HISTORY – Early Movie Theatre

 

 

 

Carl Amundsen II and wife, Joyce arrived in Elk Grove in 1946 and bought a house at the end of Short Road (Off of Calvine Road, about a half mile from Highway 99) where they lived their entire life and raised their three children, Bonnie, Carl III, and Charlene.

 

The whole family was very involved in many aspects of the Elk Grove community, especially in the preservation of history. Carl & Joyce were instrumental in having the Rhoads School moved to the middle of the Elk Grove Park in 1976, created the first Elk Grove Historical Society, became “Citizen of the Year” in 1979, and have a park named after the family at 8730 Heritage Hill Drive in Elk Grove dedicated in 2008. 

(FYI – Carl passed in 2006 and Joyce in 2016. Oldest daughter Bonnie’s (EGHS ’65) husband Ken Smedberg (EGHS ’61) also passed in 2016 and she lives in Lincoln. Carl III (EGHS ’67) and wife Katie live in Bellvue, Washington, and youngest daughter Charlene (EGHS ’68) and husband Jon Colton (EGHS ’55) live in Elk Grove.)

 

One of their main contributions to the community was the distinction of opening the first movie theaters…..

Timeline of history of our local theatre’s:

1946 – Cow/Cattle Palace Cattle Yard was opened at the end of Webb Street.

December 7, 1949-1954 – The Cow Palace Theatre opened by the Amundson family functioned in the auction house of the Cow Palace Cattle Yard on Friday’s, Saturday’s and Sunday’s.

February 4, 1955-1959 – The Amundson family built and operated the new Boulevard Theater on Elk Grove Boulevard.

1959-1965 – The theatre continued service but under new owners Jerry & Esther Brown and Ben & Wilma DeWald.

1965-1977 – The theatre was sold to and used by the Elk Grove Assembly of God who converted it to a church.

January – May 1977 – The church partially caught fire in January and parishioners held services at Joseph Kerr Junior High School. It wasn’t used and was in escrow when it completely burnt a second time in May.

1977-1978 – It was bought by a Sacramento Business firm who ulimately developed the location.

1978 – It has had several businesses at the location over several years, presently, Enterprise Car Rental, a UPS mailing store, and a dentist.

 

Cow Palace Theatre

Amundson’s opened their first theatre in the auction building of a cattle yard on Dec. 7 1949 and operated inside the building until 1954.  It was located at the end of Webb Street which is on the east side of Old Town Elk Grove.

Historically, the building was constructed in 1948 and served as a cattle, horse and pig auction venue, owned by Ord Leachman, and later a movie theater, which was owned by Elk Grove resident Carl Amundson.  The property also included the Wagon Wheel Restaurant and several animal corrals.

It only took two men 45 minutes to convert the building from a cattle/auction yard to a theatre. There were 500 seats and the cost of admission was; Adults-60 cents, Juniors-50 cents, Children under 12-20 cents. It was open Wednesdays through Sunday with one showing at 6:30 pm everyday except Sundays, which was at 2:00 pm. The evening consisted of two full-length movies, a cartoon, and a newsreel. Of course, there were refreshments to purchase

One of the many fliers (from 1951) that were mailed to customers each month:

 

Journalist Lance Armstrong writes in the Elk Grove Citizen in July 2004…

At a time when there were no VCR, Beta or DVD players and very few television stations, opportunities for watching movies were far less than they are today. So, when news hit the streets of Elk Grove that Amundson would be opening a movie theater at Ord Leachman’s Cow Palace, the anticipation for the theater was great.  Following a Nov. 30, 1949 “invitation-only” preview, which was attended by 300 people, the grand opening of the theater soon arrived. The theater’s official opening would be especially fulfilling to Amundson, who was looking forward to accomplishing his dream of bringing local entertainment, with reasonable rates, to the young people of Elk Grove.

On Dec. 7 – a date that Amundson selected due to his involvement in the Army during World War II, a large line of people formed outside the new Cow Palace Theatre – which was located off Main Street (Elk Grove Boulevard), at the end of Webb Street.

Filing inside the building, patrons were impressed by the new theater, which also served as a venue for a cattle auction.

Admission for the movie experience was 60.cents for adults, 50 cents for juniors and 20 cents for children, 12 and under.  Carl’s Family Night would later be available for $1 per family.

Inside the theater, Amundson had installed 500 theater seats and six wagon wheel chandeliers.  Only 45 minutes was required for two men to change the building from an auction pavilion to a theater.  After moving the seats onto the floor, the screen was then lowered into place and the curtains were drawn.

Following the Cow Palace Theatre’s successful grand opening, the Elk Grove Citizen reported the following news: “At long last, Elk Grove now has a theatre of its own, a place to relax after a busy day and see pictures equal to any show in Sacramento.”

Being a town of about 1,500 inhabitants at the time of the theater’s opening, Elk Grove was a very rural area, so showing western films was a very big part of Amundson’s early success.

“We showed a lot of western’s, including a lot of John Wayne movies and we showed quite a few jungle movies too,” Amundson said.

A few’ of the movies shown at the Cow Palace Theatre included “The Palomino,” “Montana,” “Borderline,” “Bomba; on Panther Island” and “The Story of Seabiscuit.”

The theater featured two full-length movies’ per night, as well as a short cartoon and news reel.

The box office opened at 6:45 p.m., followed by the showing of the movies shortly thereafter.

“We didn’t start the movie at a specific time,” Amundson said.  “It wasn’t like theaters now, which start movies right on the dot, like at 10:25 or some time like that.  But the one thing we did was keep our commitment to playing the movies for the entire six hours that we were scheduled to be opened.”

Amundson, who said that he only slept four hours per night, kept constantly busy, milking cows and working at the Sacramento Army Depot by day and operating his theater, with his wife Joyce, by night.

Having two children, Bonnie and Carl III – already and another child two months away, at the time of the theaters opening, proved to be a unique experience.

“Our third child, Charlene Patricia was born on Feb. 28, 1950,” Amundson said. “We brought her to the theater most every night in the buggy; she slept upstairs by the projection booth and loved it.  After a few months, her grandmother, Leah Amundson, insisted that she stay home with Bonnie and Carl III, whom she took care of while we ran the theater. It took a few nights for her to go to sleep without a movie running!”

Mom Joyce with youngest Charlene before the movie in 1951

As the popularity of Amundson’s theater continued to expand, Amundson felt that his crowds had become to sophisticated for the leisure atmosphere of the Cow Palace Theatre, where it was not uncommon for people to go from the cattle yard, with their manure covered boots, straight to-the theater.

“The western shows not only looked like the Wild West, they also had a certain aroma,” Amundson said. Beginning in 1952, construction began on a new theater, near the modern-day corner of Elk Grove Boulevard and Williamson Drive.

Some local residents recall some memories of the first movie venue:

Ruth Prince (EGHS 1961) – “It must have been in the late 1940s or early 1950s when Elk Grove had its first theater. I was very young and I don’t think the theater was in business for even five years.  My dad had an old Model A, and I recall riding to the Cow Palace in it. I loved that old pickup.  Mom and Dad would let me ride in the bed of the pickup as they slowly drove the three miles to the Cow Palace. I still recall details of that wonderful old theater. On weekdays it was a cattle auction yard, but on Saturdays it was a movie theater. Yes, you guessed it; the Cow Palace had its own unique smell.  I call it the scent of “Eau de manure.”

“Often there would be cattle in the corrals that were attached to the building, and sometimes during a quiet moment in a movie (like when Clark Gable was just about to kiss Vivian Leigh) you would hear ‘moo-o-o-o.’ And on occasion, one of the steers would escape from his pen and run up the ramp onto the stage right in front of the movie screen. They would have to stop the movie until they could get the steer back out in his stall.  I loved that old theater. We had good times there, and the cattle were sometimes as much entertainment as the movies.”

Jon Colton (EGHS ’55) – “Many kids would take their bicycles to the Cow Palace to watch the movies. It was light outside when you arrived but it was really dark when the movie ended. There were no street lights during this time. When there was a spooky movie playing, like “The Thing”, getting home was scary. As I stated peddling home, I would fast and faster through the streets because the bushes would move a little and I thought about “The Thing” coming after him. Since then, I have talked to other friends that rode their bikes during those years and they felt the same way-scared to death! …. and you could smell the westerns!”

 

 

Boulevard Theatre

The Amundson’s had a second new theater built, the “Boulevard Theatre” on Main Street (Elk Grove Boulevard) and it opened on February 4, 1955. (Located at present day Enterprise Car Rental on the corner of Williamson Drive).The family operated the theatre until it was sold in 1959 to Jerry & Esther Brown a local car dealership owner and partner Ben & Wilma DeWald who continued it as a theatre. They sold it in 1965 and it became the Elk Grove Assembly of God church. It caught fire in January 1977, so the congregation was temperately using Joseph Kerr Junior High for there religious service. It caught fire a second time, five months later on May 25, 1977 and was totally destroyed. The pastor, Barry Weddle said it had been sold and was in escrow. He didn’t know how it would affect the sale to the “Sacramento business firm” who had plans for that corner. The Sacramento business firm was having difficulty securing construction options before the fire due to opposition by the neighborhood.

But after the last fire, the remains of the building were removed and in 1978 the corner was rebuilt with businesses. Both fires were designated “suspicious,” but there was no proof. Presently, on the site is the Enterprise Car Rental service, a UPS mail store, and a dentist, which none know of the earlier history of the corner.

 

Charlene (Amundson ’68) Colton (youngest Amundson daughter) – “I was born (1950) when my parents were working at the Cow Place, so I don’t have very many memories of the Cow Palace. However, I do recall the move from the Cow Palace to the Boulevard Theatre.”

“When I was in first grade, 1956, the movie, The Blob, was showing at the Boulevard Theatre. The movie was so scary to me, that my grandmother, Leah Amundson, let me stand on a seat in the back of the theatre as I held her hand. I figured The Blob couldn’t get me if I was on top of the chair.”

“Since my parents, Carl and Joyce Amundson, were working at the theatre almost every night, my sister, Bonnie Amundson Smedberg, and brother, Carl, and I would be there too. Many nights we slept in the upstairs projection room. As kids we thought this was fun. I worked at the candy counter and slept on the floor of the office.

“My grandparents, Carl the (1st) and Leah Amundson, were very active in the running of the theatre. My grandmother would help at the candy and ticket counters. I enjoyed being by my grandmother because I could get “free” candy. My grandfather would keep the bathrooms and the lobby clean. Some people would come in with their dirty boots so grandfather would clean that mess up too.”

“The theatre was a special place to go during the 1950’s. People would often get dressed up in their better clothes and be on their best behavior.”

“Ty Coupe was a very important man to our family. Ty often ran the projector and babysat me and I am sure my brother and sister, at the same time. (poor guy, he was only 17 years old at this time). One day, Ty was repairing the roof, and was asked to babysit me at the same time. You don’t usually take a 6 year old up on the roof, but the work had to get done. Ty would be hammering the nails into the singles while I sat on the roof talking his poor ear off.'”

“After Ty stopped working at the theater, he went to college and returned to his home in Galt. Ty still lives in the same house on Boessow Road, Galt.  He owned and operated his own diary since college graduation. His son, Raymond, is operating the diary now. To this day, he is still a very dear and close friend not only to me but to our whole family.”

“A big problem we had was when the movies were running was the breakage of the film. My dad learned to repair the broken film pretty fast but it was very irritating. The audience would be sitting in the theatre waiting for a big gun fight to end or a kiss to take place, when the film would break. Thank goodness the audience was very forgiving in those years. They never asked for their money back for any reason.”

“And…I remember kissing a short-time boyfriend in the balcony and watching “Gidget goes Hawaiian.” (James Darren and Deborah Walley)

Charlene, Mom Joyce and Carl III – 1956

Journalist Lance Armstrong writes in the Elk Grove Citizen in July 2004…

The new theater had its gala grand opening on Feb. 4, 1955 and was attended by 500 people, who mostly arrived from the Elk Grove, Wilton and Sacramento areas.

The new theater included  decorative carpets, baby sitting rooms on each side of the theater, a snack bar and padded theater seats, which Amundson purchased from an old theater in Oakland.

Among the movies shown at the Boulevard Theatre were “Gone with the Wind,” “How to Marry a Millionaire,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “East of Eden,” “River of No Return” and “It Came From Beneath the Sea.”

In addition to showing movies, Amundson’s new theater offered a variety of other activities.

Carmela Martinelli, who lived on a dairy farm off Sloughhouse Road, wrote and produced her own plays at the Boulevard Theatre. The plays’ casts were made up of various local residents.

Amundson recalls performing in one of the plays, which had a setting “deep in the heart of the mystic Amazon jungle.” In the play, Adonga, queen of a tribe of Tamboden natives, attempts to maintain “her hold over the natives with her “savage mystic dances.”

“And guess who I played?” .Amundson asked. “I was the guy that was burned at the stake.”

The annual Miss South County Sacramento Beauty Pageant was also held at the theater and included “beauties” of the day, ranging from 16 to 29 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other events, included fashion shows and, Congressman Night, an event held on designated Wednesday nights.  Admission to Congressman Night was $1.

 

 

 

 

 

On one such evening, Amundson supported congressman candidate John Moss.  The event was advertised as “Moss Night.”

“It was important to me to support local politics, because no matter what, politics runs into everything you become involved with,” Amundson said.

 

For a brief time, Amundson also shared a partnership in a third theater, the Fruitridge Manor Theatre, with the late Ken Wright of Sacramento.

“Running my theaters was a very enjoyable venture,” Amundson said. “I really loved being involved in the movie business. It was a very good time in my life.

But Amundson’s years working in the theater business came to an end in 1958, when he sold the Boulevard Theater to Jerry Brown, who owned a Dodge dealership in Elk Grove and Ben DeWald.

Ultimately, they sold the theatre to the Elk Grove Assembly of God church in 1965. It caught fire in January 1977 and the congregation was meeting at Joseph Kerr Junior High until they could rebuild a new church down the street near the vet later on.

 

Wednesday, May 25, 1977 in Elk Grove Citizen – Elk Grove’s ladder truck and Galt’s tele-squirt fire fighting equipment were pressed into service Wednesday afternoon to fight the Assembly of God fire. – Fire Chief Gerald Derr

 

 

Wilma DeWald – Ben’s wife and part owner doesn’t remember much in 2019, “That was a long time ago,” but does remember some aspects. She said she remembered all four of them (The Browns and DeWalds) driving to San Francisco to Fox to sign papers and the rights to the theatre movies. She said she did all the bookings of movies and meet the various representatives for movies and products. She was often the ticket taker and had two girls that ran the popcorn and candy counter. It seems as though the DeWald’s took care of the theatre and the Browns were more of a financial partner. She and Ben raised three sons Dan (’62), Jay (’64) and Dale (’67) who helped them with the business. She said it was “quite an adventure.”

Jay DeWald (’64) – “I  remember going down on Saturday mornings and cleaning all of the aisles/rows of sticky coke covered popcorn and candy wrappers.  Not a pleasant memory. Sometimes we would watch the movies every night they were open, Thursday-Sunday. Also, we thought it was great that we had “free” access to the balcony seats. I would go up there with my then girl friend, Sharon Seiler (’65), and be pretty much alone up there (except when my mom would come up and check on us.). We were good kids, no worries. I would also bring my trumpet to the theatre when we were cleaning up and blow my horn in the auditorium – very cool sound in that big empty space. I also remember our family getting the theatre when I was in the 7th grade, which was 1958.”

Dale DeWald (’67) – “When we bought the theatre in 1958 we decide to change the title to the “Elk Theatre,” but my grandmother, my mom’s mom, Hattie Van Doran, got all upset because she won the contest for naming the Amundson’s theatre the “Boulevard Theatre” and didn’t want to change the name, so we didn’t.” The prize was an onyx and diamond ring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar Mix (EGHS ’57) – “I remember going there as a kid and seeing Saturday afternoon matinees for something like 35 cents. By the time he (Amundson) had his second theater, I was in high school (Elk Grove High School) and courting my wife.  I remember going there and that he played a lot of nature movies that Disney was putting out at the time and they showed the birth of a buffalo.  Those were pretty naive times back then, so I remember it being a bit embarrassing to see that while on a date! Also, I recall a time when my Oldsmobile hubcaps were stolen off my ’56 Chevy pickup in the theater’s parking lot. Carl actually chased the guys down who stole them and got them back.”

Mike McKee (EGHS ’66) – “The old Boulevard Theater was showing the  movie “The Tingler”, and brought back some memories. I remember that when I saw it they had a shoe box on the candy bar that said something that the tingler was inside of it and during the movie it would be let loose or something to that effect. I can remember going out to get some candy during the movie and the box was open and later on you could hear the girls screaming as they thought it was touching them. Fun times long ago.

I also remember seeing the “Guns of Navarone.” It was released in 1961 and a great movie. I was in the seventh grade and our class room was directly across the street.”

 

Frank Vancore (EGHS ’58) – “All I can remember was going to the grand opening or a day or two after. Then I remember going to a show and they had a race car in the lounge area on display. Not sure who it belonged to, but racecar driver Johnnie Parsons comes to mind. Not sure why it was even there. Maybe a race movie?”

 

“I knew Carl and his wife, Joyce. My brother, Ray (’56) and I would walk to Elk Grove from our house on Campbell Road. Every once in a while Carl would be driving to town and would pick us up. Nice man. The new theatre was such a treat after going to the Cow Palace which had hard seats.”

 

 

Louis Silveira (EGHS ’67) – “I distinctly remember the movie called “The Tingler” staring Vincent Price being released in July 1959. It was about a parasite that lives in your spine and feeds off fear. It controls the host and your spine tingles. There was a lot of “hype” when it first came out. There were many stories about the parasite actually running around in theatre’s and rumors about theatre’s who hook up little electrical devices on some of the seats to scare the viewers to make the experience more exciting. Well, when I went to see it at the Boulevard Theatre, I checked out my seat and then watched the whole movie with my feet off the floor. I am not sure when it showed there, but I will never forget that experience. Still gives me chills up my spine! Oops, maybe its the Tingler?”

“I can only remember two other experiences: I saw a Disney movie there, Sleeping Beauty, I think? I had only seen short cartoons like “Crusader Rabbit,” “Rough and Ready,” “Huckleberry Hound,” “Quick Draw McGraw,” “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” “The Mickey Mouse Club,” at home on the TV and was surprised to see a whole “movie” cartoon.”
 
“And one time, my classmate and neighbor, Carl III (EGHS ’67) took me to the projection room upstairs. I remember the reels being gigantic and was amazed how simple the process was. Kind-of in our secret little world, behind the scenes. I was surprised as to how matter-of-fact Carl was because I thought it was the neatest and coolest place in the world. We were both only 8-9 years old. I guess it is just perspective?”
Ruth Prince (EGHS 1961) – “I had my very first date in that theater when I was in seventh grade, which had to have been in 1956-57. I was too shy to let him kiss me, and I was too nervous to remember the movie. A girl doesn’t forget those things!”
Gerald Derr (EGHS ’52) – “I was the Fire Chief when the theatre was destroyed. I took that job in 1969, and was in my office at the fire station when we heard a truck driver blowing his horn several times. We looked out and saw the theatre on fire. Our response was immediate, and the theatre was only a block away. Fire was coming through the roof on our arrival. We attacked the fire through the front doors but it had gone two far. We had to use our ladder truck and help from Galt to knock down the flames. This was the second fire at the building. The fire was labeled suspicious”

 

Ed Vollmar (’63) – I worked at the Theatre running the projectors my senior year 1962-1963 the theatre was open Friday, Saturday & Sunday and was owned by Ben DeWald and Jerry Brown. I went off to college after that and I don’t know when the church bought it. But it was not a church untill after 1963.

 

 

Southgate Indoor/Outdoor Theatre

This theatre complex was the next theatre in the area, built in the Florin area many years later in 1964. The theatre showed outside movies as a drive-in or you could watch the same movie indoors. You choice. You paid at the ticket both when you drove in. It was located on E. Stockton Boulevard between Mack and Gerber Roads. It closed 15 years later in 1979.

Jerry Noss (EGHS ’67) – In a casual conversation he tells this story: Jerry mentioned that he thought that Gary Orr (EGHS ’67) had worked at the theatre, so at a EGHS class gathering he asked Gary about it. “Yea,” he said, “I lived just down the Street (Stockton Blvd where his dad had two business’) from it and used to walk down and watch it being built. One day, I ran into the owner and asked for a job. I worked there for about two years with several Elk Grove graduates.” He said he worked mostly in the snack bar and would stroll the grounds keeping an eye on things. So did Larry Zenker (EGHS ’64) who was going to Sacramento Start at the time. Besides the strolling, Larry usually worked in the ticket office. Gary said that if you were from EGHS, you probably got in free? Jimmy Walker (EGHS ’66) chimed in and said, “That is probably why it didn’t make any money and closed down?” (It lasted for 15 years.) Gary said it was a great time with great memories.

Besides Larry and Gary who worked there, so did Frank “Earl” Townsley (’66), Annette Cox (’66) who went on to be came an airline stewardess, and the Rogers brothers, Bob (’66) and Ron (’64).

Larry Lane (EGHS ’65) – “I worked there as a ticket booth cashier with Ron Rogers and Larry Zenker. It was pretty cool. As long as you brought your own cup, you could drink all the soda you wanted for free. Now that’s an employee perk.”

 

THANK YOU

When trying to piece together history it often takes a lot of sources, hopefully from those who actually experienced it, besides those who heard about it. This article is just that, combining a lot of information to get a picture of the history. We can just hope that it is all correct. We certainly strived for that. Here are some people who were a part of that effort.

Bonnie (Amundson ’65) Smedberg and husband Ken (’61), Charlene (Amundson ’68) Colton and husband Jon (’55), Wilma DeWald, Dan DeWald (’62), Jay DeWald (’64), Dale DeWald (’67), Elizabeth Pinkerton, Lance Armstrong, Jim (’60) and Annaclare (Saner ’61) Entrican, Ruth (Kolb ’61) Prince, Oscar Mix (’57), Mike McKey (’66), Louis Silveira (’67), Gerald Derr (’52), Jerry Noss (’67), Larry Lane (’65), Ed Vollmar (’63), Gary Orr (’67), Jimmy Walker (’66), Wayne Bailey (’64), Wayne Gallup (’52), Frank Vancore (’78) and others.

Thank you for your part.

 

Presently (2019), there are three theater venues in and near the Elk Grove area:

The Century Laguna 16 (#906) at 9349 Big Horn Boulevard, Elk Grove (South of Laguna Boulevard)

 

The UA Laguna Village 12 (#518) at 8755 Center Parkway, Elk Grove (Bruceville and Sheldon Roads)

 

 

The Regal Delta Shores 14 at 8136 Delta Shores Circle South, Sacramento (Highway 5 & Cosumnes River Roads) – Even thought the Regal is not in Elk Grove, it is considered in the “South Area” and close enough for many of us to attend.