Friday, Jan. 25, 2013
Can you tell us the history of the Crest Theatre?
By Alina Gutierrez
"Heck, yes, I remember the Crest. There were Saturday matinees where they showed creature features. It was great entertainment. Sometimes my friends and I would wait for a scary moment and then jump up, run through the aisles and crash through the back doors. It was great fun except for the time Benny (Silva) locked the back doors and we got caught and punished."
Students from Tim McNally's Advanced Placement economics and AP U.S. history class at Los Banos High School are again starting the "Ask Us" column. In past research, students learned there were crop circles in the foothills outside Los Banos; discovered why almost all the barns in Los Banos look the same; and learned about the Bicycle Express mail delivery that came through Los Banos from Fresno to San Francisco.
This is how Los Banos High School teacher Robert Arambel remembers the Crest Theatre.
Other residents have similar memories. The Crest was the place to be for nearly three decades.
The Crest opened April 22, 1949. It was a huge event, with representatives from Fox, Universal, Paramount, and Columbia studios. Amelia "Benny" Silva was hired as the manager. She was one of the few female theater managers in the country at the time.
The first movie at the Crest was "The Return of October," a Glenn Ford western. The theater was packed with 800 people. Lines formed at 6:30 for the 7 p.m. show. This continued for years. The theater had plush reclining seats in the back that you could purchase for an extra quarter.
Admission was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. Candy was a dime while popcorn buckets and Pepsi-Cola were 15 cents apiece.
The entertainment kicked off with a newsreel and a short cartoon, and then the feature.
The Crest was lined with huge Egyptian murals. The theater quickly became Los Banos' hot spot. Manager Silva was extremely happy. However, she had high standards for her films.
There was no way the Crest would ever show a risqué movie like today's R-rated films. Parents used to drop off their children most evenings and at Thursday matinees with the instruction to mind "Aunt Benny."
The Crest also employed teenagers. Robert Benidettino, Benny's nephew, was employed as a poster boy. "A lot of the guys did this, so they could earn extra money," said Mr. Benidettino, who now lives in Chicago. "We would change the marquee or run the films, which needed to be changed about every 15 minutes."
The Crest also employed several high school girls as cashiers, usherettes and in numerous other positions. Terry Barcellos remembers working as a cashier. She recalls that Benny would patrol the aisles with her flashlight. "You better not have your arm around a girl or your feet on the seats," Mrs. Barcellos said. "She definitely put the fear of God in a lot of teenagers."
Mrs. Barcellos also remembers having a bird's-eye view of kids dragging Main Street (I Street), making a U-turn, and entering the Crest with their dates.
"I was a cashier out in front and got to see everything," she said. Most theatergoers got their news from the newsreels that played first. "TVs were scarce then and that's how we got the news."
Love Nests were "far and away the most popular candy bar at the theater," and westerns were the most popular movies, even though they weren't her favorite, Mrs. Barcellos said. The bar had a fudge center caramel, peanuts, and chocolate.
Mrs. Barcellos and Mr. Benidettino also recalled when Italian actress Milly Vitale visited. They said that occurred when she was married to Vincent Hillyer, a local resident best known for his love of vampire lore.
In the early 1970s, television was beginning to boom and video cassettes were also becoming popular. While dedicated patrons continued to attend, many watched their entertainment at home and declining numbers began to take their toll. The Crest eventually closed.
According to research done by former Los Banos High School student Nathan Salha in 2001, the Crest was a large part of cultural life in Los Banos for many years.
When the Egyptian murals were finally covered, a legacy came to an end. Since then, the building has been home to a roller rink and later a church.
Ask us is dedicated to historian Charles Sawyer, who died last year.
Ask Us is produced by Tim McNallys Advanced Placement American government class. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling (209)826-6033, or by sending a letter to Los Banos High School, 1966 S. 11th St., Los Banos 93635.