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?

Olivos Jr. claims his family retrofitted all but one wall of the building, but the city wouldn't let them keep the Yost. "Kooi told my dad, 'If you sell to somebody else, the city of Santa Ana [will] condemn the Yost Theater as well as the West Coast Theater' . . . and he could kiss his home on Greenleaf Street away and lose his 80-acre ranch in San Diego."

He says now, "My dad accepted [the city's offer] because he was facing foreclosure on his home, but we were not willing sellers." Going through personal as well as financial losses—he lost two brothers and a son shortly after the family lost the Yost—"We couldn't fight them," Olivos Jr. says. "We didn't have the heart."

A few months after forcing the Olivos family to sell the Yost, the city sold it to the partnership for $50,000 as part of Fiesta Marketplace. In fact, the city of Santa Ana paid $7.5 million for several downtown properties and sold them to the partnership for just less than $1 million, with the understanding that the buildings needed major renovations. Olivos Sr. died in 1999. In his final years, he would mutter to his sons that they needed to go open the Yost.

Louie Olivos Jr. says the city of Santa Ana bamboozled his family and took the Yost from them
Miguel Vasconcellos
Louie Olivos Jr. says the city of Santa Ana bamboozled his family and took the Yost from them

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.

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For the next 25 years, the Fiesta Marketplace Partnership—Chase; Fainbarg; and local business owners Raymond Rangel, Jose Ceballos and Robert D. Escalante—successfully targeted the Latino market, turning Fourth Street into a shopping center designed for a Spanish-speaking customer. "It was one of the first in the country specifically geared toward that demographic," Chase says. "It was very, very successful until about five years ago, when Hispanic retailing changed."

And the Yost?

"When we opened up Fiesta [around 1989], we renovated the Yost," Chase says. "We spent $750,000 renovating it so we could use it for entertainment purposes. But then we couldn't generate enough activity to keep it open and use it on a regular basis, so it operated as a church for many years, and it was allowed to decay."

The Chases' various business entities have holdings in 16 states. The four blocks of land in Santa Ana's downtown, they say, might be the chunk of land that makes them the least profit. "But it's the one we're most passionate about," says Ryan Chase, Irv's son and president of the Santa Ana PBID (Property Business Improvement District) Downtown Inc., a locally based nonprofit corporation made up of Santa Ana property owners that receives assessments collected by the county from those property owners to promote downtown and keep it clean and safe.

Ryan Chase's great-grandfather Nathan Fainbarg opened a shoe store on Fourth Street in 1919. His grandfather Allan (Nathan's son) owned a gas station in Santa Ana. The family has an emotional attachment to the city and has always considered itself part of the Santa Ana community.

In 2006, the Chases say, they started seeing the demand on Fourth Street wane. "Sales started to decline, there were vacancies, people weren't paying rents on time," Ryan Chase says.

"The Hispanic marketplace is the most sought-after demographic due to the large families, disposable income and loyalty," he continues. "So all the big retailers—Wal-Mart, Target, Costco—they all figured it out. They have bilingual help, bilingual graphics. People [stopped shopping at Fourth street and] started shopping at MainPlace."

The younger Chase says that they've dropped rents from 25 to 75 percent on their property since 2007. In 2008, they started meeting with tenants and tried to improve the merchandise on Fourth Street to attract more customers, but nothing worked. "That was when we realized we had to do something."

This change has been the catalyst for what Santa Ana community members are nicely referring to as gentrification and not-so-nicely calling "ethnic cleansing," as declared at one meeting by a member of El Centro Cultural de México, who asked to not to be named.

The Chases' new strategy revolved around the Yost. Seeing the success of the neighboring Artists Village made them realize that "downtown renaissances" were driven by the arts.

"We realized we had to have some anchorability [in the area]," Ryan Chase says. The Chases spent a lot of time driving around various downtowns and concluded that nighttime entertainment was the key: "Restaurants, movie theaters and places where music is done—performance places!" he says "That was when we made the decision to use the Yost."

Ryan Chase continues, "Nowhere in Orange County can you go to shop, grab a bite to eat and hang out afterward. The Yost has that. It has history, it has character, and it attracts different people—locals and outsiders at the same time. Someone's probably not going to drive an hour to eat at a restaurant or shop, but they'll do that for a band. So this will be a regional draw, beyond Orange County. That's really critical."

*     *     *

Sam Romero, owner of St. Theresa's Catholic gift shop and chairperson of the Logan Neighborhood, says that after the Pentecostal church vacated the Yost in 2007, the Fourth Street business owners asked Irv Chase's permission to let El Centro Cultural de México to use the venue.

Established in 1994, El Centro is a not-for-profit, Santa Ana-based organization (a beneficiary of the California Endowment Fund) that creates various programs to help people explore and understand Mexican culture, including workshops in dance, music, art and literacy.

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