Mission Statement and Theatre History

Mission Statement
Our mission is providing community enrichment through entertainment, as well as cultural, educational and civic events.

Theatre History
Since its auspicious opening on Christmas Day in 1934, Modesto's State Theatre has borne witness to a vibrant city of more than 200,000 springing up around it, and the demise and demolition of eight of its fellow movie palaces. The Star, Isis, Dreamland, Auditorium, Richards (which later became The National, The Princess and finally The Covell), The Strand, The Lyric (later named The Esquire), The La Loma, and The Modesto ~ all of which were constructed from the turn of the century to the late ‘20s ~ were either felled by a wrecker’s ball or fire, or were converted into churches or retail space. Only The State survived and has happily undergone a metamorphosis from a movie palace to a performing arts venue and community center. Over the years there have been remodels, changing owners, various governing boards, a stint as Cine Mexico, and perhaps most notable and remarkable- its complete renovation in 2005 under new ownership, a nonprofit corporation. The renovation was guided by Guy Simile of Simile Construction and managed by the Modesto Symphony Orchestra administration who asked local designer, Michelle Lacy, ASID, CID, to submit her “vision” of a renovated State Theatre. Mr. Simile and Ms. Lacy undertook the intensive design and renovation project that ran 18 months long.  The crowning glory and finishing touch were the faux-painted walls by Rhonda McDonald and Sue Oler, of Rhonda and Sue Wall Designs. A $20,000 movie screen was also installed and a state-of-the-art sound system was installed.

With its new facade, sound system, marquee and lobby, The State Theatre now rivals its more modern counterparts in luxury and modern conveniences. But step into the house, the 560-seat auditorium, and you quickly realize, there's no other place in Modesto like it. The Art Deco-era splendor, as designed by noted architect S. Charles Lee (1899-1990), still remains. The towering sconces, the larger-than-life, gold-leafed embellishments throughout, the hand-painted murals, are all decorative elements dating from 1934 when the theater opened to an eager and appreciative rural community drawn to the glamour, excitement and escape only Hollywood movies could provide. Flirtation Walk, starring Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, drew crowds to what was described as a 21-gun salute to youth and gallantry, the big screen’s first military musical, and to the newest theater in town, a marvel of Art Deco design constructed at a cost of $100,000 by local builder Harry Brown.

The State's designer, a Chicago-born architect and early proponent of Art Deco and Moderne style theaters, went on to become recognized as one of the most prolific and distinguished motion picture theater designers on the West Coast.  Lee is credited with designing over 400 theaters throughout California and Mexico, including The State and Fresno’s Tower Theatre (1939). His palatial and Baroque Los Angeles Theatre is regarded by many architectural historians as the finest theater building in L.A. Lee’s unofficial motto was “The Show Starts on The Sidewalk,” a theme that was carried throughout The State with its Deco-inspired adornments and murals that were very much “of the period.” Admission was 25 cents and air conditioning – a welcome novelty in a farming town situated in the sun-drenched Central Valley – was a major selling point for the city’s newest movie and certainly most modern movie palace. In the last few years, nearly $1 million has been invested in digital projection, a new PA sound system, theatrical lighting and many more improvements. There are always changes afoot at The State, but a few things remain the same: hospitality is key and audiences still thrill to the splendor of an Art Deco theater with one foot firmly planted in Modesto’s history, and the other pointed squarely toward the future.