During Hollywood’s Golden Age, The Granada played center stage. As movies captured our collective imagination, The Granada Theatre began to deliver this new form of entertainment to Santa Barbara audiences.
When movies first debuted, they were silent and shorter than the movies of today. Often running 30 minutes to an hour, theaters didn’t think they provided a full evening of entertainment. So, at The Granada, and many other theaters of the time, a movie was supplemented with live performances.
At The Granada silent movies were part of a package that included orchestral and ballet performances. In the 1920s there were three shows a day, with the movie changing twice a week. While the live shows and movie were presented together, there was no tie-in between the film and the performance.
When “talkies” debuted in 1927 the Golden Age of Hollywood was ushered in. The major studios of the time all went looking for theaters to show their new movies. Warner Brothers had its eye on Santa Barbara and in 1930, it acquired four area venues, including The Granada.
Because The Granada was close to Hollywood, but not in it, it soon became a favorite for Warner Studios to use for its sneak previews. These showings allowed the studio to gauge audience reaction to a film before its official premiere. According to Scott Seltzer, Granada Centennial Producer, sometimes a movie was even changed based upon audience reaction during these previews.
While The Granada hosted many of Warner’s sneak previews, the shows were advertised only as “Major Sneak Preview” so many of the specifics of what was shown at the theater were lost to time. There is a long-held rumor that “Gone with the Wind” had its first public showing at The Granada, but there is also talk that the Granada was the second preview, with the first happening in Riverside.
“Guys and Dolls” did have its first preview at The Granada with a red carpet, studio executives and many of the stars, including Frank Sinatra, in attendance.
“Local musician Randy Tico told me that his mom happened to be walking by The Granada the night of the Guys and Dolls preview and saw Sinatra sneaking out early and got his autograph,” said Seltzer.
In 1949 The Granada played host to the world premiere of “My Dream is Yours,” starring Doris Day, Lee Bowman and Jack Carson. The stars walked the red carpet outside The Granada as crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the famous actors. While critics overall panned the film, Day was lauded for her singing.
A year later The Granada was the site for the western premiere of “Daughter of Rosy O’Grady” starring June Haver, Debbie Reynolds, and Gordon MacRae. The musical follows the lives of several performers in New York at the end of the 19th century.
Warner Studios owned The Granada until 1953 and during that time ensured that the theatre remained state-of-the-art. Throughout those years the screen size and quality were increased, upgraded projection equipment was added, 3D capabilities were installed and the sound system was improved.
In 1955 after The Granada was sold to the Metropolitan Theater Company, the tradition of keeping The Granada on the cutting edge of technology continued when 70mm projection capability was added. This allowed The Granada to be the first theater in the region to screen Star Wars: A New Hope in 70mm.
2024: A Return to Film
Since The Granada’s reopening in 2008, it’s primarily been a venue for live theater. To celebrate its centennial this year, the theater is putting together The Granada Centennial Festival Weekend celebrating The Granada’s historic past, its vibrant present, and the exciting future on April 12-14, 2024.
Reviving that movie palace atmosphere, on Friday, April 12, 2024, the theater is rolling out the red carpet for a cinematic voyage screening two historic films that were originally presented at The Granada Theatre. Act 1 will be the screening of Sherlock Jr., starring Buster Keaton, first presented at the Granada on June 1, 1924. Accompanying the silent film on the piano will be award-winning composer and musician Michael Mortilla. Act 2 will be the screening of Star Wars: A New Hope, which was first presented at the Granada on Sept 16, 1977, and did a 15-week run at the theater.
The Granada will also honor its storied movie history with a new program focused on movies by artists who live in Santa Barbara.
In August The Granada will feature four of Robert Zemeckis’ most popular films including, “Romancing the Stone,” “Back to the Future,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and “Forrest Gump.”