Wurlitzer in the White

Truman White, a pioneer raisin grower and businessman, built the 1,500-seat White Theater downtown on Broadway St in 1912. Already having built the Pleasanton Hotel next to the theater site in the 1880’s, White was one of the backers who built the Hotel Fresno in 1910. Like most fellow pioneer gentlemen of the day, White was very active in the community serving as president of the first raisin cooperative in the state, on the County Board of Supervisors and helped organize the First National Bank of Fresno.

Considered one of the finest theaters in California, the four-story, brick-and-timber theater cost an astonishing $150,000 to build. The theater featured ornate box seats and was known for its excellent acoustics and was used as an opera house.

The local Musical Club sponsored concerts there while the Theater League brought in plays and performers. Even The Great Orpheum Vaudeville added the White Theater on its circuit. A short list of performers who played the White Theater included the Isadora Duncan Dancers, violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz, contralto Marian Anderson, composer and bandleader John Philip Sousa, Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, humorist Will Rogers, the Marx Brothers, entertainer George M. Cohan, singer and actor Eddie Cantor and husband-and-wife comedy team George Burns and Gracie Allen.

When White died in 1936 his son assumed ownership. In 1940, the White Theater was converted to a movie house. On opening night, the double feature was a double feature of Too Many Husbands, starring Jean Arthur, Fred MacMurray and Melvyn Douglas, and Spawn of the North with Dorothy Lamour and George Raft.

The 60’s era ushered in new owners who thought a Nude-O-Rama show for “real girl watchers” was in order. By 1965, police shut down the theater and arrested five people for displaying obscene material. The theater was torn down in 1966 to make way for a diagonal street between Tuolumne and H streets.

The theatre had a retrofit Wurlitzer organ that came from the old Barton Opera House. Not a note has been played on it since it was removed from the White Theater in the early 60’s. That organ still exists and is owned by a Northern California instrument collector.


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