The Orange County Register
Santa Ana, California
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
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. www.sonlightoforange.org