For its nearly 85-year history, downtown Modesto’s State Theatre has been a single-screen movie house.
But now the nonprofit art-house theater is expanding for the first time and adding a second screen. Called The Jewel, the small new theater is meant to help diversify the film selection and expand the private rental options, said State Executive Director Kirstie Boyett.
The micro-theater is being installed next door to the existing theater, in the State’s former office space. The 840-square-foot area will fit 25 seats, a handicapped bathroom and handicapped seating, and feature full digital projection and sound like its big-sister theater.
Boyett, a longtime State board member who took over as executive director a year ago, said adding a screen has been on the board’s to-do list for a couple of years. But instead of chopping up the current theater, like some vintage movie palaces have done elsewhere, they wanted to expand the entire theater.
“We named it The Jewel because we call ourselves the jewel of downtown anyway,” Boyett said. “We’re excited to add to its legacy.”
The State Theatre opened on Christmas Day in 1934 and in its heyday was one of the premiere movie theaters in town. But the Art Deco venue on J Street slid into decline over the decades and was eventually closed in 1992.
Two years later, the nonprofit Downtown Arts Project brought it back and ran it as a live music and indie movie venue for years. In 2005, the nonprofit State Theatre of Modesto Inc. took over operations and oversaw a $2 million renovation to the facade, lobby and the theater’s signature greyhound and gazelle murals. Other upgrades have included the digital marquee, digital sound and projection and an upgraded concessions area.
It is the only movie house in Modesto from the early film era to remain in operation. Others like the Strand, Princess and Lyric theaters have been bulldozed and lost to time.
Boyett said the second screen will make film scheduling easier. Many distributors require movies to run a certain number of times a day for a certain length of run, and with only one screen, that means the whole theater could be dominated by one film for weeks. The second screen means that during that same time, two or three films could be playing simultaneously. So moviegoers could see more movies, and come to the theater more often.
The new space will also be used for private rentals and parties, and can free up the main theater for more live and other special events.
The new theater will be considerably smaller, seating just 25 while the main theater seats 550. The screen will also be smaller, 12 by 7 feet, while the main screen is 30 by 18 feet. But the new theater will have some upgrades not seen in the big theater. The seats will all be rocking captain chairs and have — wait for it — cup holders.
As someone who on more than one occasion has seen a drink roll from the back of the first level to the front of the house, the cup holders are a welcome addition. The second theater will share the concession stand, with a cut-through going to what is now the back of the snack area.
The ambitious $900,000 project has been largely funded by a donation from local philanthropists John and June Rodgers. Modesto’s Pratt Architecture donated its services for the design. Boyett said named seats are still available for $1,500 donations. Construction is underway, with the floor dug up to allow for tiered seating. But there should be no disruption of the existing theater’s programming as the project is completed.
Once done, the theater will match the existing State’s look and Art Deco style. And, yes, they will replicate those greyhounds and gazelles on its walls. And the planned open date? Right around Christmas Day, to coincide with the State’s 85th anniversary.
For more about the State Theatre or to donate to the project, visit thestate.org.