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The State Theatre
Celebrates 85 years

On Dec. 25, 1934, the State Theatre in Modesto opened its doors to the public for the very first time and patrons were able to watch the military musical “Flirtation Walk,” starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. Within a matter of days, the movie’s run had already come to an end, but the legacy of The State Theatre was just beginning.

The State Theatre has reached the milestone of 85 years and plans to celebrate the occasion with a bevy of festivities, including the launch of The Jewel, which adds a long-desired and much-anticipated second screen.

The State Theatre was designed by architect S. Charles Lee, who during the 1930s and ‘40s was the leading designer of movie houses and theatres. He was an early proponent of the Art Deco movement, which is reflected in the design of The State, from the graceful greyhounds and gazelles bedecking the walls to the marquee. Lee believed the show started on the sidewalk and wanted the outside design to reflect that belief.

For decades, The State Theatre was the place movie patrons would go to see such blockbusters like “Gone with the Wind,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Casablanca” and “Cleopatra.” But as time passed, the charm of a one-screen movie house couldn’t compete with the larger cineplexes opening up around town. While other theatres like the Covell and the Strand were lost to the community by one form or another, The State remained standing. In the 1990s the theatre enjoyed a resurgence of popularity as Cinemexico, showing films in Spanish, but even that began to fade away as the theatre itself was falling into greater disrepair.

In 1994, the Downtown Arts Project took over The State Theatre and added live music concerts, guest artists and foreign and art films to boost revenue. In 2005, the current operators, the nonprofit State Theatre of Modesto Inc., took over running the theatre.

The changing of the guard ushered in a period of revitalization for The State Theatre. A renovation project was undertaken that included replacing the seats, restoring the plaster walls, a new ceiling and redesigning the concession stand.

“It was just in disarray,” said State Theatre Executive Director Kirstie Boyett. “It was a community effort to salvage the theatre both physically and financially.”

The upgrades have continued over the years, including a switch to digital format and an upgraded marquee, because “The State Theatre still believes the show starts on the sidewalk,” said State Theatre Board member Randy Siefkin.

Since the renovation, The State Theatre has experienced a rebirth in downtown Modesto becoming a cultural hub for arts in its various formats.

“We like to call ourselves the jewel of Modesto,” Boyett said.

The State Theatre is preparing to open their newest addition — appropriately named The Jewel — which will add a second theatre and screen. The new space will seat 25, compared to the 550 in the main room and will share the same concession stand. It will primarily be used to show movies after opening weekend and for private rentals and events.

Planning for The Jewel began in early 2019, but the wishing for it has been much longer, so it seems to be an appropriate gift for the 85th year. On Dec. 24, The State will host a soft opening of The Jewel.

On Dec. 21, The State is planning an early birthday celebration with a selection of films and birthday cake. ■

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