Signs of the Time: Movie Palaces of the Bay Area

I was looking for a new Bay Area sketching challenge and a weekend sketch of the backside of the Del Mar Theatre in Santa Cruz provided the genesis.

As a child I remember seeing the large white building with the large words “DEL MAR” framed by one painting of a bikini clad beauty diving into water and a scene from a redwood forest on the other side. It wasn’t until I was in college that I attended a movie at the Del Mar, a cinema that my father visited many times in his youth. The Del Mar and my father share the same birth year. This provided another reason to sketch this historic building.

The backside of the Del Mar Theatre is one of the most prominent buildings in downtown Santa Cruz and a building that looms large in my childhood.

I would be sketching back in time to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s to the time when Art Deco movie palaces where prominent features in many towns and cities. These cinemas’s large neon signs illuminated the communities they served. This was the Golden Age of cinema, time before television and an eon before the rabbit hole that is the internet.

I decided to focus on the most visible part of these classic theaters: the sign and marquee. This proclaimed the name of the theater and was a neon advertisement for what was inside and what was currently playing.

I began my sketching adventure by doing research of existing cinemas that meet my timeline criteria and then putting that information into a Bay Area map (featured sketch).

I complemented the map with an inset sketch of the movie palace that is a mere 38 minute walk north through Golden Gate Park, from my city digs. This is one of the only remaining neighborhood theaters in San Francisco: the Balboa Theatre.

While the inset sketch was based on my photograph, I knew that I would be returning to the Balboa to sketch the theater in earnest.

Next I pack my sketching bag and head down to Santa Cruz to Sketch the Rio Theatre.


The Road to Sesame Street Runs Through Salinas?

The two shows and film from my childhood that brings back happy memories are: Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and The Muppet Movie. All three were the brainchild of puppeteer Jim Henson.

Henson had worked on Sesame Street but wanted to expanded towards a variety show for children and adults. American television was not interested in his new vision but they were in Britain. The Muppet Show became a huge international success and Henson wanted to take the Muppets to the big screen. This became the Muppet Movie (1979). For the film, Henson wanted to take the Muppets out of the studio and into real filming locations. And one of those locations was a mere 50 minute drive from my cabin in Santa Cruz.

That’s where my Muppet sketching quest begins!

And so it was that I headed south and then east towards the city of Salinas in Monterey County. South of Downtown Salinas, between Highway 68 and South Davis Road is the rural farming road, Foster Road.

Kermit the Frog from the Jim Henson exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

This is the setting of one of the more memorable scenes in the film and it occurs during the song “Movin’ Right Along” where Kermit and his new friend Fozzie Bear are driving to Hollywood to become famous in Fozzie’s Studebaker.

Kermit and Fozzie are performed and voiced by long time collaborators Henson (Kermit) and Frank Oz (Fozzie). They are probably best known in Sesame Street as Bert and Ernie. Frank Oz was also the performer and voice of Yoda.

Kermit and Fozzie drive down a road, framed by farm fields and they come upon a large yellow bird walking the other direction with a suitcase. Fozzie asks, “Hey there, want a lift?” And Big Bird replies, “Oh no thanks. I’m on my way to New York City to try and break into Public Television.” Fozzie say, “Ahhh. . .good luck!”

Big Bird was performed by Caroll Spinney and it was great to see all three puppeteers in one scene: Henson, Oz, and Spinney.

Foster Road, Salinas, California, the filming location of Kermit and Fozzie meet Big Bird in The Muppet Movie.

At the intersection of Foster Road and South Davis Road, is the location of the scene when the Studebaker drives in circles, filmed from a helicopter above, as Fozzie sings, “California here we come/ the pie-in-the-sky-land”. Of course the irony is that they are already in California, Salinas, California. Which is 300 miles north of Hollywood.


McCloud River Railroad Number 25

Out on the coast of Oregon, north of Tillamook, is a 97 year old screen queen that is still riding the steel rails.

On the northern edge of Tillamook Bay, in the town of Garibaldi, is the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad . This is a tourist railroad that runs from Garibaldi to Rockaway Beach on former Southern Pacific rail.

The railroad has two steam and three diesel locomotives to pull the trains of tourists up and down the coast.

Morning sketch of one of the diesels of the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, the Great Northern EMD F7 Number 274.

In present day, the workhorse of the railroad is the Prairie style 2-6-2 steam locomotive McCloud River Railroad No. 25.

This locomotive was the last steam locomotive that the McCloud River Railroad purchased new. It was a workhorse for the lumber railroad and was featured in films most notably in Hal Ashby’s biopic of Woody Guthrie Bound For Glory (1976) and Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (1986). In Stand By Me, Number 25 was featured in the famous train dodge scene that was filmed on the Lake Britton Bridge on the Burney Branch of the McCloud River Railroad. At the time of filming, Number 25 was on home rail.

The Lake Britton Bridge, filming of the ultimate train dodge scene in Stand By Me (1985).

Number 25 came to the Oregon Coast in July 2011 and has since headed tourist trains up and down the coast.

No. 25 having her tender filled with water, from a street fire hydrant, after a days work at Garibaldi.
The front end of 25 showing the builder’s plate.
Close up of the Builder’s Plate: Number 25 was build in by ALCO in Schenectady, New York in 1925.