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
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.
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
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
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.