History of the Noyo Theatre
George M. Mann was the founder and President of The Redwoods Theatres Inc., of San Francisco. The company owned theatres throughout northern California from the 1930-1970s eras. A few of these treasures, like the Noyo still exist.
Redwood Theaters Inc. broke ground for the Noyo Theatre on December 15, 1939. The value of the project was estimated to be $25k for the building and another $25k to equip the 650 seat movie theater. The theater would be designed in the Streamline Moderne style by Architectural Designer, William Bernard David (1905-1985) who worked closely with Redwood Theaters in building their Northern California chain.
The Noyo had their "Invitational Opening" on May 3, 1940. The next day the opening feature was a northern California premier showing of THE DARK COMMAND, directed by Raoul Walsh, who was familiarly identified with Willits in that he was the owner of the Willow Brook Ranch, northwest of the city, on Sherwood Road.
The Willits News described the new building as "One of the most lavish small-city entertainment houses in the north bay area. Modernly finished and equipped to the minutest detail, the theater portrays a major step in the advancement of Willits."
Mr Mann passed his theatre empire down to his son Richard who sold the Noyo to Lory Pontone and Bob Loya in the early 70s.
The new owners made quite stir in 1976 by showing the XXX rated movie, DEEP THROAT. The police confiscated the film and the owners were cited for decency laws and jailed for showing the film. The controversy this film created all over the nation only enhanced its popularity and made it one of the highest grossing films of all time. The case against the Noyo Theatre owners was finally dismissed but soon after the theatre was set ablaze in what authorities describe as "definitely the work of arsonists". Following the fire the owners paid homage to their court battles on the marquee of the abandoned theatre which read "Deep Sixed".
Glen Sirchuck managed the theatre in 1990, patched it up and continued to play first run movies but endeavored to provide live entertainment as well. One unique event was provided by The Rose Tint Review. They performed in front of the screen for Rocky Horror Pictures Show. This was so popular that they later had casting calls to play the parts. Occasionally, there were concerts and dances at the theatre and in 1994 the Noyo screened a rare copy of the 1927 silent film, VALLEY OF THE GIANTS for Roots of Motive Power museum.
In 1995, the theatre closed citing the lack of business and competition from the multiplexes.
In 1996, David Corkill aquired the dilapidated theatre and began a massive renovation project that included a new roof, concessions area, bathrooms and other interior improvements. The main auditorium was returned to its original glory and two smaller theatres were constructed in back of the original auditorium. Aside from adding a lower marquee to accommodate the expanded venue, the exterior remains the same.
In January of 1997, closed for over a year, the Noyo reopened with the reissue of the blockbuster STAR WARS, plus THE ENGLISH PATIENT and SCREAM. The children's movie 101 DALMATIONS was the matinee special.
A grand reopening was then held with the premier of HEARTWOOD. The film was made in and around Willits with the locals being very much involved. The Director/Producer, Lanny Cotler gave the proceeds to the local high school and Community Theater. In attendance at the big event was 1950s projection operator Frank Freitag, as well as the theater builder's son, Richard Mann.
The Noyo Theatre was also part of another historic event, the world premier of Universal Studio's SEABISCUIT, starring Jeff Bridges and Tobey Maguire. Patrons came from all over the country to attend the event and some may have visited Seabiscuit’s home at Ridge Ranch in Willits.
In 2004 movie theaters started installing digital projectors. The benefits of this new technology were significant. The special skills of a film projectionist would soon be discarded in favor of computer skills. Heavy film reels at about 60 pounds per feature would no longer be delivered. Scratchy images would be a thing of the past. No more breakage from old, stretched, & overused film. Film would be replaced with the digital copy used today. Movies are now delivered by hard drive or satellite download.
In 2012, Jeff & Lois Hoover bought the Noyo Theatre & immediately installed state of the art digital projectors. By the end of 2012, film would no longer be available which sadly spelled the demise of many grand old movie theaters.
With the pandemic of 2020, many small theaters shuttered for good. There were 2 lock-downs proclaimed for theaters in Mendocino. During the first we sold curbside concessions. Then when allowed to open again we sanitized and masked up to show classic movies since Hollywood was not releasing new films. When the second lock-down was proclaimed we reached out to the community with a GofundMe and applied for government assistance.
Now in 2022 we are in recovery. Hollywood is delivering more films & people are starting to come back to the movies. As an added incentive to get our audience back we converted one theater to an Over 21 Club with luxury loungers beer & wine. The Noyo Theatre is 82 years old!
Jeff and Lois