeliers. The steps to the balcony, at either end of the lobby, feature ironwork balustrades/handrails and glazed Tunisian tiles. The lounge, at the house right end of the lobby, is a large apex-ceilinged room hung with flags inspired by Spanish heraldry, including the coat of arms of Spain and the coat of arms of Castile and León. The lounge’s ceiling features mock wooden rafters, brightly painted with Spanish-inspired patterns.

The original “bridge” proscenium arch, 50ft wide and 30ft high
The original “bridge” proscenium arch, 50ft wide and 30ft high

Within the auditorium, the proscenium arch was originally formed by a stone bridge, with semicircular arch and apex-shaped top. Its design matched the Spanish village buildings flanking it on either side, joining the two “villages”, and it was 50ft wide by 30ft high. Through this large stone arc was seen the fire curtain, painted (by John M. Gamble, known for his California floral coastal and landscape paintings) to represent an Andalusian landscape: the view into a river valley as seen through the bridge. Steps allowed actors to ascend from stage level at Stage Right, over the bridge, and either into a turret at Stage Left, or descending back to the balcony level courtyard buildings through the House Right organ chamber and thence down into the auditorium.

The Spanish village buildings on either side of the auditorium feature balconies, working windows, terraces, and stairways. They were styled after buildings in Spain but also in part after some of the early Mission Revival buildings in Santa Barbara. It was reported that grilles, weathervanes, and other ironwork such as rain gutters/eavestroughs were handmade to match the period of the building in question. The lanterns hanging from the buildings, which illuminate the auditorium, were copied from 14th-16th century Catalonion street lamps. The auditorium seat standards were inspired by the design of 15th century benches in Segovia. All these features are still intact to this day.

Hidden cove lighting illuminates the sidewall (left) in different colors
Hidden cove lighting illuminates the sidewall (left) in different colors

The auditorium walls blend with the ceiling, the acoustic plaster being painted with distant vistas on the sidewalls (and lit in appropriate colors by hidden cove lighting), giving way to a twilight sky above, peppered with twinkling stars which blinked throughout each performance. One observer likened it to “a swashbuckling scene straight out of an old Zorro motion picture”.

Spanish village style buildings
Spanish village style buildings

The Mission Revival style was popular during the rebuilding of downtown Santa Barbara after the 1925 earthquake, and the popularity of the style – for both new and replacement buildings – afforded the city a cohesiveness in its architecture which is still evident today, almost 100 years later. The Arlington Theatre was notable for its tower, the design being reported in the media at the time to have been inspired by the Alcázar of Segovia in Spain, although it looks like the bell tower of the Segovia Cathedral was more likely the inspiration, with additional touches being informed by the tower of the Carthay Circle Theatre (1925) designed by Dwight Gibbs – the Arlington’s architects visited Los Angeles to pitch their design to Fox West Coast and likely made a visit to the Carthay Circle Theatre, at the time one of Fox’s flagship theatres. Whereas the Arlington Theatre’s tower housed no bells, it did support a pinnacle sign: a rotating elongated drum with “FOX” written on it in lit-up neon lettering.

The auditorium consists of a long, sloped, orchestra level with a shallow balcony at the rear. Original seating capacity was given as 1,776. The auditorium measures 100ft wide by 150ft long. A small secondary upper balcony was originally an exclusive club called El Club Chico, with a glazed outlook into the auditorium allowing patrons to dine in private but still watch the show. With an exterior terrace looking out north and east over downtown Santa Barbara, private restrooms, kitchen facilities providing food, and a private view into the auditorium, it was certainly the place to be! The upper balcony is now used as a lighting and followspot position. It would be desirable to reactivate the space for special events however there is only one access point and so the space does not meet current code requirements.

Auditorium and ceiling from right
Auditorium and ceiling from right

In 1955 Fox West Coast remodeled the Arlington Theatre, along with many other “outdated” regional theatres. The semi-circular “bridge” proscenium was replaced with a conventional rectangular proscenium in Spanish village style, designed to match the rest of the auditorium, but which catered to CinemaScope widescreen projection by allowing a much wider projection screen. The scenic improvements were carried-out by R.L. Grosh & Sons Scenic Studio of Hollywood Link opens in new window. Instead of being three-dimensional buildings like the rest of the Spanish village making up the auditorium’s interior, the additions were painted on flat surfaces with perspective and lighting techniques executed in paint making them appear three-dimensional. The new proscenium was set approximately 4ft in front of the original proscenium, and two-thirds of the 1931 “bridge” still exists (the top portion was demolished). Photos of the original proscenium in situ are included below.

Fox West Coast’s lease was up on 29th February 1956, and at that point or sometime in the subsequent few years, they allowed their lease to lapse. Metropolitan Theatres took on the lease however the exact date is not clear. What is clear is that the Fox Arlington Theatre became the Arlington Theatre in 1961, and in 1975 Metropolitan Theatres purchased the building from The Arlington Corporation of California, Ltd.

Organ Chambers
Organ Chambers

In preparation for the Santa Barbara Symphony moving to the Arlington, the theatre closed in January 1976 so that new owner Metropolitan Theatres could undertake a $475,000 refurbishment project, overseen by manager David Bisol. Bisol took a truck to Los Angeles and selected pieces from Metropolitan’s storage rooms, bringing back a collection of ornate period “movie palace” furniture to enhance the Arlington’s historic ambiance, which included a sofa from the 1939 movie “Gone with the Wind” (contrary to popular belief the sneak preview of the movie in 1939 took place at the Granada Theatre, not the Arlington).

The theatre reopened as the Arlington Center for the Performing Arts on 22nd May 1976, the theatre’s 45th birthday. In 1973 seating capacity had been increased to 1,825 with the removal and replacement of the loge seating, and in the 1976 refurbishment an additional row of seats was added, increasing capacity to 2,010. It seems it was also at this time that the sounding board above the apron stage, with its maneuverable central ceiling canopy, was added, along with curved acoustic panels at the rear of the auditorium.

Opening night at the Arlington Center for the Performing Arts featured king of swing Benny Goodman, who performed as a clarinet soloist with the Santa Barbara Symphony in a concert of classical music and jazz.

The theatre’s organ is extensive and was originally installed in Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1928. It is a Wonder Morton, one of only five built, and has 27 ranks (as built it had 24 ranks). The organ was removed from Loew’s Jersey Theatre in 1977 and moved to Santa Barbara in 1986, with its first concert being on 1st October 1988. Main Chambers I & II are located on House Left within the Spanish village buildings, the Solo Chamber is inside the House Right village building with a piano outside the building on the terrace. The percussion shelf is located on, and to the side of, the lighting bridge above the forestage. The organ was restored by, and is maintained by, the Santa Barbara Theatre Organ Society Link opens in new window.

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How do I visit the Arlington Theatre?

The Arlington Theatre does not offer tours however regular movie screenings take place daily and there are often special live events scheduled. Check the theatre’s online schedule Link opens in new window for events and online ticketing.

Further Reading

Online

Technical Information

Flying System
System Type
Counterweight system operated Stage Right at Stage level
Grid Height
55ft 10in
Linesets
32
Loading Bridge
No loading bridge
General Information
Seating Capacity
1,996 (Orchestra: 1,675, Balcony: 321) with up to 4 additional wheelchair spaces in rear Orchestra
Movie Projection
Digital Projector
Barco DP4K-23B 4K projector (4kW lamp)
Film Projector
35mm projector with platter system (Strong Ultra 80 lamphouse 4-7kW mounted on a Super Simplex base)
Projection Throw
165ft
Screen Dimensions
46ft by 20ft
Orchestra Pit
Dimensions
48ft wide, 15ft deep at center reducing to 8ft deep at sides
Stage Dimensions
Apron Depth
6ft 6in
Proscenium Height
27ft
Proscenium Width
49ft 10in
Stage Depth
30ft 6in
Stage Left Wing
10ft 6in
Stage Right Wing
13ft 6in
Stage Width
73ft
Theatre Organ
Console
Robert Morton 4-manual, 27-rank “Wonder Morton”
Organ Chamber Locations
Main chambers I & II located House Left, Solo chamber located House Right, Percussion Shelf located above Proscenium
Organ Lift
6ft by 7ft 4in, located in center of Orchestra Pit
Historic Photos & Documents

Historic files shown here may be subject to copyright; review our “Fair Use” statement here.

Photos of the Arlington Theatre

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditorium: Orchestra
  2. Auditorium: Balcony
  3. Auditorium: Closeups
  4. Front of House: Lobby
  5. Front of House: Lounge
  6. Front of House: Arlington Courtyard
  7. Exterior: Courtyard / The Paseo
  8. Exterior: Street
  9. Stage
  10. Backstage
  11. Organ
  12. Organ Chambers
  13. Projection Booth
  14. Followspot Box
  15. Exterior: Upper Terrace
  16. Exterior: Tower
  17. Exterior: Loading Dock
  18. Original Proscenium
  19. Attic
Auditorium: Orchestra

The majority of seats (85%) are located on the Orchestra level. The Spanish village buildings on either side of the auditorium feature balconies, working windows, terraces, and stairways. They were styled after buildings in Spain but also in part after some of the early Mission Revival buildings in Santa Barbara. It was reported that grilles, weathervanes, and other ironwork such as rain gutters/eavestroughs were handmade to match the period of the building in question. The lanterns hanging from the buildings, which illuminate the auditorium, were copied from 14th-16th century Catalonion street lamps. The auditorium seat standards were inspired by the design of 15th century benches in Segovia.

Auditorium: Balcony

The balcony seats 321, roughly 15% of the theatre’s seating capacity. The auditorium walls blend with the ceiling, the acoustic plaster being painted with distant vistas on the sidewalls (and lit in appropriate colors by hidden cove lighting), giving way to a twilight sky above, peppered with twinkling stars which blinked throughout each performance. One observer in 1931 likened it to “a swashbuckling scene straight out of an old Zorro motion picture”.

Auditorium: Closeups
Front of House: Lobby

The interior lobby features a vaulted ceiling with handmade Catalonion chandeliers. The balcony steps, at either end of the lobby, feature ironwork balustrades/handrails and glazed Tunisian tiles.

A sofa which featured in the 1939 movie “Gone with the Wind” has pride of place in the lobby. Contrary to popular belief, the sneak preview of the movie in 1939 took place at the Granada Theatre, not at the Arlington.

Front of House: Lounge

The Lounge is on the House Right side of the lobby and leads out to the Arlington Courtyard.

The Lounge is a large apex-ceilinged room hung with flags inspired by Spanish heraldry, including the coat of arms of Spain and the coat of arms of Castile and León. The lounge’s ceiling features mock wooden rafters brightly painted with Spanish-inspired patterns.

Front of House: Arlington Courtyard

The Arlington Courtyard is a more recent addition to the theatre utilizing the courtyard space which lies to the House Right side of the lobby. It is an outdoor space however has weather coverings to shield from rain.

Exterior: Courtyard / The Paseo

The theatre’s outdoor covered lobby is called the Paseo. Other theatres of the time which were built with these “courtyard” lobbies were Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre and Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, the Fox Fullerton (all designed by the architectural firm of Meyer & Holler and completed in 1922, 1927, and 1925 respectively), the Pasadena Playhouse and the Alex Theatre (both completed 1925), and the Geffen Playhouse (completed 1929 as a masonic lodge). The Arlington is the only one of these theatres to have a covered exterior lobby, the sidewalls being open with large Spanish arches. In the center of the Paseo is a tiled fountain, as would have been found in smaller Spanish villas of the time.

Exterior: Street

The theatre’s frontage on State Street presents a marquee in the style of a Spanish canopy. The original ticket booth, described as “an elaborate little chapel of faience tile and hand-wrought iron” is still in place, facing the street, although is no longer used. The mid-height round tower in the background is just for show and was inspired by the Alcázar of Segovia in Spain. The tall bell tower is modeled more on the Segovia Cathedral, with additional touches being informed by the tower of the Carthay Circle Theatre (1925) designed by Dwight Gibbs.

Stage

Note the large square hole at the front of the stage which is the organ elevator.

Backstage

The stage is 73ft wide and 30ft 6in deep, with a grid height of almost 56ft.

The proscenium opening is almost 50ft wide by 27ft high.

Organ

The theatre’s organ is extensive and was originally installed in Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey (1928). It is a Wonder Morton, one of only five built, and has 27 ranks. The percussion shelf is located above the proscenium with the main organ chambers being located inside the Spanish village buildings on either side of the proscenium.

Organ Chambers

The theatre’s organ is extensive and was originally installed in Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey (1928). It is a Wonder Morton, one of only five built, and has 27 ranks.

Organ chambers are located within the Spanish village buildings at balcony level just in front of the stage. The percussion shelf (e.g. bass drum, etc) is located above the proscenium. Main Chambers I & II are located on House Left with the Solo Chamber located House Right. A piano is located in view of the audience on the House Right building’s terrace.

Projection Booth

The projection booth remains in its original position however its equipment has changed over time. At present the theatre has DCP (digital cinema projection) capabilities in the shape of a Barco 4kW projector, and 35mm film capabilities with a platter system and Strong Ultra 80 lamphouse mounted on a Simplex XL base.

Followspot Box

The area now used as a Followspot Box was originally opened as “El Club Chico”, a private VIP club-style dining space with windows overlooking the auditorium.

Exterior: Upper Terrace

To the rear of the private balcony which was originally opened as “El Club Chico” lies an external terrace which affords amazing views over much of downtown Santa Barbara. It is also from here that access may be gained to the tower.

Exterior: Tower

The Arlington Theatre was notable for its tower, the design being reported in the media at the time to have been inspired by the Alcázar of Segovia in Spain, although it looks like the bell tower of the Segovia Cathedral was more likely the inspiration, with additional touches being informed by the tower of the Carthay Circle Theatre (1925) – one of the leading Fox movie theatres of the time – designed by Dwight Gibbs. Whereas the Arlington Theatre’s tower housed no bells, it did support a pinnacle sign: a rotating elongated drum with “FOX” written on it in lit-up neon lettering.

Exterior: Loading Dock

The loading area is located to the rear of the building, facing into a parking lot, with the loading door on the rear stage wall at upstage center.

Original Proscenium

The theatre’s original proscenium, a 50ft-wide by 30ft-high stone bridge, was hidden by changes in made 1955 to accommodate widescreen movie projection. The sides of the “bridge” proscenium still exist, hidden behind the 1955 additions. The 1955 additions were decorated by R.L. Grosh & Sons Scenic Studio of Hollywood Link opens in new window, who are still creating scenery and painting backdrops to this day. Further changes were made in the 1970s when the theatre was renovated as a performing arts center, principally to accommodate the San Diego Symphony.

Attic

The attic is 100ft wide by 150ft long, the acoustic plaster ceiling below being formed on a light metal framework hung on steel trusses. In 1931, six years after the earthquake which devastated much of downtown Santa Barbara, it was reported that “Quake-proof methods were used in this [ceiling] construction, with over 5,000 anchors”.



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