Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Granada Theatre

Zack Garhart
Courtesy of the Granada Theatre

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Granada Theatre

The Granada Theatre recently turned 100 years old. An icon to not only Santa Barbara, but the magnificent theatre is also one of the crown jewels of the central coast of California. Its history spans a time frame that saw America experience the Great Depression, World War II, and several presidents.

Photo Courtesy of the Granada Theatre
Photo Courtesy of the Granada Theatre

About the Theatre

The vision behind the Granada Theatre began in 1920, when Edward Johnson, from the Portola Theatre Company, purchased the California Theatre in Santa Barbara. He planned to incorporate up to 2,000 seats in a state-of-the-art theatre with the latest technologies and lavish amenities. Johnson’s vision was met with resistance as it entailed building an eight-story skyscraper in Santa Barbara, which was unprecedented at the time. But alas, the Granada Theatre officially opened on April 9, 1924.

The building that would eventually become the Granada Theatre would serve multiple purposes as a theatre and office space. Johnson’s vision aligned with the aesthetic theme throughout Santa Barbara, incorporating Spanish architecture with terra cotta and rose accents. The building featured ornate plaster molding, beautiful chandeliers, murals, an arched proscenium, and the second-largest Wurlitzer Organ on the West Coast. Its dressing rooms were also furnished with private bathrooms, showers, dressing tables, and even a smoking room. Everything about the theatre is true to a classic style, emanating class and sophistication with even the smallest touches.

Just one year after the Granada Theatre had opened its doors, the Santa Barbara earthquake of 1925 rocked downtown. The only thing is, the theatre was unscathed. While much of downtown Santa Barbara was destroyed, the Granda Theatre stood tall. The man who contracted the construction, Charles Urton, took great pride in the Granada withstanding the earthquake and even hung a sign from the top of the building proclaiming his company’s accomplishment. Urton became a busy man, building mansions and schools in the surrounding areas.

Photo Courtesy of the Granada Theatre
Photo Courtesy of the Granada Theatre

Hollywood Ties & Renovations

Santa Barbara, in fact, was at one point the hub for film and entertainment. Before Hollywood grew to be what it is today, Santa Barbara was the home to the first major film studio, Flying A Studios. In the early 1920s, Santa Barbara was the setting for many films. Since then, films like The Graduate have featured scenes shot in Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas.

During its early years, going to the Granada Theatre was not just a single-event outing. With a ticket to the theatre, guests were treated to a silent film and a live performance, such as a symphony or a ballet.

“(Going to the theatre) was a mixture of movies and the performing arts,” says Jill Seltzer, Vice President For Advancement at the Granada Theatre. “And now we’re maintaining the original purpose of the theatre by making it a home to the arts and to film.”

Over the last century, the Granada Theatre has welcomed countless movie premiers, first-run features, operas, symphonies, and other live performances. But over time, the theatre required renovation. The movement for the renovations began in the 1990s, but it took time to raise the money and pull together everyone’s passions. Alas, extensive renovations were made to the theatre in 2008, largely in part to upgrade the acoustics in the theatre. That led to major additions in the basement, such as dressing rooms, which would help service and set up the theatre for hosting touring Broadway shows.

“There were so many craftsmen involved in the renovation, and they were so engaged in the process,” says Seltzer. “The union workers on the project actually stayed extra hours to finish restoring the theatre to its grandeur. They discovered how much needed to be improved and decided that if it was going to be done, it needed to be done right.”

Photo Courtesy of the Granada Theatre
Photo Courtesy of the Granada Theatre

Going to the Granada Theatre Today

Today, the theatre stands as one of the tallest structures in Santa Barbara and serves as a reminder of its early beginnings as an entertainment capital of the West Coast. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Granada Theatre is running special screenings for its Centennial Special. This includes screening flicks by local filmmakers like Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, The Polar Express, Romancing the Stone) and Andy Davis (The Fugitive, Under Siege, Code of Silence). For these screenings, guests can purchase a special buy-one-get-one-free ticket. Details on programming, scheduling, and pricing can be found on their website.

Photo Courtesy of the Granada Theatre
Photo Courtesy of the Granada Theatre

Fun facts:

  • The word ‘Granada’ means pomegranate. Looking around the theatre, you can find small plaster pomegranates fixed along its ornate columns.
  • The Granada Theatre features 1,550 seats.
  • After the Granada Theatre was built, the community of Santa Barbara declared that no building could be constructed to be taller than the theatre.

(Sources: articles from the Montecito Journal and 19six.com, as well as various internet searches and information provided by the Granada Theatre.)

For more information on the 100th Anniversary of the Granada Theatre, watch this video!

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