History & Contact

History Plaque

The Carlsbad Theatre

The Carlsbad Theatre had its grand opening on February 8th, 1927 with the showing of the film “It”, starring Clara Bow. Mr. A. J. Clark, the developer and manager, hosted the ceremonies. The Theatre featured a full stage, fly gallery, orchestra pit, pipe organ, and flyable movie screen. The original cost was $40,000. In 1939 it was renamed the “Iris Theatre” and in 1943 it was known as the “Sylvia Theatre”. The Samuels family owned and operated the Theatre from 1946 to 1961, known then as the “Carlsbad Theatre”. The Donald C. Dunham family purchased the Theatre in 1961 and showed movies until the late 80′s. Renovated in 1999, The Carlsbad Village Theatre serves the community as a multi-purpose entertainment venue for live stage and music performances, group meetings and large cinema screen presentations.

Courtesy of the Carlsbad Historical Preservation Commission

“The Carlsbad Village Theatre” – Historic Summary

The Carlsbad Theatre was built by the Roy E. Struve Construction Company in 1927 at a cost of $40,000. The Oceanside Blade, January 27th, 1927…. “Mr. Struve is using reinforced concrete columns with curtain walls of tile. A special design of steel roof trusses was used to provide the concave ceiling”…. “The Carlsbad Theatre is perfectly appointed as to acoustics, comfort and beauty, and is distinctive in the fact that it is, we believe, the finest house ever built in a town the size of Carlsbad”…. The Theatre’s design features included: a full stage, fly gallery, orchestra pit, pipe organ, 600 seats and a flyable movie screen.

The Grand Opening was on February 8th, 1927. The opening show titled “It”, a silent film starred Clara Bow, one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols. Mr. A. J. Clark, the developer and manager of the Theatre, hosted the ceremonies. An opening night ticket was 50 cents.

In 1928, Silent films were replaced by “Talkies” and Clara Bow’s career faded quickly; …… can anyone remember why?

In 1939, the Carlsbad Theatre was renamed the “Iris Theatre” and in 1943, the theatre was renamed again to the “Sylvia Theatre”. In 1946, Joseph F. & Cecil E. Samuels purchased the theatre and resurrected the original name “Carlsbad Theatre”. The Samuels (aka Ces and Dode) exhibited films continuously through the movie industry’s popular post-war period.

In August 1961, Donald C. & Alice Dunham purchased the Theatre and continued to exhibit American & Spanish films movies through late 1986.

In December 1986, Raymond & Celestine Normandin purchased the Theatre and pursued a public / private renovation plan with the City of Carlsbad. Mr. Normandins renovation plans were negatively impacted by the high cost estimates to comply with the City of Carlsbad’s “Unreinforced Masonry Building Ordinance” and defaulted on his Purchase Money Note to the Dunham’s in mid 1993.

In late 1993, Mrs. Dunham reacquired the Theatre via foreclosure.

In early 1995, the City of Carlsbad issued a permit to The Dunham Family Trust (Tom & Judy McMahon, co-trustees) for the Hazardous Reduction Work (seismic retrofit work) required pursuant to the City’s “Unreinforced Masonry Building” ordinance. The foregoing seismic retrofit work was completed by The Dunham Family Trust in mid 1995 with its private funds!

In early 2000, a major renovation and tenant improvement work was completed by Tom & Judy McMahon and Mr. Marshall Naify. The major renovation and tenant improvements work included; a new cinema screen, audio system, projection booth & equipment, theatre lighting, increased electrical capacity, expanded electrical distribution system together with a new title curtain, drapes and carpet. Mr. Naify passed-away unexpectedly in early 2000 and Tom & Judy McMahon continued their ownership and operations management responsibilities of the Theatre.

In 2016, The Carlsbad Village Theatre continues to serve the San Diego County community as a multi-purpose entertainment event venue for a broad scope of contemporary entertainment uses, including: live stage performances (concerts, musicals, plays & standup comedy), cinema presentations (film festivals, indie & documentary films), business & education seminars (with cinema screen PowerPoint media presentations), Religious Holiday events, and Motivational Public Speaking presentations.

Thank you for your support: Tom & Judy McMahon, Carlsbad Village Theatre, February 27th, 2016

Contact the Carlsbad Village Theatre

Tom McMahon at:

2822 State Street
Carlsbad, CA 92008