The Yost Theater Is Ready for Its Closeup

The renovated, revamped venue is ready for its grand reopening. So why aren't all of its downtown Santa Ana neighbors celebrating?

And he's right when he says of the revamped Yost that "there's nothing like this in Orange County." For the area's 3 million-plus inhabitants, there is a total of six venues that can host more than 800 people: the House of Blues in Anaheim (1,050 capacity), the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana (970), and the City National Grove of Anaheim (1,700), plus the huge Honda Center in Anaheim (17,000), Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa (8,500 to 10,000) and Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine (16,000). The Yost—which will be a 1,650-person space that will host concerts, international DJs, fashion shows and film premieres—is the coolest thing to happen, musically, to the county since, well, Detroit Bar brought in Stereolab. (Or since Exene Cervenka moved to Orange.)

Leon says the Yost's niche will be DJ culture and live music. "We've already got offers in for every big artist you can think of," he says. "We always wanted to have bands, but we never knew what level of artist we could get. Now, we have the best equipment in Orange County, so if we can get and afford them, we can host it."

Leon pauses, then says, "We just want everyone to experience the Yost."

Miguel Vasconcellos
Miguel Vasconcellos

Location Info

Map

The Yost Theater

307 N. Spurgeon St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Music Venues

Region: Santa Ana

Details

The Yost Theater, www.yosttheater.com. Grand opening with Colette and DJ Heather on Aug. 5, followed by Unwritten Law on Aug. 6, Thrice on Aug. 13, Nekromantix on Aug. 14, Elefante on Aug. 31, and Mexican rap-rock band Molotov on Sept. 4. Call for performance times and ticket prices.

The Yost wasn't always open to everyone. Built in 1912, it was originally called the Auditorium. Ed Yost bought it in 1919 and gave it his name. For a time, it was a vaudeville theater, where the likes of silent-film comedian Ben Turpin and vaudeville star Eva Tanguay performed, and it thrived in the early days of Santa Ana, when only whites were allowed to sit downstairs (Mexicans and other non-whites were relegated to the balcony).

In 1939, Louie Olivos Sr. worked at the State Theater (also in downtown Santa Ana), patrolling the balcony. He got a lease to run the Princess Theater by convincing his bosses that screening Spanish-language films to Latino audiences there would be a financial success. He was right. By 1952, he was able to buy the Yost and turned it into an exclusively Spanish-language theater.

"He always had his eye on the Yost," his son Louie Olivos Jr. says. "It had the stage; it had a huge capacity. It had everything." The Olivoses ran the business as a family affair, hosting movies, stage shows and sometimes music. They brought in such Mexican movie stars as Pedro Infante, Antonio Aguilar and Tin-Tan for meet-and-greets. For years, the Olivoses were shining pillars of the Latino business community, and the Yost and its sister West Coast Theater were the only shows in town. Their theater remained the center of the city's downtown, as it emptied of white-run businesses and gradually became almost exclusively Latino.

But in the 1980s, the Olivoses lost the Yost.

Today, Olivos Jr. says it all began with a plan by Santa Ana College to take over their building. Sometime in the late 1970s, Olivos Jr. offered to host a Cinco de Mayo celebration for what would eventually be his alma mater. A 1985 Los Angeles Times story ("4th St. Shop Plan Gains in Santa Ana") quotes Santa Ana Downtown Development Commission director Roger Kooi as saying the city wanted to use the theater as a cultural center, "possibly in an arrangement with Rancho Santiago College District."

Then, in 1983, the city of Santa Ana required all the businesses east of Fourth Street to bring their buildings up to seismic code. Louie Olivos Sr. took out a high-interest loan to finance the project.

At around the same time, the city of Santa Ana was pushing to "redevelop" downtown Santa Ana. The same Times story says the economic decline of an area that used to be a major hub for business and socializing saw drunks and prostitutes making up most of the after-hours pedestrian traffic. It was a place where "blood banks, beer bars and flophouses flourished," and the city wanted to clean it up.

To do this, it asked various developers for plans to build a family-friendly shopping center on what eventually became the Fiesta Marketplace site. Afraid of getting squeezed out of downtown, local businessmen and property owners banded together to form Fiesta Marketplace Partnership and develop the area themselves. Among these businessmen were Allan Fainbarg, whose money got the project off the ground, and his son-in-law, Irving "Irv" Chase. Chase spearheaded the $12 million project, partially funded by a tax-exempt $7 million bond program. It encompassed a four-square-block area bounded by French Street on the east, Bush Street on the west, and Third and Fifth streets. At the time, it offered an alternative to MainPlace mall's "well-heeled shopper." (Read: cheaper merchandise for immigrants.)

What the city wanted originally, Chase says, was to turn Fourth Street into a replica of LA's Olvera Street. "We said, 'You can't re-create a tourist attraction—it's just not going to happen,'" he recalls.

Instead, Chase brought in improvements that proved family-friendly: a carousel in front of the Yost, a gazebo for entertainment, benches for shoppers. Movie theaters, an ice-cream shop, a bakery and a pizzeria were also made part of the renovation.

Olivos Jr. says the Yost's business was badly affected during the renovation; the construction, which lasted for months, led to his family defaulting on the loan they took out for the seismic retrofit. The city then bought the Yost from Olivos Sr. for $600,000, which was less than the cost of the theater. Olivos Jr. blames Kooi for taking advantage of his family. "I thought he was my friend—instead, he bamboozled us," he says. Kooi died in 1997.

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