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  • Andy Alfaro / The Sacramento Bee

    The Tower Theatre, which still screens independent films, opened at 16th Street and Broadway in 1938. A bit more than a year ago, theater operator Reading Cinemas spent $300,000 for digital projectors and sound upgrades in the facility’s three auditoriums.

  • Andy Alfaro / The Sacramento Bee

    The Crest Theatre boasts a 10-story-high marquee that was restored recently. Alas, daily film screenings there have ceased.

  • Carl Costas /

    The State Theatre in Auburn, shown here in June 2010, is in the midst of a renovation project.

Classic, independent films still loom large at these sites

Published: Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 9, 2014 - 1:11 pm

If you are a movie fan looking for a bit of big-screen escapism, the Sacramento region offers plenty of alternatives to corporate and sometimes soulless multiplexes.

These venues, which stand committed to showing movies on a large screen even as the industry shifts to downloading them on iPads, include historic movie palaces and a small foothills art house that feels like someone’s very cool screening room.

Crest Theatre 1013 K St., Sacramento (916) 442-7378

The gold-leaf-accented jewel of the region’s movie theaters, the Crest has been a theater of some kind for more than a century, starting as a vaudevillian venue. It became the Crest movie house in 1949, when it reopened with a big party and the film “That Midnight Kiss,” starring Kathryn Grayson and Ethel Barrymore. The theater’s 10-story-high marquee and vertical signage, restored a few years ago, are a symbol of a revived K Street.

But K Street’s restaurant and nightclub patrons neglected to add movie watching to their nights out, and the Crest stopped showing independent films in its two downstairs theaters last year. But it still offers special screenings on the huge screen in its main auditorium, which also holds concerts and other events. For example, it showed “Nebraska” weeks before its official release date.

The Crest is home to most Sacramento film festivals, including the region’s premier film event, the Sacramento French Film Festival, every June.

Crocker Art Museum 216 O St., Sacramento (916) 808-7000

The museum offers occasional films in its 260-seat Setzer Foundation Auditorium. Last year’s lineup included an evening of shorts selected by a Sundance Film Festival programmer and a Halloween showing of the 1922 horror classic “Nosferatu.” The “Nosferatu” screening was curated by Robert McKeown, from Sacramento’s Movies on a Big Screen series.

The Crocker holds a monthly outdoor film series during the summer months in its E. Kendell Davis Courtyard. This year’s titles are not yet determined but will carry an “American patchwork theme,” museum spokeswoman Tania Torres said, to correspond with the “Workt By Hand” quilt exhibition on display May 25-Sept. 3.

Magic Theatre 107 Argall Way, Nevada City (530) 265-8262

Tucked away in a small shopping center in the scenic foothills town of Nevada City, the Magic Theatre is the region’s most intimate movie house.

Movie magic envelops you as you enter the 62-seat theater, the walls of which hold framed movie posters and decorative rugs.

The programming is indie, foreign and documentary at this first-run art-house theater, open for more than a quarter-century and in its current location for more than 13 years.

Presentation is top-notch, with digital projection and Dolby surround sound. The coffee is locally roasted, the popcorn organic and the butter real.

State Theatre 985 Lincoln Way, Auburn (530) 885-0156

Auburn’s State Theatre, built in 1930 and in the process of a years-long renovation effort, is not exclusively a movie house. But it is a devoted entertainment venue that offers the monthly movie series “Cinema at the State,” which screens classics from across the decades. The next event, on March 20, is a double feature: Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” and James Cagney in “The Public Enemy.”

The theater sits within a business complex and has been in various “states” through the years. In 2008, a nonprofit called Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center restored its art deco marquee and the building’s facade.

In 2009, APPAC opened a 130-seat “demonstration” theater meant to show viability and drum up interest in the renovation. It worked. Fundraising currently is on track, APPAC executive director Janis Wikoff said, to complete the next stage of renovation: knocking down the wall dividing the theater’s original auditorium to create a 310-seat space. Wikoff said she anticipates the State closing for renovations in May and reopening in August.

In the meantime, APPAC is trying to get a monthly documentary series off the ground. On March 6, it will show “Good Ol’ Freda,” a 2013 doc about Beatles secretary Freda Kelly.

Tower Theatre 2508 Land Park Drive, Sacramento (916) 442-4700

The theater’s distinctive red-and-green neon tower highlights one of Sacramento’s most storied corners, at Broadway and Land Park Drive.

Built in 1938 and designed by William P. David (also architect for Davis’ Varsity Theatre), the building housing the Tower is the birthplace of many fond movie-going memories as well as the Tower Records chain. Tower Records founder Russ Solomon started selling records in his dad’s drugstore next to the theater. The space now houses the popular Tower Cafe.

The Tower Theatre celebrated its 75th anniversary last year with a day of activities that included a screening of “Algiers,” the 1938 Charles Boyer-Hedy Lamarr film shown on the theater’s opening night.

Longtime Tower patrons found more reasons to celebrate throughout 2013. In late 2012, theater operator Reading Cinemas spent $300,000 for digital projectors and sound upgrades in the Tower’s three auditoriums. The infamously dim projection in one of the smaller auditoriums is now bright and crystal clear.

Varsity Theatre 616 Second St., Davis (530) 758-5284

This Streamline Moderne beauty opened in 1950 for movies and later served as a performing-arts space. In 2006, the theater was renovated and reopened as a movie house showing mostly art-house fare.

A 97-seat auditorium added four years ago and the 267-seat main house both feature crisp projection.

The Varsity’s placement within blocks of shops and restaurants in downtown Davis distinguishes it as the region’s most conveniently located independent theater.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an updated version of a story published by The Bee in 2013.

Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.

Read more articles by Carla Meyer

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