Like many Fairfielders, I was horrified at the fire at Pepperbelly’s. That night, my daughter Kaci and I went to see “Lend Me a Tenor” at the Missouri Street Theater, so we were very close. I went back Saturday to snap a few pictures to post for the “I Grew Up in Fairfield Too” Facebook group that has many members who no longer live here.
I really want to be careful with how I say the following so I am not misunderstood. The owners of Pepperbelly’s suffered a terrible loss. I mean them no disrespect. I have heard talk about a fundraiser and I stand ready to help.
That said: the thing that kind of has been gnawing at me is the way it has been covered in the media. Pepperbelly’s brought top-tier talent to our quaint lil’ burg.To be sure, the comedy club was beloved by many people. But for numerous longtime residents the affection we felt was because that building was once the Solano Theatre/Fairfield Cinema I.
Pepperbelly’s had been around for 12 or 13 years, but that corner building had been a theater since 1921. I am a little embarrassed to say that with the exception of my high school basketball coach Jay Dahl’s retirement party several years ago and a show by local improv group the Rats in the Alley last year, I’d never been to Pepperbelly’s.
I wasn’t boycotting the place – it’s just like how I’ve also never ridden the San Francisco cable cars. I just figured it would always be there and I’d get around to it.
I’ve written a column about the theater specifically and one where it was a backdrop for my past dating failures, so there’s no need to rehash them. Suffice it to say, I have years worth of memories there.
I wasn’t sure I’d ever been there with my wife since we married in 1994. She reminded me that we saw “The Brady Bunch Movie” there in 1995 (uh, not terrible, but obviously not exactly memorable) and sat in the balcony.
Other locals chimed in including Gordene Pienovi, who has several original chairs from the theater on her front porch.
Gordene Pienovi: “My husband and I had our first date there in February 1961. I like to pretend those movie seats on my porch were the ones we sat in.”
Janis Edwards: “I went on my first date there. Saw ‘West Side Story.’ In those days, movies ran in Fairfield very late after opening. A friend and I had to go to Vallejo to see ‘The Sound of Music’ when it came out, but otherwise Solano Theatre was where most of my dates took place in high school. Movies were one of the few activities around, other than school dances.”
Judy Anderson Engell: “ ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ on May 11, 1974 was my first date with Lory Engell. I don’t remember much about the movie because I was so nervous, but we’ve been together since then!”
Patti Thoming: “In 1967 on a date with (my now husband) Lee we must have gone to see a comedy and this lady several rows in front of us started laughing and honking, grunting, and making the strangest sounds we’ve ever heard coming from someone. Next thing you know the whole theater was laughing not at the movie, but at her! We were so exhausted by the time the movie was over. I think that’s the best movie we never saw!”
Sandra Ward: “It was my first job in the ’80s, and such fun! We were high schoolers earning gas money, money to go on dates, and we didn’t care we were making minimum wage. Our major perks were free popcorn and soda (all we had to do was supply our own bowls and cups), and 50-cent movies when we weren’t on the clock. Friendships were formed (still lasting today). It was a dream job for a high schooler!”
Cindy Sutton: “Saw ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ there. Told boyfriend’s mom (she had four boys) the movie was about a woman whose baby turns out to be the devil. She tells me matter-of-factly, ‘They all do.’ ”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org