Historic Hemet Theatre, circa 1922 Courtesy photo of HHT

On Thanksgiving Day in 1921, William Martin first opened what would one day be known as the Historic Hemet Theatre.

Back then it was known as Martin’s Hemet Theatre. And just like in most small towns, the movie house was the center of the downtown district and a cultural focal point for the community.

There are still lots of locals that recall the glory days of the theatre… Not when William Martin was alive, but back when his son Harold Martin ran the venue from the late 1940’s into the 1980’s.

San Jacinto resident Lynn Peterson spent every Saturday at the theatre in her youth. She had to finish her chores first, but then her allowance gave her enough for admission and a couple of concession items. Afterward, she would walk across Carmelita Street to the restaurant where her mother worked.

Courtesy photo of HHT Courtesy photo of HHT

Former Hemet Mayor Lori VanArsdale worked for Harold for years, in the ticket office, concession stand and ushering as needed to quiet the unruly teenagers.

From every account, Harold was a bit of a curmudgeon. He was gruff with staff and guest alike – even insisting that employees not say “Merry Christmas.”

Darlene Ramirez now volunteers at the Hemet Museum, but back then she was another of Harold’s employees. She will tell you stories about the ghosts that haunt HHT. “Walking through the door to the back of the stage, you would feel someone shove you from behind… but there was no one there!”

Darlene is also one of the few locals that has first-hand knowledge of the mysterious tunnel that ran beneath the store fronts along Florida Avenue down to the bank at the corner of State Street. It was used by the theatre for the daily deposits, to avoid the risk of a robbery along the sidewalk.

So many small towns have lost their vintage movie house to the wheels of progress. This valley is blessed to have one of the oldest (and one of the most charming) old theatres — still standing after 100 years. And still bringing wonderful entertainment and special events to the residents of the valley.

William Martin with his son, Harold Martin Courtesy photo of HHT

Please join me this Thanksgiving in a moment of gratitude to William and Harold Martin, whose legacy we are able to celebrate 100 years later. This town has been benefited greatly from their vision and hard work. Happy 100th Birthday to Martin’s Hemet Theatre!

Meanwhile, tickets still remain for the Holiday Tribute to Linda Ronstadt on Saturday December 18th. And don’t forget to grab your tickets for the 100-year Anniversary Gala on Saturday January 15th, starring the one and only Rich Little.

The next season of Tribute Mania begins in January, with tributes to The Bee Gees, Prince, Marvin Gaye, AC/DC, Mańa, The Doors, Johnny Cash and Van Halen. Tickets for Tribute Mania events are $25, general admission. Showtime is 7:00 pm, with doors open at 6:15 pm.

Information on all theatre events is available at www.HistoricHemetTheatre.com or by calling the ticket office, (951) 658-5950. You can subscribe to the HHT email blast by enrolling on the website.

Susan Carrier | Contributed

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