AKA: Fox Arlington Theater, Santa Barbara, CA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Edwards and Plunkett, Architects (firm); William Albert Edwards (architect); James Joseph Plunkett (architect)

Dates: constructed 1930-1931

1317 State Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101-2609

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Building History

This theatre occupied the site of the famed Arlington Hotels #1 and #2, which burned in 1909 and sustained fatal earthquake damage in 1925, respectively. The Santa Barbara firm of Plunkett and Edwards designed this celebrated Spanish Colonial theatre along El Paseo in Downtown Santa Barbara, CA. According to movie palace historian, the architects copied the building's tower form from the Alcazar in Segovia, Spain. (See David Naylor, American Picture Palaces The Architecture of Fantasy, [New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981], p. 141.) This 12th century fortress had alterations made to it by King Phillip II in the 16th century, including the addition of new towers. The tower also resembled that of the well-known Carthay Circle Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, (1926), one of the leading movie premiere sites of the 1920s. Construction began, according to the Los Angeles Times in August of 1930. It had its opening on 05/22/1931. The Fox Arlington became known as simply the "Arlington Theatre" in the early 1960s.

Building Notes

Joseph J. Plunkett (1900-1946), architect, designed this "atmospheric" Spanish Colonial Revival movie palace, seating 2,025 (1,825 seats according to Naylor, p. 219); it is considered by many to have been one of the best of the atmospheric palaces in which the auditorium's walls bore an elaborate decorative theme, often patterned on palace architecture or picturesque vernacular scenes. This one recalled a Spanish provincial town. Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) Director Mark Trueblood has written of the theatre: "The weed patch that had been the site of two great hotels lay vacant until 1930, when Hollywood based Fox West Coast Theatres decided to build a new movie palace for Santa Barbara on the site. Architect Joseph J. Plunkett designed the building’s exterior to create the illusion of a soaring Spanish castle resembling the Moorish Alcazar in Seville. Borrowing from a variety of Spanish architectural styles, Plunkett’s Andalusian structure combined buttresses, balconies, domes and arches, with romantic stairways leading down to secluded courts. The tile-roofed esplanade and fountain leading from State Street to the theatre’s entrance was copied from the castle of the Duque de Alba in Seville. Thousands of glazed Tunisian tiles festoon the sweeping staircases on either side of the main foyer, and artisans created replicas of 14th – 16th century Catalonian chandeliers and iron lanterns." (See Mark Trueblood, "The Arlington Theatre-Santa Barbara California," Flickr page, http://www.flickr.com/photos/44687148@N00/960482966/ Accessed 11/13/2009) The Fox Arlington was also notable for its use of an exterior courtyard as one lobby area. The Fox Theatre chain developed a small number of exterior courtyard theatres in Southern CA, this being one of the best known. Others included the Fox Fullerton (Fullerton, CA, 1925), the Fox Arlington (Santa Barbara, CA, 1931) and the Fox Florence (Florence, CA, 1932). This trend appears to have begun with a handful of well-known Los Angeles movie palaces, all designed by Raymond Kennedy of the Meyer and Holler firm; these included Grauman's Egyptian Theatre (Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA, 1922), the Fox Fullerton, and Grauman's Chinese Theatre (Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA, 1927). (The Varsity Theatre [Palo Alto, CA, 1927] was a rare Northern California example of this courtyard theatre trend.) The current organ in the Fox Arlington came from the Loews Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, NJ; John Marshall Gamble (1863-1957) executed murals in the Fox Arlington. Originally, the theatre had a lounge, El Club Chico, that overlooked both the auditorium and the streets of El Paseo. tel: 805-963-4408 (2003);

The proscenium arch was removed in 1955 when the theatre went to the wide screen Cinerama format. A renovation was undertaken in 1976, when it became a performing arts center.

PCAD id: 89

"West Coast Theatres Sold for $17,000,000", .New York Times, 24, 1934-11-20. Naylor, David, American Picture Palaces The Architecture of Fantasy, 141, 147, 219, 1981. "Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA", Architect and Engineer, 46, 09/1934. "Portfolio of Theatres", Architectural Record, 71: 421-428, 06/1932. "An unusual theater with unique approach", California Arts and Architecture, 41: 33-35, 2/1932. "Theatre work to start", Los Angeles Times, 1, 07/27/1930. "Arlington Theatre", Motion Picture Herald, 68, 01/09/1937. "Arlington Theatre lobby advertising scheme", Motion Picture Herald, 92, 04/10/1936. "Film publicity used by theatre", Motion Picture Herald, 88, 11/07/1936. "Fox Theatre, Santa Barbara", Motion Picture Herald--Better Theaters Section, 73, 08/01/1931. "A study in adaptation", Motion Picture Herald--Better Theaters Section, 19-23, 07/04/1931. "City Block No. 91--The Arlington Evolution", Santa Barbara Magazine, 80-85, Fall 1980. "The Arlington Story", Santa Barbara Magazine, 71-75, Summer 1976. "Restoration job on schedule at Fox-Arlington Theatre", Santa Barbara News-Pres, B-1, 02/22/1976. "Famed Arlington movie palace new performing arts center", Santa Barbara News-Press, 05/16/1976. "Announcement", Southwest Builder and Contractor, 53, col 1, 08/22/1930. "Building contracts", Southwest Builder and Contractor, 64, 06/27/1930. "Building contracts", Southwest Builder and Contractor, 54, col 2, 07/11/1930. "Theatre gives illustration of outdoor night scene in old Spanish village", Southwest Builder and Contractor, 44-46, 06/26/1931. "Contracts for new building", Southwest Builder and Contractor, 62, 04/25/1930. "Building contracts", Southwest Builder and Contractor, 64, 05/23/1930. "A grand old theater makes a comeback", Sunset, 6, 09/1976. "Arlington Theatre", Sunset, 7, 04/1982. "Fox West Coast Theaters will build a $500,000, 2500 seat house at Santa Barbara", Western Advertising, 58, col 3, 09/04/1930.