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Sympathy for Pepperbelly’s, but memories of the theater

By From page A2 | February 04, 2013

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 [email protected]

Tony Wade

Tony Wade

Tony Wade is the slightly older yet infinitely more handsome brother of long-time DR columnist Kelvin Wade

Discussion | 5 comments

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  • Diane Downing-McGraugh (Morgan)February 04, 2013 - 8:59 am

    That is where is fell in love with Elvis Presley. I saw the movie "Blue Hawaii" and back in the day where you could stay and watch it over and over all day long. If I remember correctly my mother would give me a dollar and that would cover the movie, popcorn, and a soda! Then when our family really splurged we sat in the balcony. I have many memories in that building, very sad to see this happen to it!

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  • Mike KirchubelFebruary 04, 2013 - 9:29 am

    I remember going there when I was about 12. Admission was 35 cents. I don't remember what movie I went to see and I don't remember the title of the movie I saw. But I do remember the look on my mom and dad's faces when I told them that it wasn't the movie I thought was playing, but one starring somebody named, Bridget Bardot.

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  • Brian KleinFebruary 04, 2013 - 9:35 am

    Many fond memories of the old theater. My earliest being the 50c Saturday matinees featuring Tarzan and Lone Ranger movies interspersed with Woody the Woodpecker cartoons. I saw many of the famous Disney movies there. And then there was Star Wars. My last memories of old Fairfield Cinema I are of the 1981-1982 time when the started The Midnight Movies. Mostly rock genre movies like Led Zeppelin's 'Dazed and Confused' and Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Freebird: The Movie'. That's about the time the city banned cruising Texaz St., and the rest is history.

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  • StR the system is censoring me againFebruary 04, 2013 - 9:44 am

    Oh Goody

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  • LilFebruary 04, 2013 - 5:59 pm

    When I was in high school, that move theater played a huge role in our lives. That is where I saw Grease, which was the Twilight of our times. It's where I had my first movie date (Star is Born with Barbara Streisand). I saw Star Wars there. My friend Aurora and I were flashed by the Fairfield Flasher when we coming out of after a movie. I remember standing in line waiting for the movie and the cruise going by with people yelling hi from their cars. Such good memories of that place.

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