Welcome to the Cameo Cinema
History of Our Movie Theatre
By Mariam Hansen
The first moving pictures in St. Helena were shown at the G & G (Goodman & Galewsky) Theater. It was housed in the German Club’s Turnverein Hall, which was once located in what is now Lyman Park.
By 1913 it was time to replace this venue with a new, technologically advanced, purpose built theatre. This was undertaken by developer and businessman F.T. Mooney on a site north of the St. Helena Star building. He built a new business block, which included two storefronts and the theatre.
The building is of re-enforced concrete, one story tall. It has a frontage on Main Street of 78 feet. The theater section is 120 feet deep, while the other sections are 75 feet deep.
The theater measures 40 X 97 feet and had seating for 400, including 150 opera chairs (loges). (Today the theater has 140 seats) There was a modern date stage with two changes of scenery. In the rear were two dressing rooms with rear exits. The front drop curtain was a work of art: a painting of “The Old Mill” with Mt. St. Helena in the distance. The main entrance was reached through a lobby 14 X 23 feet in size. It had a tile floor and the arched ceiling was studded with electric lights.
Goodman & Galewsky leased on the theater and promised it would be open every evening. On opening night, May 15, 1913, a double bill featured “Kings of the Forest” by Selig Company. Eight reels were shown in all. This being the silent film era, Mr. Gilmore of Napa “played the picture” at the piano. All seats were filled that night and 100 more were standing, for a total of 500 people attending.
On each side of the theater entrance is a store front 14 X 75 feet in size. One was occupied by Wells, Fargo & Co and the other by Western Union Telegraph Co. Harry J. Chinn was the Wells Fargo agent. The Star Grocery, conducted by Edward Kraft, had the remaining store front, which was “very convenient and airy”, measuring 22 X 75.
The entire building was finished in pine and the ceilings of ornamental pressed steel. The walls of the theater were tinted and the whole structure “neat and modern in every respect”. The concrete work was done by Harry Thorsen (who also built the stone high school building in 1912). John H. Allison (who also was the marshal and street supervisor) was in charge of the carpentry work. “To him is due credit for carrying out Mr. Mooney’s plans in perfect detail” said the newspaper.
In 1916 the name of the theater became the Liberty; in 1939 the Roxy; in 1976 the Liberty and in 1997 the Cameo. The Mooney family descendants still own the building.
Today Cathy Buck is the theater impresario.