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A Brief History of The Garberville Theatre

To view a gallery of recently discovered high resolution photos of the Garberville Theatre and the now vanished Garberville Drive-In circa 1953, check out our
page here:

Also, check out this newly discovered playbill from December 1938!

For four generations the Garberville Theatre’s brightly lit marquee has loomed over the west side of Redwood Drive, beckoning to locals, weary travelers, and movie goers of all ages to step inside, enjoy a bag of delicious hot popcorn, sink into a comfortable seat, suspend their worldly woes, and be transported to another place or time on the silver screen. During that span, literally thousands of theatres in the country were constructed, flourished, declined, and were subsequently closed, remodeled, or demolished.

That a community of our size has been graced with a continuously operating movie house for as long as almost anyone can remember is nothing short of remarkable.

Monday, August 2nd, 2010 marked the 75th anniversary of our venerable theatre, and its familiar, ageless marquee still beckons for anyone and everyone to enter and enjoy its spacious cinematic sanctuary. This is no small miracle. The dedication and enthusiasm that its varied proprietors have exhibited over the last three quarters of a century, and the continued support of the community, have helped insure that our theatre has not only remained operational, but has retained much of its original charm and atmosphere.  

Some of the theatre’s beginnings are fairly well documented, while many other details of its long history are sketchy and hard to come by. This brief account has been recently garnered from a variety of on hand historical accounts, personal recollections, and online research. There is still much to discover. We encourage anyone who has more information, photographs, or memorabilia they wish to share about the theatre and its history, to contact us so we may share it with the community.

Beginnings - The 1920's

When the final stretches of the Redwood Highway were completed in 1920 the increased traffic of tourists and travelers allowed for many new businesses in town to thrive and prosper.  Gas stations and hotels were nearly guaranteed to be packed with motorists clamoring for fuel and lodging. Redwood Drive, Garberville’s main thoroughfare, was still unpaved however, and the continual dust generated by the passing throngs of motor vehicles proved to be one of the early drawbacks to this increased parade of travelers.

Upon establishing the Garberville Inn in 1923 (which stood on the NE corner of Redwood Dr. and Church St.), owners Thomas and Margaret Tobin soon realized the inconvenience that the dust accumulation was having upon their patrons automobiles, which were often parked on the street in front of the Inn. To solve the problem, they constructed a large parking garage directly across the street from the Inn in 1924. In 1930 when Redwood Drive was finally paved with oil and gravel, the dust problem vanished, as well as the need for a detached, rather inconveniently located parking garage.

The Garberville Inn Garage

The 1930’s

Though information about his background is scant, the fervor at which William George Cooke Jr. set about his task was evident. In 1935 he purchased the Tobin’s garage with an idea that would forever change the community. His dream: to convert an ordinary garage into a first class, completely modern, state of the art cinema.

Work began that summer. In converting the building to its new function, the main structure was preserved, but a great deal of ground excavation was required to create a perfectly sloped auditorium.  Soon the interior of what had been an ordinary parking garage began to take on the look of a theatre. As work on the building progressed, Cooke traveled to San Francisco to book the first six weeks of films to be shown and to expedite the shipping of the theatre seats and cinema equipment which began arriving in short order.

A total of 320 spring cushion seats were to be installed in the main auditorium, except for those in the front rows normally used by children, and would include 34 loges (box seats) at the rear of the auditorium. To assure “the patrons comfort at all seasons of the year” the building was outfitted with a ventilating system which included a “modern heater” for warmth, and “an air conditioning system” for cool refuge during the dead heat of summer.

After concluding his business in San Francisco, Cooke returned to Garberville on Saturday, July 20th. The technicians hired to install the projectors and cinema equipment arrived the next day and immediately set to work.  They installed two Heliarc projectors in the projection room which had been thoroughly fireproofed.  This was necessary because of the combustible combination of the electrical arcs created by the projectors and the volatile nature of the celluloid film used at the time. A screen described as “the most up-to-date picture screen to be had” was erected, and three huge Voice of the Theatre speakers were installed behind it.

Soon everything was nearing completion, and on July 25th, 1935 the town’s main newspaper, the Redwood Record, ran the headline “NEW THEATRE WILL OPEN ON AUGUST 2ND”.

They announced the theatre would be open Fridays thru Mondays with two showings per night at 7:15 and 9:00 o’clock. Fridays and Saturdays would run the same film, and Sundays and Mondays a new one. If the volume of patronage demanded it, the schedule could be increased to more daily showings with three picture changes a week. A full page of the edition was headed “Congratulations to Garberville’s New Theatre Opening Friday, August 2nd” and featured a variety of colorful best wishes to “Mr. and Mrs. Cooke” from thirteen local business owners including Thomas Tobin of the Garberville Inn who prophetically wished for a “Long Life to Their Grand New Theatre”.

Premier Showing

As dusk approached on Friday August 2nd, 1935 the line for tickets to the theatre’s 7:15 opening showing began to grow. Assuming skies were clear, as they usually are at that time of year, a 3 day old sliver of a crescent moon would have hung in the growing din to the west, in a close conjunction with Venus, only 3 degrees above and to its right. (Astronomical records indicate sunset in Garberville was at 7:27 pm PST…daylight savings was not observed until WWII) One can only imagine the excitement this new venue must have generated throughout the community. Soon the line stretched several blocks down Redwood Drive.

Will Rogers Poster From Opening NightWhen the auditorium darkened the packed house was treated to a Terrytoon cartoon, a short comedy reel, the latest FOX Movietone news reel, and then onto the main feature, “Life Begins at Forty” starring Will Rogers. In the film, Rogers plays easy-going publisher of a local paper who finds himself in opposition to the local banker concerning the return to town of a lad possibly wrongly jailed for a theft from the bank. Rogers was extremely popular at the time, and tragically, only 13 days later, he and friend Wiley Post perished in a plane crash near Barrow Alaska. One can imagine the news would have seemed all the more poignant to local residents…this film having been seen such a short time before.

On Sunday and Monday the town was treated to a similar presentation that included a Charlie Chase comedy short, the latest MGM news reel and the feature presentation, “West Point of the Air” starring Wallace Beery, Robert Young, and Maureen O’Sullivan.

The cool environs of the theatre and the novelty of moving pictures easily drew the town in night after night. Over the next six weeks patrons enjoyed a variety of films that included Shirley Temple in “The Little Colonel”, Jean Parker in “Sequoia”, and many others including “Naughty Marietta” starring Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy, “David Copperfield” featuring W. C Fields, “Under a Pampas Moon” with Cesare Campo and Yvonne LaMarr, and Shirley Temple again in “Our Little Girl”.


The Garberville Inn  Circa 1920's

Newspaper Article About The Opening Of The Garberville Theatre - 1935

Garberville Business Owners Wish The Theatre Well

Old Poster From The Theatre - 1937

The Garberville Theatre - Late 1930's

The Garberville Theatre - Late 1930's

The town adopted the theatre as its own, but there were still frustrations. In the 1930’s the film industry practiced “block booking” as the means by which independent theatres could acquire movies for showing. This required theatre owners like Cooke to purchase films in “blocks” if they were to be allowed to show them at all. So in order to acquire the latest releases of star studded blockbusters you had to also purchase several of the not so attractive “B” movies they were churning out as well. At the time, the studios also released their films “seasonally”, the new season beginning in early September. Cooke made sure his patrons were aware of this via the Redwood Record article of July 25th:

“On account of the new theatre opening at this time, between seasons, it was impossible for Mr’ Cooke to get many new pictures in his present booking, but as soon as the fall releases are made, which will be in early September, only the latest pictures will then be shown”.

It is reasonable to suspect that regardless of what the content of the films shown during the theatres first few seasons were, residents of Garberville and the surrounding area may not have cared. Some may have never seen “moving pictures” in their lives, and either way the comfortable environs of the new theatre, especially the air conditioning system during the sweltering summer months likely made the price of a ticket seem more than reasonable.

Cooke continued to book films for his theatre and people kept coming. Though a contest to “name” the theatre had been underway before the opening, it seems that the theatre simply became known as “The Garberville” as seen in early photos of the first theatre sign. Recently discovered 1937 movie posters found in the theatre indicate that a mixture of films were being shown, some star studded, and some of more questionable quality. Due to the block booking standard of the day this was probably unavoidable.

Cooke seems to have been the restless type, always looking for new challenges, enthusiastically pursuing his new ideas. For four consecutive weeks between Dec. 11, 1937 and January 1, 1938 he ran an ad in the nationally distributed Box Office Magazine classified section headed “Local Newsreel Idea”. The ad, seemingly targeted at theatre owners, promised “More Money At The Box Office” by offering patrons a “Home Movie Night”, presumably in which local citizens who had been filmed by a motion picture camera would be incorporated into a newsreel for everyone to see. He claimed it “Draws them in week after week, and costs less to run”. For more information readers could …”send $1.00 to The Garberville Theatre, Box No. 156”. Whether he was actually practicing this already at the theatre, or was just pitching an idea in return for a buck is unclear, but it may indicate that he had been affected by a trend that was being felt in the industry in the fall of 1937 – declining box office returns.

The problem may have been the industry’s own fault. By imposing the “block booking” system on theatre owners, the quality of films that movie goers were offered on a weekly basis was uneven to say the least. In 1938 the major studios launched a million dollar campaign entitled “Motion Pictures’ Greatest Year”. to try and stem the tide. The focal point of the campaign was a heavily-promoted quiz contest which required entrants to attend 30 feature films at participating theatres. After which they could fill out a questionnaire based on certain details in the films and win up to $250,000 in prizes. Despite initial enthusiasm, the campaign fell short of its goals due to structural inequities in the distribution system, friction between independent theatre owners and those affiliated with the major producer-distributors….and just poor films. Cooke seems to have put a great deal of energy in the campaign, reportedly mailing flyers to the entire community with details about the prizes and requirements to win. The Sept. 17, 1938 edition of Box Office even featured a blurb on his efforts quoting him as saying that the residents of Garberville were taking to it “like Donald Duck takes to water”. Though there is no evidence to disprove it, it sounds a bit optimistic, perhaps illustrating Cooke’s increasing desire to garner greater returns for his investment.

On July 20, 1938 the U. S. Justice Department stepped in and filed an anti-trust suit against eight of the major studios to break up their “block booking” monopoly. Though this was potentially good news for independent theatre owners, the case would drag on for a decade, and by 1939 as the studios prepared for court and Europe prepared for war, the long term profitability of owning a theatre remained ambiguous at best.

The 1940’s

The next phase of the theatre’s evolution occurred sometime late 1939 or early 1940 when an entirely new facade was added to the front of the building. Gone was the old marquee and sign, and along with it the last visual reminders of the Garberville Inn’s 1924 garage. The new facade not only added a tiered tower above the entrance but extended southward past several shops to the General Store (formerly The Mercantile, now All Sport). The unified nature of the facade vastly improved and modernized the entire western side of the block. An all new marquee bearing the name “GARBERVILLE” and a vertical tower bearing the word “THEATRE” were erected, completing the sleek “Art-Deco” look that remains to this day.

Though he would soon move on to pursue new interests, this massive remodel seems to have been undertaken while Cooke was still in charge. A photo of the theatre in an undated newspaper issue illustrates the lengthy new facade in its entirety. Touting Garberville’s “New Modern” Theatre, where you can see “The Latest Pictures at the Earliest Date” the feature implores readers to “Don’t Miss GONE WITH THE WIND”. In the photo, Eddie Albert and Wayne Morris’ names can be seen on the marquee starring in an unnamed “Swell Comedy”.  This is surely “Brother Rat and a Baby” released January 13, 1940. Since Gone With The Wind was released three days later, and assuming there was likely some lag time between the release date and the Garberville showing, this picture easily dates to very early in 1940. The sun angle on the cars corroborates it was sometime well before spring.

In the summer of 1940 the Justice Department struck a temporary deal with the big studios, the “Consent Decree’, which deferred the anti-trust lawsuit for three years if the studios allowed theatre owners a more reasonable method by which to buy film blocks. Thirty-one districts were set up where theatre owners could travel to preview films, and “booking blocks” were limited to five films. This gave theatre owners a bigger say in what films they could acquire but meant more traveling as a consequence. The nearest booking center was San Francisco, and Box Office Magazine reported that Cooke was among the owners in attendance in August of 1940.

Change of Ownership

Among the other names reported at the “Booking Row” in San Francisco that year was a certain “B. B. Byard, Portable Circuit, Northern California”.  Byron Burton Byard Sr. was a Humboldt County native, born at Warren Creek near Blue Lake in 1894. He was listed as a Ferndale resident in the 1920’s; married with a son, Byron Jr., born in 1921. By 1940 he would have been 46 years old, and his son a grown man. He was also often listed at the booking row as “B. B. Byard, Happy Camp, Portable Circuit”. (It was customary to list a theatre owners’ “theatre” location after the name in the booking row reports).  

As it turns out, Happy Camp, a small town on the Klamath River in Siskiyou County was one of the towns often frequented by the one-of-a-kind portable movie theatre business that Byron and his wife Ida, spent a good part of the latter 1930's involved in operationg. Cheerfully labelled “Amuse-U-Shows”, they had outfitted a large truck with room to haul projection equipment to the isolated rural towns and logging camps throughout the Upper Klamath and Trinity river regions.

Setting up their equipment outdoors or in rented halls they brought regularly scheduled "film nights" to communities that had never had access to such entertainment before. The truck even had a small living area for the couple to reside while on their journeys. In April 1978, a Redding, CA newspaper featured a full page article and interview with Byron's now aging widow Ida who recalls in detail the fascinating story of their years on the road...

Download the full April 28, 1978 article (PDF 2.39MB)
"Memories of 'Show Lady' and 'Show Man':
They climbed Mountains to Take Magic to the People"

Exactly how Cooke and Byard met is uncertain, but the April 12, 1941 booking report lists a “W. G. Cooke, formerly of the Garberville Theatre”. To deepen the mystery, on July 12th and August 30th, 1941 the booking reports list a “Mrs. Beardsley” as representing the Garberville Theatre. Whether this Mrs. Beardsley was a brief owner of the theatre or someone working on Cooke’s behalf while he pursued other interests is unknown.

Whatever the case, Cooke and Byard are both listed as having been present at the same booking row in the November 15, issue of Box Office, Cooke now being listed as affiliated with the “Tower Theatre, Reno” and Byard as “Klamath circuit, Happy Camp”. Having previously met or not, it’s clear that the ownership of the theatre was a done deal after this meeting. One week later, the November 22, 1941 issue simply stated “B. B. Byard has reopened the Garberville Theatre in Garberville”.

Old Poster From The Theatre - 1937

Local Newsreel Idea Frtom W.G. Cooke
Motion Pictures Greatest Year Article About W. G. Cooke

1940 Ad For The Garberville TheatreByron and Ida Byard's 1st and 2nd Amuse-U-Shows Trucks

The Garberville Theatre Circa 1941

Byron Byard’s partner in this new venture was his brother-in-law Arthur Earl Vann (also born in 1894) who had married Byron’s sister, Edna Byard, in 1919. For the next 22 years they would own and operate the Garberville Theatre, and their deep ties to the community as Humboldt natives seemed to have made them well suited to the job.

A few weeks after Byard took over the theatre Pearl Harbor was bombed. World War II was the best of times and the worst of times for the American film industry. It was a period of challenge and change, of anxiety and accomplishment, of intense focus on the task at hand and growing uncertainty about Hollywood’s own long-term prospects once that task was completed. The Justice department took the “Big Eight” studios back to court in 1943 and late in the war labor related strikes in the film industry made things even more complicated.

Byron Byard, now nearing 50, seems to have been the more active partner in the running of the theatre, making regular trips to the San Francisco booking rows, being listed as present at least half a dozen times between late 1946 and 1949. The anti-trust suit ended in the Supreme Court in 1948 with the studios finally relinquishing their monopoly over film release practices, giving theatre owners greater power over deciding their film bookings and insuring them their fair share of the best releases. In the post-war years prosperity was on the rise, television was not yet king, and the golden days of the Cinema Theatre had just begun.

Ingrid Begman Poster
The Garberville Theatre Circa 1950

The Garberville Theatre Screen After Restoration in 19521950's

Between 1950 and 1959 Byard made no less than 40 trips to San Francisco to book films for the Garberville theatre, roughly one trip every 3 months. Considering the condition of the Redwood Highway and his increasing age this is no small indication of his tireless dedication to the theatre. But these were great times for the both the film industry and theatre owners, for a night at the theatre had by now become an entrenched American tradition.

The theatre itself was showing some wear. After 16 years of near continual use it was time for a major facelift. The new facade, marquee, and theatre sign had held up well but the interior was in dire need of a remodel. Byard and Vann spared no expense in insuring that the job was done right. In late 1951 they hired the services of the renowned California theatre architect, Gale Santocono to re-design a completely new interior for the theatre.  Among the new items to be installed were new walls in the auditorium with a tropical motif that included palm trees and tropical vegetation, gold crush plush drapes with a deep magenta shaped-over drape flanking the screen, and a new concession area. The theatre re-opened on Saturday, January 12th, 1952 and never looked better.

In February 1952, Aaron McKnight, who’d been managing the theatre for Byard, announced his resignation due to health problems and business concerns. It was much to the lament of his loyal patrons. The Redwood Record reported: “Through his friendly manner and cooperation, McKnight has held the respect and confidence of the young people, as well as the adults, all of whom will miss his smiling ‘g’night’”. Another local man, Paul Todd, would take the place of the venerable McKnight and stay on for several years.

These were good times for the community and especially for the young. Afternoon matinees in the dark, cool environs of the theatre were the “thing to do” on hot summer days. If you didn’t have the money for admission, there was always a way to get a ticket, as long time resident Ernie Branscomb recalls:

“Back in the late 50’s the parallel parking spaces had parking meters, I don’t remember the denominations of coin that the meters took, but I think that they had a slot for a penny, a slot for a nickel, and a slot for a dime. Everybody hated the meters, and cussed them endlessly. I forget how long you could park, but if you put the right amount of coin in, you could crank it up to maximum time. People would drop extra coin in the slot, and if it looked like your time was about to run out, some good citizen would turn the handle and the meter would swallow the extra coin and add minutes. I’ll bet that you are wondering why I’m telling you all of this stuff… Later.

The Garberville Theater looks, on the outside, almost exactly like it does today. The Garberville Theater used to run a Saturday Matinee for the town kids. And it was only 25 cents to get in. The kids could only sit in the general seating, they weren’t allowed in the loges. Only adults were allowed there. The theater usually showed something like cartoons, or a cowboy movie, or something spooky like “The Blob” or “The Mantis”. but it was always just for the kids.

The evening show was quite different it had feature movies, like “Casablanca“, or the “African Queen”, or a good John Wayne movie. The adults sat in the loges, and the kids sat in the general seating. The kids could sit in the loges if accompanied by an adult, be we usually wanted to sit down front with the other kids. They had a “Nursing” room in the back for moms with squeally babies. Babies were allowed in free, but they had to go to the nursing room with the mom if they made any fuss. It always seemed to me like there was a baby making noise somewhere in the theater all the time. Each isle had an usher to help you to and from your seat with a flashlight, and if you got out of line the usher would shine her flashlight at you and embarrass you in front of your friends.

You are still wondering about those parking meters aren’t you?

When we wanted to go to the Saturday matinee, we would walk down the street, look all around and when nobody was looking we would whack the back of the parking meter with the heel of our hand, and the extra coin would puke out. Almost always we could get enough coin to take two of us to the matinee. But, we had to be sneaky, if the other kids figured it out they would have beat us to it. So my cousin Jim and I almost always went to the Saturday matinee. We were the only ones in town that missed those meters when they took them out. Damn!

Beneath the Stars

A completely new aspect of the theatre industry began to thrive around this time. Though there had been outdoor movie venues of one form another for many years, the increasing number of automobiles being cranked out of Detroit and the public fascination with cinema entertainment collided in the early 50’s to give birth to one of the most exciting new entertainment mediums in the history of film. The drive-in theatre.  An article from Box Office Magazine in 1953 reported that a total of 405 drive-in theatres were slated to open in the nation that year. Among them, Byard and Vann’s new theatre - The Garberville Drive-in. Not wanting to be left in the cold of this new trend, they began leveling a flat of several acres west of the Redwood Highway a half mile north of town, and set about building a 462 car, completely modern, state of the art outdoor Cinema Theatre.  Again they spared no expense, once more bringing in architect Gale Santocono to design it.  Paul Todd would extend his managerial duties to the drive-in, and to assist him, Tom Laurinson was hired as assistant manager. After a $100,000 dollar investment the theatre was ready for business.

On Friday, July 17, 1953, as dusk turned to twilight, with a 7 day old waxing crescent hanging above the redwoods across the river, and a snack bar filled with goodies, the Garberville Drive-In opened for business. The drive-in would operate seasonally staying open as long the indian summers would last and as re-open each spring as soon as the weather turned warm. Just how successful the drive-in was is unclear, and the date of its final closure and eventual demolition could not be ascertained by this author, but it appears to have operated continually until at least the summer of 1963 if not later. A ghost of a bygone era, the flat where it once stood is now the Caltrans maintenance yard just north of Renner Petroleum.

As the 50’s rolled away as lazily as the Eel River in summer, Byard turned 60, and still he continued to make the trip to San Francisco for the booking runs. Thanks to his dedication and Garberville’s two fine theatres, a remarkable cavalcade of some of the finest films ever produced were brought to the heart of redwood country:

On the Waterfront - Vertigo - The Bridge on the River Kwai - Rear Window - All About Eve - Singin' in the Rain - Some Like It Hot - North by Northwest - A Streetcar Named Desire - Rebel Without a Cause - The African Queen - 12 Angry Men - Ben-Hur – From Here To Eternity – Rio Bravo - The Searchers - High Noon - Shane - and on and on.

In early 1959, at age 65, Byard may have begun to run out of steam. Box Office reported in their March 23rd 1959 issue: “Robert Smith, after resigning from the Lippert Starlight Theatre, Redding, will manage the two Garberville theatres for Vann and Byard.”

The times were changing too. A new President, a new decade, and the deathblow that would eventually cause the closing and demolition of thousands of majestic theatres around the country - Television’s Golden Age - was just around the bend.

To view a gallery of recently discovered high resolution photos of the Garberville Theatre and the now vanished Garberville Drive-In circa 1953, check out our "1953" page here:

1960’s – 1980’s

Byard accompanied Smith on several occasions to the booking row in San Francisco in 1960-61 and then Smith took over the duty full time. At some point in the mid-sixties Vann and Byard struck a deal to sell the theatre to Smith although the exact details are unclear. How well Smith managed the theatre during this declining time in the industry isn’t clear either. The March 9, 1970 issue of Box Office reports “Former Owners Purchase Garberville Movie House”, indicating that Byard and Vann had resumed ownership.  Arthur Vann however had passed away in May of 1967, so this was probably more a property title nomenclature than anything else. Byard closed the theatre for a week for a much overdue cleaning, some remodeling, and repair of equipment. Thereafter, local resident Herb Johnson was brought in to assume management. Johnson had previously been involved with the theatre as far back as 1953 and so must have been a welcome figure to have back on the job.

Just a few years later, on January 7, 1973, Byron Burton Byard Sr. passed away in Redding, California. If skies were clear at dusk that day, a 3 day old sliver of a crescent moon would have been visible in the western sky. He was 78 years old.

Whether the ownership of the theatre passed directly on to his wife Ida, his son Byron Jr. or to one of Earl Vann’s two daughters is unclear. Some information indicates that Herb Johnson or a member of his family may have purchased it just before or after Byard’s death, but apparently only owned it for a short time. Byard Jr. himself passed away in December of 1976 at the age of 55. Whatever the exact details are, by 1976 there was a new owner, one would hold onto and try and preserve the theatre for the next 18 years, Susan Akselsen.

(Author's note: Susan was very progressive minded and exhibited a great deal of creativity during her run of the theatre. The new film and entertainment offerings she brought to the community are fondly remembered by many. We are currently gathering more information about her years as owner and will add it to this account when we've prepared it.)

As the 70’s went the way of the 60’s, the profitability of the independent theatre went with them. As the 80’s began, video stores began popping up almost as fast as cable TV was being connected to people’s homes. People still went to the movies, but in smaller numbers with a hunger for faster turnover and more convenience. Large new theatre conglomerates responded to the change by building smaller theatres and multiplexing them at locations in shopping malls and city centers. Though far and away from these multiplex giants, the downward trend for the single-screen venues spelled death to thousands of independently owned theatres around the country. A few of the larger ones whose structures were economically salvageable, were chopped into multiplexes, ruining their historical and architectural value, and the older ones...were just demolished. By the end of the 80’s keeping a single-screen theatre open had become difficult at best, sustaining a profit even more so.

Twelve years after purchasing the theatre Akselsen considered selling it, or at least leasing the theatre to someone who wanted give it a run for a while. Her ad in the June 1st 1988 issue of Box Office read:

“N. California Redwoods. Sale or Lease. 350 seats, building, property, automated booth. Only theatre within 60 miles. 50 years of operation. Financing available”

Several years later, the right reply would come.


In 1994 Susan Akselsen again put the theatre on the market, and this time the offer fell on the right ears.  Long time local resident Brigette Brannan felt the calling. For her, the theatre simply had to be saved. Much of that decision was based on a vivid childhood memories of going to the movies. Brigette recalled:

My sister and I would look forward to going to the movies here in town with much anticipation. It was a big part of our childhood fun. Our dad, James Terry, is such a film buff that it naturally rubbed off on us and we have been big movie fans ever since. When the theatre came up for sale in 1994 from Susan Akselsen, we decided that we wanted to keep it going for the next several generations. As the Garberville bowling alley was closing around the same time, there was a definite need in this area for family entertainment. If the theatre closed as well, we felt the loss would be devastating.”

Brigette Brannan has remained the the owner to this day. Over the years she has invested tens of thousands of dollars in renovations, including new seats, a surround sound system, acoustical insulation, new heating system, upgraded electrical system, and house lighting. There is still much more to do, but she is determined to keep the Garberville Theatre alive and well, offering the same type of friendly atmosphere and first class entertainment that the generations before them have striven to provide. Though her labor of love has been difficult at times, Brigette is committed to keeping the theatre open to the public not only for its entertainment value, but for its incalculable role as an historic, and cultural part of the community.

There are enumerable projects, requiring perhaps many years of fundraising and planning before our venerable old theatre is completely restored. It will take a community effort and a lot of hard work, but the dividends will be felt for generations.

And does it matter if it’s finished next month or next year?  No, not really. Why?  Because if you travel across today’s America, you can look in vain through town after town, drive down main street after main street, search the neighborhoods of city after city, and still be hard pressed to find what we have here in our tiny little hamlet. Not a sterile, claustrophobic, drab, featureless room where the masses walk down thousand foot hallways looking for the cubicle that matches their ticket stub…no...

We have a THEATRE.


Theatre Mamager Aaron McKnight Resigns 1952


Article About Drive-In Craze - 1953


Article About The Garberville Drive-In Opening 1953


News Blurb About The Drive-In Opening on Easter 1955


News Article About Byard and Van's Repurchase of The Garberville Theatre


Susan Akelsen's AD To Lease OR Sell The Garberville Theatre



Masks Divider


The information contained herein was researched by and written for this site by webmaster Ed Truthan from a variety of currently available sources.
Individuals with questions, comments, or related pertinent information may contact him via email at:

This page is intended to be an evolving resource. As more photos and information about the theatre's history come to light we'll share them with you here. Various individuals and relatives of previous owners have been informed of the site and have been invited to contribute more information, memorabilia, and photos, as well as offer their impressions or possible corrections to the narrative. The response has been positive and we look forward to publishing new (and perhaps never before seen!) photos and details about the theatres history as they become available.


1. Redwood Record, Garberville CA, 07/25/35 available at:
          Framed photocopy, Garberville Theatre Lobby, (courtesy of The Brannans, Garberville Theatre)

2. Redwood Times, Garberville, CA, 03/12/2009, available at:

3. Box Office Magazine, online archives, available at:

4. Justice Department Anti-Trust lawsuit 1938-1948 information available at:


5. "Motion Pictures Greatest Year" circa 1938 information available at:

6. Vintage film release dates & miscellaneous film information, Internet Movie Database available at:

7. Byron Byard Sr. and A. E. Vann geneology, RootsWeb archive, available at:

8. Gale Santocono information available at:

9. Susan Akselsen information from personal witness accounts and from:

10. Eddie Albert Filmography information available at:

11. Ernie Branscomb 1950's reminiscence:

12. March of Time Newsreel:

13. Garberville Inn & Tobin Family history:
           Page 33 of "Touring the Old Redwood Highway - Humboldt County" by Diane Hawk, Hawk Mountaintop Publishing, 2004

14. Will Rogers Life & Death information available at:

15. Sun / Moon astronomical information, Stellarium Astronomy Software Program, available (for free!) at:

16. Photo Credits:

Garberville Inn (circa 1920's):
Theatre 1930's (Photo 1): Umqua Bank, Garberville, CA
Theatre 1930's (Photo 2): Margarite Cook
Redwood Record, Garberville CA, 07/25/35 (2 pics): Garberville Theatre
Movie Posters from 1937: Garberville Theatre
Will Rogers Poster:
Various Box Office Magazine Articles:
"Gone With The Wind" Ad: Garberville Theatre
Theatre in 1940's (Tin Pan Alley on marquee): Garberville Theatre
Joan of Arc movie poster:
Theatre in 1949-1950 (Joan of Arc on marquee):

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~ Download the "Amuse-U-Shows" newspaper article about the early days of Byron and Ida Byard in their "Roadshow" movie truck: (File Size: 2.27MB)

~ See the wonderful and BIG set of antique Southern Humboldt County Post Cards from the Dave Rodoni collection, courtesy of Bob Doran's Flickr account at:

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