Built by Sylvester and Salvatore Enea, the California Theatre in Pittsburg opened in 1920 as a premiere venue for live vaudeville performances and silent films. The elegant theater was designed by architect A.W. Cornelius, who designed other grand theaters in San Francisco and throughout California, including the California Theatre in Richmond and the Fox Theater in Salinas.
The auditorium featured a large art-deco chandelier with a beaux-artes style ceiling decoration. The carpets were thick and luxurious, and the balcony was grand. It was always a special treat to catch a show at the California Theatre. Adults paid 25 cents, children 15 cents.
Singers, acrobats, dancers, and entertainers of all types performed at the California before their opening night on the circuit in San Francisco. An impressive pipe organ resonated during the silent films, and between shows. When talking pictures were the newest technology, the theater was modified to accommodate them. Flash Gordon and cowboy heroes Ray “Crash” Corrigan, Tim Holt, Tex Ritter and Fred Scott thrilled audiences.
Entertainment tastes changed, and the California Theatre closed in 1954. A roof leak damaged the ceiling, which collapsed into the abandoned auditorium. Over the years, local theater groups and downtown businesses urged its restoration, but the task seemed overwhelming and costly.