More Huntridge Theater History

Our pal, Allen Sandquist, uncovered a treasure trove of historical information about the Huntridge Theater yesterday while googling about the venerable theater. 

Did you know:

Ticket prices were 44 cents for adults; 30 cents for students and military personnel; and 14 cents for children under 12.  The phone number was just "86".

On September 1, 1945, the theater was showing "Secrets of the Wasteland" starring western star William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy).  The projectionist stopped the movie so that management could make the announcement that the Japanese had officially surrendered and the War was over.

In December, management had a week-long give-away of "free, nylon stockings".  The promotion paid off as nylon had been a scarce material during the War years.  The material had been commandeered for the manufacture of parachutes during the War. 

By 1951 when Lloyd and Edythe Katz begin managing the theater (along with the Fremont and the Palace-which would be, ultimately, renamed the Guild), admission was now 65 cents for adults. 

Jane Russell and Vincent Price appeared on-stage as part of the premiere for "The Las Vegas Story".  The film had also premiered that evening at the Fremont Theater downtown but due to the overwhelming crowd, the print had to be bicycled between the two theaters to accommodate the crowd.

The phone number was changed to Du-8600.  The DU stood for Dudley, which was the exchange for that neighborhood.  Does anyone know why?

In 1956, Katz courted controversy by screening "And God Created Woman" starring Brigitte Bardot.  The Catholic Church and Legion of Decency railed against the film.  Katz agreed to only show the film in the evening and only for adults over 18. 

In 1957, the Treniers appeared on-stage at the Huntridge as part of a promotion, the Rock-N-Roll-athon.  The promotion was aimed at the growing teenage audience that was frequenting the theater.   "Don't Knock the Rock" , starring famed rock and roll deejay, Alan Freed, was showing and the price of admission was 90 cents.

In December, Katz removed two rows of seats to accommodate the wide-screen sensation sweeping movie theaters across the country.  To kick-off the wide-screen craze Katz showed "Around the World in 80 Days".   The producer, Mike Todd, a good friend of Katz, stopped into the theater to oversee the installation.

On November 23, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was killed while visiting Dallas, Texas. Katz cancelled the afternoon and evening screenings of "Take Her She's Mine".

Throughout the 1960s the Huntridge Theater was the place to see Disney films, both live-action and the animated features.  The children's Saturday matinees were one of the most popular in town.

By the 1970s, the Huntridge was fighting off other neighborhood theaters such as the Parkway and the Boulevard Theaters located near the Boulevard Mall as well as the Red Rock 11 Theaters in Charleston Heights

In 1977, Katz announced that owner Irene Dunne would not renew the lease nor would she let him buy the property.  Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure was the last film to play the theater. Katz had run the theater for 32 years.  No other theater in town could boast of a manager as successful as Lloyd Katz.

In 1979, Irene Dunne finally decided to sell the theater to Frank Silvaggio.  The theater was halved and became the Huntridge Twin Theaters in 1981

It re-opened as a revival house showing "Mutiny on the Bounty" starring Clark Gable and "King Kong" starring Fay Wray.  With the closure of the MGM Grand Hotel's movie theater after the disastrous 1980 fire, the  Huntridge had the corner on revival theaters in Las Vegas.  The new manager was Donald Lesh, a businessman from Portland, Oregon.

Lesh brought the cult-favorite "Rocky Horror Picture Show" to the theater as a midnight movie.  It ran for over a year but by July 1982, Lesh filed for bankruptcy.

During most of the 1980s the theater was run by Robert Garganese who also ran the
Mountain View
on South Jones.

In 1991, the City toyed with the idea of buying the building if Silvaggio would agree to do an asbestos study.  Silvaggio turned them down

In 1992, Richard Lenz and the Friends of the Huntridge, a non-profit group, bought the building from Silvaggio for $1.1 million.   The group received $30,000 in grants from the State Cultural Affairs Commission as well as $150,000 from the City's Redevelopment Fund.  The City placed a covenant on the building stating that the building would be used as a performing arts venue for twenty years from the date of purchase.  The covenant expires in 2012

Another covenant states the owners "assume the cost of the continued maintenance and repair of said property as to preserve the architectural, historical, cultural integrity of the Huntridge Theater. This applies to all owners previous and current.  The State also placed a covenant on the building that it could not be torn down.  Both of those convenants are in effect until 2017.

The Friends of the Huntridge ultimately received over $1.5 million in grant money from the State.

Lenz reopened the Huntridge as an alternative Rock venue. Quiet Riot was one of the first acts to play the new Huntridge.  By 1993, the Huntridge was proving to be a success.  Ice-T performed there despite controversy over his single "Cop Killer" and the fact that Metro had refused to send officers to the theater.

In 1993, the Huntridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places

In 1995, just hours before the Circle Jerks were to take the stage, the roof collapsed.  According to Michael Toole's account the "bands lead singer Keith Morris would relate years later: "As soon as we got there, we were told that the roof had collapsed and the show was canceled. We didn't have anywhere else to go, so we just set up our equipment in the parking lot and played for the 30 or 40 people who were still there." The result was an impromptu mosh pit that showed endlessly gyrating kids thrashing frantically on the outdoor pavement. Fortunately for us, the moment was captured live on MTV. " 

A year and a half later the theater reopened with a new roof, new seats, remodeled bathrooms, a new recording studio and a new color scheme, teal and orange.  The Toasters rechristened the theater.  Costs for renovation were $525,000.

Beck performed at the theater in 1997 just months before being named Spin Magazine's Artist of the Year.  

It was the home to the first CineVegas Film Festival in 1998.  The Festival showed both experimental and student films.

The Nevada Board of Museums placed the theater on the State's Register of Historic Places.

In 2000, the Friends of the Huntridge received an additional grant of $55,000 from the State's Cultural Affairs Commission amid rumors that the theater was in financial trouble. 

Due to increased competition from the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay and the Joint at the Hard Rock, Lenz told reporter Rob Bhat that he had to rent the facility out to churches to keep the doors open. 

In June of that year, the City agreed to another $100,000 grant to help keep the facility open. 

In May, 2001, Richard Lenz resigned as Executive Director of the Friends of the Huntridge and concentrated on the small Sanctuary (the old Huntridge Station Post Office) at the back of the property.  He told Las Vegas City Life reporters that he would open a high-end sound studio there.

On New Year's Day, 2002, the Mizrachi family which owned Cima Furniture (in the old bank building next door) bought the Huntridge for $925,000.   They announced that Eli, then 29 years old, would continue to run the venue as a place for up and coming bands.

Eleven months later, the Huntridge re-opened with a new sound system.  The Damned rechristened the theater. 

On Halloween, 2003, the Rocky Horror Picture Show returned to the Huntridge. Those doing "The Time Warp" include old and young fans alike.

In June of 2004, as part of MTV2's 2Bill Concert Series, the Beastie Boys requested to use the Huntridge.  As the hosting band for the live TV Concert, the theater received lots of attention and promotion.

Six weeks later the theater closed amid promises to reopen after renovations were completed.  The final bands included GuttermouthDimmu Borgir, Bleeding Through and God Forbid.

Almost four years later, the theater is still closed. 

In 2006, the Mizrachi family first raised the idea of paying back the $1.5 million that the State had given the Friends of the Huntridge in exchange for being able to alter or raze the building. 

The Mizrachi family ultimately bought the rest of the property on the Huntridge site.

To recap:

The State gave over $1.5 million in grants to the Friends of the Huntridge to help preserve and restore the building.

The City gave over $250,000 in Redevelopment Funds to the Friends of the Huntridge to help preserve and restore the building.

According to the three main convenants:

The Building must remain a performing arts venue until 2012 (placed by the City).

The Building cannot be torn down until 2017 (placed by the State).

The owners (meaning the Mizrachi's)  "assume the cost of the continued maintenance and repair of said property as to preserve the architectural, historical, cultural integrity," of the Huntridge. (placed we believe by the State).

The Mizrachi's raised the idea of repaying the State the money given to the Friends of the Huntridge once before in 2006.  They also talked of tearing the building down at that time. Nothing came of those talks at that time.

According to what Eli said at the Save the Huntridge meeting on Saturday when the Mizrachi family bought the building in early 2002, the chandelier, the lighting fixtures. decorative fixtures and the projection equipment had all been removed. 



Special thanks to Allen Sandquist and writer Michael Toole. 

Other links of note: 











Living in the Shadow of the Bomb



Growing up in Las Vegas, it was always there.  As kids we didn't give it much thought. By 1964, the testing was all done underground.  Pres. Kennedy had signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty before his death that banned above-ground atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.  The Test Site would issue a warning that it was going to be doing underground nuclear testing and we might feel the jolt.  It was alot like experiencing a medium sized earthquake.  The ground would shake and after a few minutes, it would pass. 

When I moved to Los Angeles until the Northridge Earthquake of 1994, earthquakes didn't get my attention much because they were so similar to the Underground Testing I had grown up with. 

The United States Government decided in the late 1940s that it needed a new Test Site.  The Bikini Atoll where they had been testing was too far away and the wind and weather changes made planning difficult.  The Atomic Energy Commission decided to bring the above-ground testing of Atomic Bombs stateside.  It was the Cold War and discussions about the hazards involved with the Testing were whisked aside.

Nevada, specifically Southern Nevada, fit the bill.  Sparsely populated with Nellis Air Force base nearby in Northtown, Frenchman's Flat, located about 60 miles north of Las Vegas was chosen. 

Scientists from around the country were recruited to come to Las VegasAtomic Scientist Al O'Donnell remembered "The Atomic Age is here and you'd be on the ground floor of testing of atomic weapons."  The engineering and scientific companies like E.G.&G came to Las Vegas and brought their staffs with them.  "Millions of dollars came into Las Vegas because these companies wanted a piece of the action. " Al O'Donnell told me in a 2005 interview.

Camp Mecury was set up and soldiers were deployed to the remote base to supply support for the scientists.  The soldiers would be on the front line, digging trenches and then watching the bomb blast from those trenches before being sent out to explore the bomb site after the explosion.  The soldiers were assured that every precaution was taken and that there was no harm in being that close to ground zero.


Atomic Soldiers at the Royal Nevada

(courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau) 

In Las Vegas, residents were assured that the Atomic Testing was not harmful.  The government encouraged school children to get up in the early morning hours and watch the bomb go off from their front yards.  Young adults like Bud Kennedy and John Ullom would drive out the old Tonopah Highway, pull over on the side of the road and watch the explosions from there.

Las Vegas News Bureau photographers such as the late Don English, would go out to News Nob, located 7 miles from the blast site, where the press from all over the world would be lined up with their cameras and their movie cameras to photograph the explosions.  One time Don overslept.  He knew he wouldn't have time to get out to News Nob before the detonation.  He hurried down to Fremont Street and climbed up on the roof of the Golden Nugget and waited.  There were workmen there installing a glass skylight and they asked him what he was doing.  He told them they would know shortly.  The bomb went off.  As the mushroom cloud rose in the sky, the ground began to shake and the panes of glass broke.  Don didn't lose his concentration and snapped a photo of the mushroom cloud rising with downtown Las Vegas in the foreground.  The photo went out on the wire and became Life Magazine's photo of the week.



Don English's famous photo of a nuclear cloud over an American City. 

Donna Andress remembers that "we weren't fearful of it.  We were assured over and over again that there was never going to be a problem."

Don English remembered that "we believed everything the A.E.C. (Atomic Energy Commission) said and we figured we were quite safe.  They did give us precautions, you know,  not to look at it during the blast.  They gave us dark glasses and we would turn away at that close distant.  As soon as you saw the flash, then you could turn around and start shooting."

Emmett Sullivan, who had been born in Las Vegas in the mid-1920s, remembers "It was one of the most beautiful things I ever saw in my life.  As it died down you saw all the colors of the rainbow."

Most remember being jostled out of bed in the wee hours of the morning while it was still dark out.  "It was always early, like 4 or 5:00 in the morning. You could be in your bed and it was like somebody had turned on a light on right in your face.  And then you'd hear the noise and run outside so you could see the mushroom cloud forming." Ken Gragson told me in a 2003 interview.

If the wind was blowing towards Las Vegas, the test would be called off and rescheduled.  It was one of the concessions the A.E.C. had made when it came to Southern Nevada.

With the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the testing went underground.  While we didn't get jostled out of bed, some of the tests were so explosive that they did get our attention.  One bomb was so big that it knocked out the floor to ceiling display windows at the Woolco in our Charleston Heights neighborhood. 

There were rumors of the bombs being vented afterwards but again the A.E.C. and local officials assured us everything was safe.

Looking back now, it's easy to say that we were naive but back then there was more trust in the government, especially in the 1950s.   

By the 1970s, there were stories coming out of Southern Utah from the small towns downwind of Las Vegas.  People were dying of cancer at a rate higher than normal.  John Fuller wrote a book "The Day We Bombed Utah" which recounted how the story of how the above ground testing had devasted a family of sheep farmers in St. George and the effects of not only cancer but thyroid disease on the small farming communities of Southern Utah.  Fuller also raised the question that perhaps it was filming on location in Moab and other areas for the movie, The Conqueror  (during a particulaly busy summer in 1954 when the Test Site was in full-swing) that led to the deaths of the stars of the movie John Wayne and Susan Hayward along with many of the cast and crew.

My family used to drive to Southern Utah to get fresh fruit and vegetables.  A day trip to St. George or Cedar City was fun.   It gave us a break from the desert climate and landscape.

I think of these things each morning when I take my thyroid medication.  And I wonder how many more who grew up in Las Vegas during those times are taking their thyroid meds as well.



Don English at News Nob



Imagine having to get out of your trench and head towards that




Special thanks to the Family of Don English, Bo Boisvert and the Las Vegas News Bureau for letting use this images.

For more information on the Test Site we encourage everyone to visit the Atomic Testing Museum on E. Flamingo. 

For more personal stories of Las Vegas at that time and growing up with the bomb, we encourage you to buy the DVD: The Story of Classic Las Vegas: An Overview