The Garden Theatre opened on June 22, 1949 and it’s name echoed the old term for San Jose as “The Garden City.” The architect was Otto A. Deichman. It was operated for most of its life by General Theatrical as a first run house, and was very successful as the theater for San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood. In 1989 the theater was gutted and converted to commercial space, and today it hosts a number of restaurants, salons and office-based businesses.
Read on for more history compliments of CinemaTreasures.com, and check out
Bud Lima’s Garden Theater for the first-person perspective of local author Cookie Curci who grew up in Willow Glen when the theater was an important part of the community.
In the mid-1970’s, the Garden Theatre changed ownership and operated a policy of Spanish language movies. With the increasing gentrification of the neighborhood, this policy no longer was profitable and the theater closed in 1988.
Camera Cinemas, the local art house exhibitors, very much wanted to buy the Garden Theater, with the idea of turning it into a triplex, while restoring it (the theater was almost totally unaltered). This would likely have been a successful venture, but the owners wanted more money than Camera Cinemas could afford, and Camera Cinemas opted to acquire the Towne Theatre instead.
In 1989, the Garden Theatre was gutted to the bare walls, its auditorium chandeliers being allowed to crash to the floor. However, many of the human figures of its auditorium murals (the work of the Anthony B. Heinsbergen decorating company) were painted on canvas glued to the plaster. These were removed, as well as bas relief friezes in the lobby, and all of the etched glass doors. Some of the doors may now be found in the Orinda Theatre, Orinda, along with selected mural figures, and some of the doors are now reused in the Oaks Theatre, Berkeley. The Garden Theatre’s facade survived the building’s conversion to an office/retail mall with marquee and vertical sign intact. The neon lights up every night.