The History of SonLight


Orange City News
The Orange County Register
Santa Ana, California

February 20, 2003

Theater Tours Offer Glimpse of the Past, Present 

When Elaine Davis Humphrey walked into the former Orange Theatre at 172 N. Glassell St. on Saturday, she began to cry. Memories of washing the windows as a 10-year-old to make money to watch movies, and meeting her husband there in later years for dates came flooding back.

Returning to the former theater, now restored as Son Light Christian Center, brought back memories for many other visitors who attended guided tours held over the weekend by pastor's wife Nancy Magliato, and Barbara Resnick, granddaughter of the man who completed the theater in 1929.

In the early 1900s, the property north of the Plaza was used as horseshoe pitching grounds, then probably as a croquet field. In 1924, Harry Z. Adams decided to construct a theater for $125,000. But construction languished after the shell of the building was completed, and Resnick's grandfather M. Eltist, who worked across the street decided to take over.

``He kept looking at this wretched little corner and it was more than he could bear,'' Resnick said.

On May 22, 1929, the theater opened its doors to great interest from the community and the local newspaper. The opening night movie was a talking picture, ``Molly and Me''; pianist Arthur Cannon performed.

In addition to screening movies, the theater was typically used for one vaudeville and two or three other smaller acts, Resnick said.

In 1934, Resnick's mother took over the theater. At that time, the Pantages family, who later operated the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, lived in apartments in the theater building as the managers.

The theater changed hands again and went through renovations, but by 1975 wasn't making much money. It was rehabilitated as a playhouse. In 1976, it was bought by Son Light Christian Center for $250,000 and turned into a church.

The church found a mess when then came in. ``When they left the theater, it's like they just took their clothes and walked off.''

The church removed a termite-infested mermaid sculpture near the screen that ``kept nobody's mind on the preaching'' and built boxes around gargoyles that hung on the walls flanking the screen, Magliato said.

Workers removed a toilet in the middle of the projection room floor, the ``catch-all spot of the theater,'' repainted the entire building and restored an asbestos curtain with a beautiful landscape of idealized ruins, mountains and a lake, Magliato said.

For 67-year-old Mary Martinez, the highlight of the tour was visiting the old projection room, now renovated as a bright airy fellowship hall.

Martinez used to meet her husband, who back then was her boyfriend, in the corners of the projection room where they'd unscrew the light bulbs.

She doesn't remember much about the movies. ``You didn't see movies when you were dating,'' Martinez said.

Humphrey also smooched her boyfriend at the theater. ``We'd sit with our arms around each other.

``Now I realize the projectionist was watching up in the balcony.''

Son Light Christian Center screens free movies at 7 p.m. Friday at 172 N. Glassell St.


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