Sep 02

San Luis Obispo’s Fremont theater takes a break

Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel share a laugh during the 1942 grand opening of the Fremont movie theater

The downtown movie theater is closing for a month’s worth of renovations

Here’s important news for Central Coast moviegoers.

As The Tribune reported today, the historic Fremont movie theater in downtown San Luis Obispo is closing its doors for renovations.

It will take about a month to install fire sprinklers  and clean the theater’s massive ceiling.

Built in 1942 and renovated in the 1990s, the 860-seat theater located at 1025 Monterey Street features a stunning, neon-lit marquee, a well-appointed lobby and gorgeous, colorful Art Deco murals on its walls and ceiling.

San Luis Obispo’s historic Fremont movie theater is closing for a month of repairs (Photo by David Middlecamp)You can catch a glimpse of the Fremont’s ceiling at the top of this blog.

Unfortunately, that lovely ceiling has sustained a lot of wear-and-tear over the years, including dirt, dust and water damage. In some spots, the sweeping swirls of green, blue and orange are worn and patched.

“There is so much dirt that has collected over the 50 years,” building co-owner John King told the Tribune. “You can’t even see the neon much anymore. It will be much nicer.”

When the Fremont opened on Memorial Day, May 29, 1942, the entire town turned out to celebrate.

As Tribune columnist Dan Krieger wrote in 2008, “Movie buffs engulfed Monterey Street, awaiting two buses carrying Hollywood celebrities who were coming to a new cinema and to encourage the sale of war bonds.

“Boxing great Max Baer got off one of the buses. So did Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Constance Bennett, John Carroll, Nat Pendleton, Carole Bruce, Harry Davenport, Jackie Cooper, Charlie Ruggles, James Craig and Carole Landis.

“First there was a bond rally in Victory Square on the county courthouse lawn across from the Fremont. Then the bond rally moved over to the theater, where attractive, uniformed usherettes showed everyone to their seats.

Don McNeill brought his ‘Breakfast Club’ radio show to our courthouse lawn. The ‘Breakfast Club’ was broadcast over the Mutual-Don Lee Network and the Armed Forces Network. It was the most popular daytime radio show in America….

Servicemen from Camp Roberts and Camp San Luis Obispo were featured along with Hollywood stars.”

Today, the Fremont is the last remaining movie palace in a town that once sustained three.

According to Tribune archives and CinemaTreasures.org, the Obispo Theatre on Court Street burned down in 1975. Today, the Court Street Center mall stands on the foundations of that demolished Art Deco theater.

The Elmo Theatre, which opened in 1921, has also been demolished. It stood at the current location of the Union Bank at Marsh and Morro streets.

Such theaters are certified treasures for history buffs and movie lovers, as well as anyone who values the romantic architecture of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

That makes preserving them all the more essential.

When the Fremont reopens in early October, I’ll be among the first in line to see the renovated beauty.


Color photo by Tribune photographer David Middlecamp.

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  1. JC

    As a lifelong firefighter, current Fire Marshal, and native of Morro Bay, I can’t tell you how much this article warms my heart! I had the opportunity to attend training at Camp San Luis back in May, and caught the newest Star Trek movie at the Fremont. Boy did it bring back alot of good memories! Reading that the theater will be restored to its glory days, along with the installation of a fire sprinkler system, its just awesome. Good Job, SLO!!!

    Jerry Clark
    Asst Fire Marshal
    Fairfield Fire Department

  2. douglas Bouman

    read with interest the cleaning, etc. of the Fremont. My father worked for the company that did the original art work, ceiling, etc. at the theater. I have an art company here in slo and have tried to contact John King to see if we could be involved, but have been unable to contact him. Any help would be appreciated. You can view our work on our web site http://www.dbamurals.com
    doug bouman

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