History of the Los Gatos Theatre

For over a century, the Los Gatos Theatre has been an iconic fixture on Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Los Gatos. The movie house has a unique and intriguing history spanning its 100-year existence in one of the Silicon Valley’s most desirable zip codes.

A Century of History

Los Gatos Theatre first opened its doors as The Strand in 1915. Its single-screen splendor was in keeping with the “movie palace” era, in which theater interiors and architecture embodied a majestic elegance. After a 1929 fire destroyed the film house, it was redesigned with an Art Deco style. It reopened as The Premier, complete with a marquee and Wurlitzer organ to deliver a ‘soundtrack’ to the silent movies of the day.

During the 1940’s, the theatre was renamed The Los Gatos Theater but was known simply as “The Gatos” by residents. The 1970s brought with it another devastating fire followed by the 1989 earthquake, which severely damaged The Gatos.

Owned by at the time Carmel Cormac, the theater was one of the very few independent movie houses in the South Bay during the 1980s. Cormack had divided the theater in half, transforming it from a single to a twin-screen facility. She lived above the Cinema and showed true movie classics in the intimate street level screening rooms. After the 1989 temblor, Cormack proposed a plan to reconstruct the Cinema into a 3-story film house with a restaurant but her plan was ultimately rejected by the town.

In 1993, Camera Cinemas signed on to manage operations while Cormack remained the primary owner. Once again, the movie house was renamed, now called the Los Gatos Cinema to reflect Camera Cinema’s involvement. Upon Cormack’s passing in 2011, the 11,000 square foot theater was put up for sale and was purchased for an estimated $3.2 million in June 2011 by current owner, Alicia Goetz.

Theater Transformation

The theater went dark on September 30, 2012, undergoing a 2-year metamorphosis. During demolition, the facility was completely gutted. A multitude of century-old artifacts were unearthed, including the big wheel (part of a gambling game) that now hangs in the staircase as well as hundreds of old tin containers dating back to the property’s use as a cannery.

On April 25, 2014, the Los Gatos Theatre opened its doors once again to reveal a state-of-the-art, two-level movie house that preserved its striking Art Deco architecture. Once again an independent theatre, ties with Camera Cinemas were dissolved, allowing the film house to be used for community events in addition to showing feature films.

The main screen is 38’ X 19’ and seats 265, including balcony level seating for 21 people. The screen itself is movable, allowing film-goers to be fully immersed in the action, but also enabling it to be pushed back to reveal a stage for speeches and other performances. The upper screening room has an intimate feel, with an 18’ X 10’ screen and seating for 38.

Gone are the days of reel-to-reel films. Los Gatos Theatre downloads movies directly from distributors, using top-of-the-line digital Barco projectors backed by Dolby surround sound. The main theatre also offers 3D capability and both theatres include reader boards and headphones for those who are hearing impaired.

No movie is complete without food and the Los Gatos Theatre’s snack bar has also been revamped. It presents an array of refreshments including hot dogs, candy, cookies, ice cream, pretzels and of course, gourmet popcorn. 

A true historical landmark, the Los Gatos Theatre is just one of the many attractions that make Los Gatos a distinct place to live, work and play. Tickets can be purchased at the theatre box office or online via the theatre website.

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