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.”
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
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
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.
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 ran 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 Times
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 Times article about the Yost.
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.”