Puttin’ on the Ritz Theater

For a recent column on Ontario’s Yangtze Restaurant, I needed to know when the Ritz Theater, Yangtze’s longtime neighbor, burned down. The indefatigable Joanne Boyajian of the Ontario City Library’s Model Colony History Room found the date and more. Why not share the research here? It’ll bring back memories or fill in some gaps in history.

The theater began as the California (in 1933, according to my own files), showed B movies compared to the classier fare at the Granada and became the Ritz on June 22, 1961.

Its last all-ages movie was “Dr. Zhivago,” which ran for weeks. Then, circa 1967-68, the theater went X-rated, much to the consternation of the community. The Ritz burned on Friday, April 27, 1979. The Daily Report quoted the Rev. Clarence G. Eigenhuis, past of the First Foursquare Church in Ontario, as calling the fire an “answer to prayer.” (I’ve been told people gathered to cheer.)

The fire was initially thought to be of suspicious origin, but arson was ruled out as no clues were found, the Progress Bulletin reported. Investigators concluded the fire was accidental and was due to an electrical short circuit in the balcony.

If you have memories of the California or Ritz theaters, post away below.

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  • Charles Bentley

    GREETINGS:

    I remember going to the Granada many times while growing up in Ontario. I dont recall ever going to the Ritz, but I do remember the furor surrounding the ownerships decision to become an “adult” theater.

    During the outcry over the change, I recall there was a brief period of time when management switched back to showing “family” fare (it may have involved a court decision or possibly an issue involving the city council).

    My brother took the opportunity to go to the Ritz and see what an “adult” theater looked like. As I recall, the movie showing was not “Dr. Zhivago,” but rather Disney’s “The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit.”

    When he returned home after the show, I asked my brother about the “Ritz” experience. He said it was dingy, dark and “smelled funny.”

    I also clearly remember hearing many people speaking about “the power of prayer” and “the wages of sin” soon after the fire. Those, plus the ever-present marquee on Euclid Avenue displaying its sinful cinema offerings, make up my memories of the Ritz.

    [Best not to think too much about why the theater "smelled funny." Thanks for the Ontario memories as always, Charles. -- DA]

  • Dave Linck

    I have a slew of Ritz Theatre memories, beginning with the fact that the theatre was originally named the California Theatre.

    My grandparents, Charles and Ella Linck, owned the now-closed Commercial Hotel that abutted the theatre as well as occupied the area above the current Yangtze Restaurant. (Indeed, Edna Gin and family first stayed at the Commercial Hotel in the early 1960s before founding the restaurant.)

    Anyway, the California Theatre was a first-run theatre that held its own against the Granada before becoming the Ritz in 1961. My father, then-Postmaster Charles Linck Jr., invested in the new Ritz for a while.

    This opened up a whole new dream world for myself and my brothers, as we were allowed to run free throughout the Ritz, even “helping” sell candy and distribute popcorn. The Ritz got a facelift as well, with the interior changing from vaudeville-esque (like the Granada) to a somewhat outer space gray stucco finish with inlaid sparkles.

    I am sure this was retained when, alas, new management turned the Ritz into a sinful X house in the late ’60s.

    I asked my dad what films did well when he was an investor…he could only come up with Glenn Ford in “Pocketful of Miracles.” As he mournfully recalled: “Even then the Granada got all the best films because it was a Fox Theatre and we were independent.”

    [A nice addition to our Ritz/California theater file, Dave. -- DA]