Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Capitola Theatre, Capitola, CA

The Capitola Theatre in my current home of Capitola, California, is, unfortunately, no longer standing. Built in 1947 is a beachside movie theatre in the tourist area known as Capitola Village, the theatre was small, looked rather out-of-place, but was a local fixture for several decades. It became the second-run "cheap seats" theatre for the county, showing movies that had been out for several months as double-features at a discount price. This often resulted in very odd pairings, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark playing with the Neil Diamond vehicle The Jazz Singer or Modern Problems with Tron. The theatre closed as a movie venue in the mid-90s, but was saved from obsolescence by a group of local opera performers and enthusiasts who renovated it and used it for opera, live theatre, and the occasional cult movie (I remember seeing Raising Arizona at the theatre 'roundabouts 1999). After serving as a local performing arts establishment, the theatre again fell into disuse and was finally demolished in the first half of 2010.

Bit of a shame, really. For all of it's oddness, it was kind of a cool building.

And, of course, the theatre was said to be haunted.

The haunting manifestations are mostly of the audible, rather than the visible, variety. They are usually said to consist of the sounds of a crowd of people in the lobby or in the theatre after-hours. When investigated, naturally, there is nobody there. These stories are usually said to be reported by crews working on sets at night or in the mornings, and it is said that at least one of the construction workers who was performing renovations in the mid-90s walked off the job after hearing a crowd in the theatre, but seeing nobody present when he walked into the room. On another occasion, a woman working in the theatre took a phone call, which was intended for the theatre's seamstress. when she called up to the booth where the seamstress usually was, a woman's voice called back that she would accept the telephone call, but the woman who had initially taken the call was unsuccessful in transferring it. When she looked in the booth to see what the problem was, she found that the seamstress was not present.

Commentary: The Capitola theatre was a sort of non-landmark in Capitola. It was in the main tourist area which, by the 90s, had become very difficult to navigate during the summers, and parking was always a problem; it was located next to other buildings at the bottom of a cliff and less than 300 feet from the beach, meaning that it's architecture was not well-served by being near many things that might attract (or distract) one's eye; and it was one of many theatres within Santa Cruz county providing live theatre and oddball films. It was unique, it must be said, but it was a place that unfortunately faded into the background of a very active, busy community filled with unique buildings and eccentric artists.

I have commented before about the fact that it seems that every live theatre venue is said to be haunted. The same is not true of movie theatres - to be certain, there are movie theatres with ghostly reputations, but they seem to be less common than live theatre venues with resident spirits. Friends of mine who work in live theatre tell me that this has to do with a sense of tradition, a sense of fun among actors, and a tendency for many actors to be (for lack of a better word) over-dramatic and want to see wherever they are as special*.

In light of the disparity between haunted movie theatres and haunted live theatres, it is interesting to note that all of the ghost stories that I have been able to track down date to the mid-90s, and specifically cite set builders, renovation workers, seamstresses, and other people who would be present due to the conversion or use as an opera house/live theatre. It would appear that, in addition to being converted for use, the moviehouse also was initiated into the actor's tradition of ghost stories.

And, really, I wouldn't want it any other way.

*Though, one would think, that with the proliferation of "haunted" theatres, having the one that was ectoplasm-free would make your place special.

Sources: Santa Cruz Paranormal Research, Shadowlands (AKA the Illustrious Internet), Carpe Noctem, Cinema Treasures, KFRC


  1. I had no idea they demolished the Capitola Theatre... I used to love going to see movies there as a kid. Ah, nostalgia...

  2. Used to live in CrapitolaMarch 4, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    No way, what a complete short sighted move. That kind of thinking is typical of Santa Cruz/Crapitola. They won't allow ANY development, however something as f-ing cool as the Capitola Theatre they are more than willing to doze for the parking. I loved that place! I went to a showing of Spike and Mikes Animation festival in, like '92? and it was PACKED with (wasted) people having a blast. Complete with beer bottles and smoking. In fact, the theatre seating was divided into 3rds at construction; .30 was non smoking and .60 was smoking! They even sold cigarettes at the front! The old lady who ran the place had this great Beehive hair straight out of a Gary Larson Farside cartoon, and if you called to get the showing info she read the recording herself! She had this beautiful lisp when she spoke that made you feel like it was your grandma running the place.
    Shame on you Capitola, I'm glad I left, and now I have another reason not to visit.