(Last UPDATED 3/24/2022) Description and review of Alhambra: Sacramento’s Palace of Fantasy, a documentary about the Sacramento Alhambra Theatre. The Alhambra Theatre was razed in 1973.
On Wednesday evening I attended the world premiere of Alhambra: Sacramento’s Palace of Fantasy at the Tower Theatre. The 55-minute documentary details through interviews, pictures and vintage films the story of the Alhambra Theatre (1927-1973).
See related blog post: Tower Theatre – Sacramento Landmarks
There were two showings of the documentary that evening. The first showing at 7:00 p.m. was sold out when I went online to purchase my ticket. As a result, I attended the second showing at 8:20 p.m.
SacramentoRevealed.com – All Things Sacramento (from a personal perspective)
Concerned about the availability of parking I arrived early. However, I had no problem finding a spot in the Tower Theatre parking lot.
After parking, I found that a line had already formed outside the building for the 8:20 p.m. showing. I was glad that I had arrived early. It was a very cold evening, and everyone in line was relieved when we were allowed to enter the lobby and wait inside.
As the Tower Theatre now serves beer and wine, I decided to treat myself to a glass of wine while waiting for the first showing to end. The first showing had started a bit late so it was approximately 8:45 p.m. before we were allowed into the theatre to settle into our seats.
Alhambra: Sacramento’s Palace of Fantasy
The documentary is the brainchild of Matias Antonio Bombal and Chad E. Williams, local film makers who had collaborated previously on another Sacramento-centric film The Sacramento Picture. Wendell Jacob of Davis is the Executive Producer of Alhambra: Sacramento’s Palace of Fantasy.
Matias Bombal opened the program by making a few introductory comments about the making of the film. He also mentioned that he and Chad Williams hope to secure an additional $30,000 in funding in order to add footage to the film – making it “feature length.” Doing so would open up additional opportunities for screening of the film. He also expressed the hope that the film would be broadcast on public television.
About The Alhambra Theatre/Documentary
The Alhambra Theatre, “The Showplace of Sacramento”, occupied a City block in East Sacramento. The theatre and its grounds were located between J and K Streets on the eastern side of Alhambra Boulevard (previously 31st Street). When it was built, the Alhambra Theatre was situated near the edge of town.
The majestic theatre, a Sacramento landmark for nearly 45 years, was constructed to resemble The Alhambra, a famous Moorish-Spanish palace and fortress in Granada, Spain. It was designed by local architects Starks & Flanders. Existing buildings in Sacramento designed by Leonard Starks include the Elks Building and the downtown post office.
The Alhambra was described by Washington Irving in his book “Tales of the Alhambra.” One notable quote: “Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.”
In the documentary a number of Sacramentans spoke fondly about their memories of The Alhambra Theatre – both the ornate façade of the exterior, as well as its extensive gardens and water features.
The interior of the Alhambra Theatre was likewise opulent. The interior featured, among other things, ornate gilded woodwork, elegant drapes and tapestries and lighting fixtures. There were nearly 2,000 red velvet seats.
The Alhambra Theatre was home to an impressive pipe organ crafted by The Robert Morton Organ Company to accompany the showing of silent films. The rebuilt and updated Alhambra Theatre pipe organ now resides in the Alhambra Room at the Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, California.
Of note, the Alhambra Theatre was also outfitted with the latest Vitaphone technology of the time – allowing it to screen “talking” pictures.
During the Great Depression the Alhambra Theatre fell upon hard times. Ownership changed and over time as revenues declined so did the upkeep of the building – inside and out.
The Alhambra Theatre was razed in 1973 after a bond measure to fund its purchase failed passage. A Safeway now occupies the spot where the building once stood. All that remains of the Alhambra Theatre is a fountain on the perimeter of the parking lot.
The Alhambra Theatre was demolished just a few years before I moved to Sacramento. I came to know of it because it became a rallying cry by preservationists afterwards in the City of Sacramento – “Remember the Alhambra!”
To sum up, I very much enjoyed Alhambra: Sacramento’s Palace of Fantasy. In fact, the documentary was so detailed and interesting that I hope to have the opportunity to watch it again.
The film trailer can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/242839790
Also see related blog post: Walk Down Memory Lane
Save the Alhambra
When it became known that the Alhambra Theatre was to be torn down and “redeveloped” into a Safeway Supermarket an effort was launched by activists to “Save the Alhambra.”
In the documentary activists who participated in the effort to Save the Alhambra described their uphill battle. My takeaway was that as a whole Sacramentans at the time were more indifferent than not on the subject.
The documentary was by no means one-sided. The question of viability was also explored. If the Alhambra Theatre had been “saved”, could it realistically have been transformed into a self-supporting enterprise? Big question mark.
Of note – Dr. Patrick “Pat” Melarkey, a retired Sacramento dentist who had served as the campaign coordinator of the Save the Alhambra Committee, passed at the age of 88 in February, 2020. A lifelong Sacramento resident, Pat Melarkey felt strongly that significant historical structures in Sacramento should be saved for future generations. While I did not know Pat Melarkey, I knew of him. He was very active in the community and often “in the news”.
Center for Sacramento History
The proceeds from the February 21 world premiere event benefited the Center for Sacramento History, specifically for preserving and making available the moving image collections held by the Center.
Founded in the early 1950’s, the Center for Sacramento History is administered by the City of Sacramento and jointly funded by the City and County of Sacramento
(3/24/2022) Snapshot added.
(1/21/2021) Pat Melarkey passing noted (see above)
(2/17/19) Photo of Alhambra Theatre photo circa 1930 and photo of Alhambra Theatre painting added.
(2/26/18) Photo of Alhambra Theatre fountain added.
Did you attend one of the two screenings of Alhambra: Sacramento’s Palace of Fantasy? What would you add?
Did you patronize the Alhambra Theatre before it was razed? What are your memories of the building and gardens?
Alhambra Theatre Snapshot:
- 1025 31st Street (now Alhambra Blvd.)
- Opened 1927
- First film screened: The Fighting Eagle (staring Rod La Rocque)
- Closed 1972
- Last films screened: A Man for All Seasons and Nicholas and Alexandra
- Razed 1973
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