The first movies to play in San Diego were short silent films that shared the bill with vaudeville acts. Among the first theaters that were actually built as film houses was the Queen on Fifth Ave. By 1913, when the city was preparing for the 1915 Exposition, the number of movie theaters were increasing by eight or 10 each year. San Diego’s era of the “movie palace” began downtown in 1924 with the opening of the Balboa and Pantages Theaters. Neighborhood theaters such as the Egyptian Theater on Park Boulevard also opened at this time. The onset of the Depression saw all remaining live theaters, including the California Theatre and the Fox Theatre, converted to movie houses. Click on the San Diego Theatre link below for more than a hundred of San Diego’s early live theaters and silver screens.
During World War II many theaters stayed open 24 hours as a refuge for defense workers without housing. At the war’s end, lavish, air-cooled art deco theaters like the Bay, the Roxy, and the Loma opened. Around the same time, the Midway Drive-In opened followed by a dozen other drive-ins. Cinerama and Cinema 21, which boasted wide screens and long-running blockbusters, made their entrance during the 1960s as a technological response to television. In the meantime, San Diego’s central storefronts, which were the first to show silent films, were now featuring adult entertainment and have all since disappeared. The wave of multiplex theaters began in 1972 when the Fashion Valley Theatre was transformed into a four-plex from a single screen. The multiplex revolution had begun.