PITTSBURG -- As a young boy, Joe Lombardo remembers asking his father for 20 cents to see a movie at Pittsburg's California Theatre. That was in the 1940s. Today Lombardo is part of a group of local residents who want to see the California Theatre thrive once again.

For his part, Lombardo donated the better part of two years working on taking photos of the restoration and helping to compile a booklet called "The Curtain Rises: The Return of the California Theatre."

"When I was 14 the theater closed down," Lombardo said. "Before that I remember there being a lot of westerns and cartoons played at the theater."

The California Theatre opened in May of 1920, several years before some of the bigger theaters in the Bay Area opened. The theater cost $65,000 to build at that time and became a showplace for big Hollywood films and vaudeville acts.

After closing in 1954, the building sat empty and suffered extensive damage to the inside auditorium and sagging throughout the main hall, as well as a host of other damage. Over recent years the Pittsburg City Council approved funding to allow the restoration of the building as part of their effort to revitalize the downtown area. The first movie in nearly six decades was shown last week at the theater.


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According to Jill Hecht, assistant to the city manager, in the last few years, a $7.6 million restoration project brought the California Theatre back to life as a performing arts venue. The theater is owned and operated by the city of Pittsburg.

Lombardo says he doesn't consider himself a professional photographer. He enjoys photography as a hobby. Several years back he had put together a few of his favorite photos in a small art show at his friend's Steeltown Coffee and Tea in downtown Pittsburg. The event drew the attention of one of the Pittsburg city officials who asked if he would be willing to document the restoration efforts of the California Theatre.

"I loved the idea of getting to see the work in progress," Lombardo said. "They let me lose to look at the theater and walk around and have full access to watch it being put back together."

During his time watching the renovations, Lombardo says he's taken more than 2,000 photos of the building coming back to life.

As a way to help raise funds for the continued renovations, Lombardo's photos and information about the California Theatre and its renovations were complied in a booklet. The Pittsburg Arts and Community Foundation recently published the booklet.

Through Lombardo's photos, viewers get to see photographs during all phases of construction.

"The impact of his 'before' and 'after' photos is remarkable, particularly of the art on the walls and ceilings and the chandelier in the auditorium," Hecht said.

"The Curtain Rises: The Return of the California Theatre" is available for sale for $12.95 at the Railroad Book Depot, Pittsburg's independent bookstore, 650 Railroad Ave. For information and store hours, call the bookstore at 925-427-2334.

MORE INFO
What: "The Curtain Rises: The Return of the California Theatre"
Cost: $12.95
Info: 925-427-2334 or purchase at Railroad Book Depot, 650 Railroad Ave., Pittsburg