The Restoration of the California Theater in Dunsmuir
By Gary VanDeWalker
California DreamingFebruary 2015
By Gary Vandewalker
Two diamond-shaped windows on the front doors of the California Theater in Dunsmuir are portals to a magical place. The spell spills out into the streets with the lighted marquee pointing to the sky, as clouds are caught like cotton candy in the trees across the canyon. Moving down the street in quick strides, owner Mark Juarez opens the doors with the enthusiasm of Willy Wonka.
Opening in 1926, the building’s outside appearance is deceptive. The building unfolds into the large theater, a ballroom and other rooms that hold more than 800 people inside. In the main theater, a screen is stretched over a deep stage where the hardwood resounded for years with the voices of vaudeville acts before giving way to talking movies. A creek runs underneath the stage, providing a natural air conditioner.
Juarez is an inventor. In 1992, he worked as a masseur, and using his creativity he developed a tool called the Happy Massager. This grew into The Happy Company. Within three years the business was bringing in $20 million a year. The self-educated engineer says, “I
wanted to develop products which made love visible and showed integrity before profits, while giving a caring touch to the world. I believe there is no impossible dream.”
Dreams are what brought the inventor and his contemporary world to envision how this building and its past could come alive again. Juarez began to dream of a conference center. “Everything begins with conversation,” Juarez says. “I spoke to a manager at Google and asked about their conference needs and what would be attractive to them.”
Dunsmuir is four hours north of San Francisco and five hours south of Portland — perfect conference territory. Juarez saw the 1926 building transporting people back into the Roaring Twenties while embodying the latest in technology. He cast his eyes across the street to the Dunsmuir Hotel, wondering if the converted apartments fit his whimsical thoughts. He found a copy of Enjoy magazine featuring an article on the property known as the “Upside Down Hotel,” and soon purchased the building to add to the raw materials of his dreams.
The theater and hotel are being renovated. Bright pin striping covers the concession stand of the theater, while a ceiling mural looks down on patrons, who walk across newly laid tile designs. Upstairs, floors are stripped and ready to be refinished. False walls, dropped ceilings and peeling paint are now gone. The theater is preparing to be dressed and adorned as a fine lady of the 1920s, ready for her next ball. An artist roams the rooms of the hotel, looking at each wall as a canvas, with plans to paint a part of the history of Dunsmuir on the walls of each room and tell the story of the town.
When finished, Juarez will have almost 100 rooms available, the theater, a ballroom and a commercial kitchen. Two large retail spaces have been added as the possible location of a bar and restaurant. The theater property alone provides 16,000 square feet of space. In addition to his upside down hotel, Juarez has added the Castle Rock Hotel. His ideas for the buildings and spaces are limitless.
As the properties continue their transformation, Juarez opens the theater to the community on a part-time basis, showing movies from its historic past. The smell of popcorn fills the lobby many weekends. Coming attractions are listed on the theater’s Facebook page. Taking a winter hiatus, the movies will return in warmer months. The sign with ticket prices says, “No one is turned away for lack of funds.”
“I want to give to this community,” Juarez says. “I’m not here to take but to give.”
As this quiet entrepreneur toils, his work and workers are unseen by most. His deep desire is to build a team of people around him. “I’m always looking for ideas and innovators who can come alongside me,” Juarez says. “I would love for them to come from this area.”
The man behind the theater is full of thoughts, dreams and action. In his inspirational book, “Charlie’s Thinking Cheese,” Juarez writes, “Believe in something unbelievable. Let your imagination run wild.”
Facebook: California Theater in Dunsmuir