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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Entertainment is Alive and Well at the Tower Theatre

Oct 23, 2016 11:00AM ● By Kimberly Horg

Making Its Mark

November 2016
By Kimberly Horg

The Tower Theatre has adorned the corner of Olive Street in Fresno for 77 years. Originally opening as a 20th Century Fox movie house, it is now a performing arts mecca, with more than 150 shows hitting the stage last year. Fresno’s first suburban cinema was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. It was completely refurbished in 1989 and finished in 1992 by theatre owner Dottie Abbate, and it won the highest restoration award from The League of Historic American Theatres the same year.

The new owner (and son of the previous owner), Laurence Abbate, says this award assures Valley residents the unique building will play an important role in the community for many years to come.

Abbate has taken over where his mom left off, continuing her vision.

“It’s been wonderful to see my mother’s dream of a performance arts theatre come true and still continue to entertain people,” he says. “I am honored to keep that vision alive.”

The Tower Theatre’s purpose is education and entertainment: To bring diversity of cultural expression in the performing arts and to educate the public about historical, technical and creative aspects of the arts.

Designed by Los Angeles architect S. Charles Lee, the theatre features art deco inside and out, etched green glass backlit panels in the lobby and sculptured aluminum fittings throughout. Above the lobby, patrons can see an 80-foot tower lit at night with neon and topped by a multi-colored globe which was designed after a 1939 New York World’s Fair exhibit.

Seating accommodates 761, and guests can marvel at the circular murals above the aluminum sculpted sconces. The murals portray “Leda and Swan” and “Vine,” hand painted by world famous artist Anthony Heinsbergen. 

According to Abbate, one of the theatre’s most unusual features is the ultraviolet lighting which is hidden in the hammered tin sconces. 

“When turned, they illuminate the fluorescent ceiling murals, and we are only the second theatre in the nation to boast this unusual device,” he says. 

The foyer of Italian Terrazzo includes a historic Carvarts glass etching of “The Huntsmen” in the lobby, which serves as the backdrop for guests who mingle and buy refreshments between acts.

The restoration was important to Abbate, but her son recalls the little things about the theatre which brought his mother happiness.

“She really enjoyed seeing people forget their cares for an evening and enjoy the arts and entertainment; to see people leave an event with a smile on their face was something that always brought her joy,” he says. 

The Tower Theatre always brings a smile to Valerie Salcedo. It is where she won the title of Miss Fresno County in 2011. “It’s where my life changed forever,” she says.

She was born and raised in Fresno, but currently spends her time traveling the world as a performer and music director. 

“My favorite thing about Tower Theatre is its vintage look and iconic history. Every time I drive by it, I always think about the memories made there,” Salcedo says. Fresno resident Gene Day says there are too many fantastic memories at the Tower Theatre to count them all.

Upcoming shows include country artist Kris Kristofferson, smooth jazz and funk artist Brian Culbertson, jazz bassist Brian Bromberg, the comedy play “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus,” a Fresno Filmworks presentation of independent movies, world-renowned psychic John Edward, America’s Got Talent winner Popovich Comedy Pet Theatre, the Miss Fresno County Pageant (the home for their pageant for the last 10 years), children’s plays by California Theatre Center, rock group Y&T and comedian Christopher Titus. 

“There is something for everyone, from rock to Bach and boogie to Broadway,” Abbate says.

815 E. Olive Ave., Fresno • (559) 485-9050 • Find them on Facebook