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.

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