Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
> NEWHALL
The American Theater
Newhall, California


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Undated photograph of the American Theater. At right, attached to the building, is Marian's Style Shop.

Silver screen star and Newhall icon William S. Hart built the American Theater for the American Legion at the corner of Spruce and Eleventh Streets in 1941. Construction started in December 1940, six years before Hart's death. The structure was used as a theater until 1965 and still stands as the home of American Legion Post 507, which was chartered on December 5, 1934.

Bill Crowl, president of the Friends of William S. Hart Park (1999), writes:

William S. Hart and the American

Bill Hart treasured his role as one of the citizenry of Newhall. Our Museum has photos of him entertaining the local schoolchildren and much has been said of his activities during the St. Francis Dam disaster. This is the tale of another contribution that Wm. S. Hart made to his community.

Visitors to the Hart Mansion were often treated to showings of motion pictures in Bill's living room. A discrete projection room had been incorporated into the architecture because the movies had been Bill's business. However, the general population had to travel over the hill to see the latest films. Hart decided to do something about that.

In late August of 1940, Wm. S. Hart invited friends Tom Frew, Jr. and Fred W. Trueblood to his Mansion atop the hill. There he announced, l have for a long time believed that Newhall should have a picture theater. I also believe that the American Legion should be encouraged in its program of preserving patriotic American ideals." Both of these men were members of Newhall-Saugus Post 507 American Legion. Hart, of course, was known as one of Hollywood's major fund raisers for Liberty Bonds during the First World War, and for other patriotic efforts (see companion article).

At that time, Hart owned a number of land parcels in the Newhall area. He proposed to donate 3 lots at the corner of Spruce and 11th St. (valued at $17,000) plus $19,000 in cash for construction and $6,000 for furnishing of a new theater. The Post executive officers created a non-profit Corporation and Board of Trustees to hold and administer the property. This Board was comprised of Commander C.V. Clark, Jr., Vice-Commander (and Signal newspaper editor) Fred Trueblood, Tom Frew Jr., Lewis Givens, Claude Shaver, Charles Hayes, Jess Doty, Dr. E.C. Innis, and Ronald Riedel. On November 7, 1940, at the old Bank of America (on what is now San Fernando Road*), Mr. Hart formally signed over his land deed to the Trustees.

Construction began the following month, on a structure designed by nationally renowned cinema architect, S. Charles Lee.

Nine months after its conception, the American Theater was ready for dedication. The realization of Mr. Hart's generosity and affection toward his fellow townspeople, the labors of the builders, and the dream of the Trustees of American Legion Post 507 were fulfilled on May 23, 1941.

Mr. Hart made a short speech with all of the fire and dramatic effect of his years of acting experience, whereupon he handed the keys to Commander Clark. Clark thanked him for his magnificent gift and passed them to E. Harold Hall, who leased the building for a theater. As the Opening Night crowd entered, they were greeted by an additional rural valley rarity: fresh flowers in a bowl sculpted from ice. The feature film was "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." Hart requested that the theater continue to show one Western movie each week.

The American Theater continued to provide entertainment to Valley residents until 1965, when its closure coincided with the opening of the new, modern Plaza theater on Lyons Avenue. The Legion Post continued to use it as its meeting and entertainment center, as it remains today.

The author (Bill Crowl) wishes to acknowledge and thank the following persons for their contributions: Estelle Walton Foley — Historian of Post 507; Tom Frew IV; the staff of Santa Clarita Dept. of Building & Safety; local office of LA. County Tax Assessor.

* Now Main Street.



Detail.


AP1516: 9600 dpi jpeg from copy print.
AMERICAN THEATER

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