The photograph of the old Madera Theater that ran last Tuesday with “Madera’s Yesteryears” revived some dormant memories of the history of entertainment in our town, especially the movies. As some know, Madera once supported several theaters. In addition to the Madera Theater, there was the Star and the Rex, and I have heard that there was even a hand-cranked cinema house on South C Street once upon a time.
To get at the genesis of the movies in Madera, however, one must start with the old Madera Opera House. In the days before movies hit town, Maderans would flock to the Opera House to view live stage performances. The seats were built in sections and were movable. The rear of the auditorium was at the front of the building, while to the rear of the building an old wooden affair was attached. This was the stage. It was about two feet above the floor level of the auditorium. In the front of the stage was an orchestra pit.
Patrons in those pioneer days would enter the Opera House and take a seat. The higher priced ones were nearer the stage, while the cheaper seats were in “Tiger Heaven,” near the back. At show time, a roll-type curtain was lowered and raised with “an evenness in proportion to the experience of the one who pulled the ropes, much like the effect of raising a Venetian blind. The less experienced always served to amuse the audience to the degree of the operator’s embarrassment.”
The shows that came to the Madera Opera House were varied. One favorite was that interminable rescue from the buzz saw. The crowd would “ohh” and “ahh” while an Ole Olson or Yon Yonson rescued the beautiful blonde (usually bleached) heroine who had been tied to a log that was speeding into the teeth of a large circular saw...