Garden Theater in Willow Glen

The residents of San Jose certainly loved their theaters. They had large theaters in downtown San Jose, as well as little neighborhood theaters all over the growing city.

The Garden Theater was the beloved neighborhood theater of Willow Glen. But did you know that long before the theater existed, another one by that named was supposed to be built where Bascom Avenue and Stevens Creek meet ? Below is an artist’s rendering of it, from the book Theaters of San Jose.

That theater never got built, but the theater in Willow Glen took it’s name (and the plan of yet another theater originally designed for East San Jose). It opened in 1949 with Humphrey Bogart’s ‘Knock on Any Door’.
vintage_garden_willowgeln2In 1975, the theater was sold and started showing Spanish language films under new ownership. But the changing face of the neighborhood meant the theater shut down in 1988. Camera Cinema tried buying the space but the owners wanted more than they could pay, so they opted for the Towne Theater on the Alameda ( more on that in a later post) instead. The beautiful insides of the Garden Theater were gutted in 1989. There are pretty dramatic accounts of how the chandeliers came crashing down to the floor. The murals on the walls and the etched glass doors were removable, so they were pulled out and are now parts of other theaters in Orinda and in Berkeley. Sad as it is, it’s somehow apt that a theater born by taking the name and plans of two different theaters now has it’s parts surviving in little bits across the Bay Area.

Still, the Garden Theater was luckier than many other community theaters of the time. The building still stands. Office and retail spaces occupy the space now but the exterior remains and even today, the flowers, leaves and exuberant lettering light up the night in downtown Willow Glen.

1165 Lincoln Ave.

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