Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit, a musical drama based on the true story of the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder trial involving a group of Mexican-American “Zoot Suiters” or Pachucos, opened last night at Phillips Hall at Santa Ana College to a sell out audience.
The play continues this evening and tomorrow at 8pm. The box office opens at 7:30pm. A 2:30pm showing on Sunday rounds out opening weekend.
Zoot Suit combines song and dance, drama and comedy and will run for one more week on March 15, 16, 17 at 8pm and on the 18th at 2:30pm.
Children 12 and under: $10
Students / Seniors / Staff: $12
General Admission: $14
Save $1 per ticket when you buy online:
Santa Ana’s theater history is a bit puzzling because many of these were renamed or relocated or rebuilt on the sites of former ones. So here is a timeline meant to give a clearer history of the downtown theaters.
According to Cinema Treasures, the city and county’s first theater was called the Temple and it was built in 1909. This is debatable because there was an opera house in Downtown Santa Ana, where Polish-born actress Helena Modjeska performed at, and she died in 1909.
So the first playhouse and stage was the Santa Ana opera house built prior to 1909.
So a timeline would look something like this:
- The Santa Ana Opera House, on Fourth street intersecting Cypress built in the late 19th century
- The Temple Theater on 220 N. Bush opened in 1909
- The Auditorium Theatre on 307 N. Spurgeon opened in 1912 (Later named Clune’s Theater then The Yost, after an Ed or E.D. Yost)
- The Princess Theatre on 308 N. Main opened in 1914
- The West End Theater on 324 W. Fourth opened in 1915
- The Lyric Theatre on 218 E. Fourth opened prior to 1923, renamed New Princess in 1923.
- The New Princess Theatre on 218 E. Fourth opened in 1923
- The West Coast Theatre on 308 N. Main opened in 1924
- The Broadway Theatre on 416 N. Broadway opened in 1926
- Walker’s Theatre on 220 N. Bush (behind the old city hall, demolished in the 60s) opened in 1936
- Santa Ana High School Auditorium (now Medley Auditorium) on 520 W. Walnut street, opened in 1936. This is the largest stage in Santa Ana. The Los Angeles Philharmonic used to perform here. It was recently named after Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers. Medley was a former Santa Ana High School Saint.
Historical records show that Polish-born singer Helena Modjeska performed in Santa Ana’s opera house at the turn of the 20th century. One online source curiously leaves out this detail but mentions that she and her husband moved to a ranch near Anaheim.
Helena Modjeska was active as a performer in Poland prior to the year 1876, which was when she emigrated to the U.S. along with her husband.
Modjeska performed in San Francisco, Louisville, New York and probably more cities considering that Santa Ana was left out in one online source. She passed away in 1909 in Newport Beach and later had Modjeska Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains and Modjeska Peak named after her. Modjeska Peak forms the Saddleback mountain landmark visible in Santa Ana alongside Santiago Peak.
For more visit the Modjeska Society.
The earliest forms of entertainment in Santa Ana were variety shows and opera, prior to the 1920s and the introduction of “talkies.” The Yost Theater, for example, was a vaudeville house and later shared the same fate of other vaudeville houses that switched to talkies.
Santa Ana got its name in 1810. What is known now as central Orange County, used to be called Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. It was a land grant given to the Yorba family by the Spanish crown, when Alta (Upper) California was still part of New Spain. After the Mexican-American war, the town of Santa Ana was plotted by Kentuckian William Spurgeon in 1869. The town was officially recognized twenty years later and then became the political center of a new project, the formation of the County of Orange, separate from Los Angeles County.
With time, the old boundaries of Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana became splintered into the modern-day towns of Orange County, and now, people think “Orange County” and not Santa Ana. By the way, ever since the TVseries “The OC” came out, designed by people in Beverly Hills, it became trendy to say “OC.” But during the county’s early history, Santa Ana was the center of it all, it was the place to be and the most important center between Los Angeles and San Diego. Hollywood’s players knew this as well, and they came to get away. There was even a time that Newport Beach used to promote itself as being near Santa Ana, eventually Desi Arnaz went fishing at Newport Harbor with his Santa Ana friend and pantomime, José Esobar Pérez, “Pepito.”
Santa Ana wasn’t just the county political hub, it also became its entertainment hub. The county’s first theater, The Temple, was built in Santa Ana near the corner of Main and First street. It was later demolished to make parking for the old city hall.
The county’s first opera house was also located in the downtown, on the corner of Fourth and Cypress streets. The opera house was eventually demolished. It may have become a house of ill repute. One image of the opera house had a sign on the entrance asking its patrons, “Do you know where your daughter is?” It makes you wonder. An image of the opera house is available in the book Early Santa Ana. It can also be found online through the Santa Ana Public Library’s Digitized Historical Photograph Collection.
The entertainment climate got competitive with time. The Yost Theater was built a walking distance from where the old opera house used to be on the east end, and there was the Broadway and West End theaters on the opposite side of the downtown. In between there was the Fox West Coast Theater, on Main and Third streets.