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Sep 05

1975 Obispo Theater Fire

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December 28, 1975

obispo-exterior2.jpgSan Luis Obispo used to be home to two grand movie palaces, sadly today only the Fremont remains.

The Obispo used to be near the corner of Osos and Monterey Streets now the home of the Court Street Center.
Early on a Sunday morning fire struck the 65-year-old theater, built in 1911.
Battalion chief Jack Wainscott was in charge of the firefighting effort.
Quoting from the story by Pete Dunan [who later took a job running Goodwill]:

Wainscott said he almost lost three men through the second floor of the building when it began to collapse early in the fire.
He said the men escaped down the only stairway from two upstairs businesses next to the theater.
The entire roof of the theater and adjacent businesses collapsed at about 6:30 a.m. sending sparks and embers “a hundred feet into the sky over most of downtown, “ Battalion chief Elton Hall said.
Hall, one of the firemen called back to duty, said, “It was incredible, one of the most spectacular fires I’ve ever seen. Flames were shooting out everywhere when I arrived. That parking lot saved us from the flames spreading to the Anderson and God knows how many other buildings.”
Wainscott said, “I’ve been nervous just waiting for that building to go for the 22 years I’ve been in the department.”

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Two days later fire investigators were still looking into the cause.
Quoting related story in the paper by Bob Anderson:

The interior contained irreplaceable chandeliers and a majestic painting of Morro Rock, which for many years had been completely hidden by dust.

The next day the city gave the building owner 10 days to demolish the unsafe structure.
Sully’s Cocktails and Osos Street Records moved to new locations. The Obispo was demolished to make a parking lot.

The Vault goes to edges of the Earth to bring you the story, here a former employee of the Obispo recalls working at the theater:

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I started working at the Obispo Theater in 1957 when I was 14 (with required work permit).
By the time I left to go to Cal Poly in 1960 I was a cashier making a generous $1.25 an hour!
The manager was very fair about hiring, as half of the teens working there were from San Luis High and half were from Mission High (now Mission Prep.)
We had a friendly rivalry with the Fremont just up the street on Monterey. In order to pull in more customers and “out do” the Fremont on Monday nights, the manager, Mr. Taylor, started showing “art movies” that night. The tradition then moved to the Rainbow and continues at the Palm today.
I started as an usher, wearing a uniform and carrying a flashlight. I helped seat people and kept an eye out for “trouble” especially in the balcony!
One request often needed was, ” Please take your cigarette out to the lobby to smoke.”
We changed into and out of our uniforms in a very small dark musty room way up in the far corner of the balcony next to the projection room.
More than once there was some joking about getting caught up in that tiny room if a fire broke out. Little did I know how prophetic the thoughts of fire would be.

Recalled by Noel Middlecamp aka Kathy Hill

Thanks for the help with the blog mom.
Photos were by Wayne Nicholls

Related posts:

  1. Obispo Theater 1963