Kara (Walker) Alvarez, a longtime waitress at Black Bear Diner, can’t help but glance at the southwest corner of Yosemite Avenue and B Street when traveling through downtown. There once stood the Madera Theater, which in all practicality was a childhood home of hers. Alvarez is the daughter of former theater owners Ben and Susan Walker and the only one of their six children still living in Madera.
The original theater had been constructed during the silent movie era of the 1920s. With the arrival of talkies, it was renovated and refurbished and had a grand re-opening in February 1939. A little over a year later it was consumed by fire on Nov. 30.
Theater fires were big news and the conflagration made national headlines, even appearing in The Kentucky New Era newspaper of Hopkinsville, Ky., with the headline “Man Survives Plunge into Theater.” The man, 28-year-old volunteer firefighter Owen Barr, according to the New Era, “escaped almost unhurt because a pile of bricks fell on him.” Yet another volunteer, “Clyde Haymond was on the roof with Barr, and was carried to his death.”
However, the theater with its towering Madera logo, double-sided, angled marquee and art-deco facade was rebuilt in 1941 prior to World War II. It was known as the “Pride of the Valley” and seated 1,300 moviegoers in plush seats...