The Theater Marquee on the Night of The Yost's Revival
The Theater Marquee on the Night of The Yost's Revival
Gabriel San Roman

Yost Theater Documentary Resurfaces In Santa Ana

A rare documentary about the history of the Yost Theater in Santa Ana has reemerged online as current management of the renovated venue looks to an April 2011 grand opening with food and bar services. The 20-minute short El Yost en la Ciudad de Oro (The Yost in the City of Gold) was put together by an ambitious group of young, educated, college-aged Santaneros and screened at the historic theater on April 12, 2008, as part of a grand reopening "Barrio Night" event organized and sponsored by El Centro Cultural de Mexico, Calacas and The Fiesta Marketplace, where the Yost stands. "At the time, we were very passionate about the Yost," recalls Saidy Valdez, one of the film's producers. "We didn't know its history."

Delving into that past, the film (narrated by co-producer Diana Alvarez) begins by exploring themes of gentrification and renaissance plans for Santa Ana and contextualizing the existence of the Yost within them. Producers conducted on-camera interviews with a cross-generational mix of guests (including our own Gustavo Arellano) retracing the theater's decades-long heyday under the ownership and operation of the Olivos family, as well as discussing the then-possibility of the theater's rebirth as a community space.

After the "Barrio Night" viewing--the sole public screening of the film--the documentary was seemingly lost. "We had only done a rough cut," Valdez says. "I thought we lost the files, but there was just miscommunication." In the meantime, the only other places where people were able to see

El Yost en la Ciudad de Oro

was at Santa Ana's Century High School and in the Cal State Fullerton Chicano Studies classroom of Professor Erualdo Gonzalez. The prof recently found his copies of the documentary and passed them along to be uploaded onto YouTube, where anyone can now view it.

With a slick soundtrack featuring the sounds of Pistolera, Bocafloja and Son del Centro, the documentary speaks of how the theater had remained a dormant relic populated by a Pentecostal Church and largely bereft of its potential since city officials forced the Olivos to sell them the theater in 1985 under threat of eminent domain. The documentary recalls an era when segregationist norms only allowed the city's Mexican population to sit in the balcony section above. All that changed with time and, more important, by the full acquisition of the property by Louis Olivos Sr. in 1960. Afterward, the Yost increasingly became an important social hub for a growing immigrant population in the city and county at large.

The second half of the documentary recounts the Yost's importance for Latino OC. The theater's heyday coincided with Mexico's epoca de oro in film, and superstars from south of the border such as Cantinflas and Antonio Aguilar appeared within its walls. The narrative takes a turn for the bitter, however, as the Olivos era came to a close in 1985. Citing renovation needs, the Olivos family neared bankruptcy after the city required they do retrofiting on a sizable scale.

As recounted earlier in the pages of the Weekly, "The city bought the Yost for $600,000 with the promise they would resell it to Olivos at that price when he could secure funds. Just a couple of months later, though, Santa Ana officials sold the Yost to a group of developers for $50,000." It was a bait-and-switch move and a stab in the back that still brings difficult memories to the surface for Louis Olivos Jr. in the film. For the ensuing 25 years, new owner Irv Chase let the Yost crumble, renting the neglected space to a Pentecostal church.

That sense of historical betrayal transforms into hope in the documentary. Many of the people interviewed--including Olivos Jr., Sam Romero and Teresa Saldivar--shared a dream that the Yost could once again tap into its long-established function as a cultural hub for the community. The possibilities seemed endless, and the hopes for the future permeated the words of those interviewed onscreen.

The documentary also shows scenes of a

son jarocho

concert--El Centro's cultural specialty-- from Nov. 2, 2007, featuring the music of 

Los Cojolites

. This concert was the first time in nearly 20 years that the Yost was open to a community performance, and the film showed the theater's revival with its creaky seats filled to the maximum.

The Los Angeles Times


an article by Jennifer Delson

about that night--an article that proved to be more damaging than uplifting for those who hoped Chase would follow through on his promise to turn the Yost into a venue run in part by the Centro.

The documentary ended on a high note, but even as the "Barrio Night" event came to a close, Santa Ana's city fathers were scheming how to wrest control of the venue for themselves. Shortly after the publication of the


piece, Gil Marrero, Santa Ana property owner and real-estate agent for Santa Ana developer Mike Harrah, passed along the article to Dennis Lluy. He had been a hero of sorts in the city for his Koo's Cafe, a space open in Santa Ana during the 1990s that became famous for ambitious shows but faced constant harassment from city officials and the police. Those problems forced Lluy to move his operation to Long Beach last decade, but somewhere along the line, Lluy became a favorite of the Santa Ana elite, which prompted Marrero to forward him the


article about the Yost.

Lluy himself recounts this in a December 2008 interview in Riviera magazine as the Koo's partnership with the owners of the Yost took off from that point, allowing him a space to operate in Santa Ana again. Over time, El Centro Cultural de Mexico's participation in community events such as Gregorio Luke art lectures and the first OC performance of La Santa Cecilia in '08 waned as renovation, that same rationale that closed the doors on the living dream of the Olivos family, took precedence under the new management arrangement.

A more polemical post I wrote at the

Orange Juice Blog

provoked a public response from Lluy that essentially confirmed the city's telling of the Yost tale: that they saved the venue by stealing it from the Olivoses. "The property owners have also invested well more than $1 million  since the '80s," Lluy wrote. "The Yost was in dire need of structural upgrades that would help keep the building from collapsing in a major earthquake when they purchased the building."

The Weekly contacted Lluy for this story, but he did not yet respond. In the same comments on Orange Juice, he noted that he gives few interviews because of supposed misquotations that, in his mind, create false drama where none exists. Citing another concern that Latinos could feel disenfranchised by what has transpired, he noted his desire to not be put within the context of gentrification in other press statements, saying his parents were from Cuba and he would be mindful of booking alt-Latino acts.

Is that enough? The answer already appears to be no. Chase is preparing to kick out Latino businesses to make room for the New Yost's plans. Reflecting on the ironic turn of events, Saidy Valdez tries to find the silver lining in all of this. "It's kind of sad with everything going on downtown, but it doesn't matter if we have a space like the Yost or not," she reasons, "as long as the people are united and community events go on."

"We don't have to have the Yost," she continues. "We can do it elsewhere."


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >