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Yost Theater reclaims some of its Art Deco history in its latest renovation

Yost Theater reclaims some of its Art Deco history in its latest renovation
Taylor Jayne, center, welcomes guests to the grand reopening of the Yost Theater in Santa Ana on March 29. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Yost Theater in downtown Santa Ana has meant many things to many people.

Since its construction in 1912 and opening in 1913, it served as a vaudeville stage, a movie house specializing in silent and Mexican films, a Pentecostal Latino church, a cultural center, a nightclub and a multipurpose event space.

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The Yost closed and reopened several times over the years, and now it has re-christened itself as a place for live entertainment and special events.

The 7,560-square-foot venue, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, underwent a $1 million renovation, and its new proprietors transformed it from a dark, Spanish Colonial look to a classy, airy arena that hearkens back to its original Art Deco theme.

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"It looks really nice," said Heather Harden, a sales and event consultant with Santa Ana-based Signature Party Rentals, at the March 29 grand reopening. "It's definitely an improvement. They really opened up the space. It was dark and burgundy before."

Guests attend the grand reopening of the restored Yost Theater in Santa Ana on March 29.
Guests attend the grand reopening of the restored Yost Theater in Santa Ana on March 29. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

24 Carrots, a catering and events company, and N Effect, an entertainment production and lighting company, are now leasing the property from the Chase family, which has owned the Yost since 1986.

The Orange County-based companies teamed with architectural firm Wade Co Design to revive original elements, such as the theater's exposed brick, decorative proscenium arch, façade and neon marquee.

Meanwhile, they introduced new components to make the venue more modern, such as white oak floors throughout, mirrored coffered ceilings in the lobby, and Caesarstone quartz bar tops. At least a dozen sconces and chandeliers of the Art Deco era borrow from classic theater lighting and help guide guests from room to room.

"We painted everywhere; we brought in light," said Lynn Wagoner, director of venues for 24 Carrots. "It was Spanish gothic before. It was dark and really heavy, so we opened up the walls and windows upstairs as much as we could."

The new proprietors hosted a grand reopening to introduce its new design and special event capabilities to about 600 guests, most of whom were in the local catering and special events industries.

The gathering featured tours, hors d'oeuvres, beverages and live music. Old, classic movie clips played on a screen behind the stage.

Sara McClelland, right, photographs Carmen Fuentes during the grand reopening of the Yost Theater in Santa Ana on March 29.
Sara McClelland, right, photographs Carmen Fuentes during the grand reopening of the Yost Theater in Santa Ana on March 29. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Yost stands at the crossroads of gentrification in downtown Santa Ana. While some people call the venue an anchor to Santa Ana's East End District, others recall it as a prime gathering spot in the city's heavily Latino Fiesta Marketplace. For decades, the Yost screened Mexican movies and hosted popular Spanish-language musicians.

However, the Yost changed hands and clientele several times over the years, and the neighborhood changed as well. The morphing of portions of Fiesta Marketplace into hip commercial spots and the entry of new, trendy eateries and businesses has been the subject of some debate and consternation among old-timers. Many still recall the Yost as a movie theater that offered gems from the golden age of Mexican cinema. Under the ownership of the Olivos family, the Yost attracted talents such as Antonio Aguilar and Vicente Fernández, and later the likes of Ike and Tina Turner and Sonny and Cher.

But the once distinctly Latino past appears to have faded into the past, for now.

"We remodeled the whole building — it was a nightclub before this," said Kris Plourde, president and CEO of N Effect. "We wanted to bring it back to its origins. We did a Gatsby-esque, 1920s Art Deco revival feel — something that all ages could appreciate."

Plourde said he sees a mixture of events in the Yost's future, "whether it's corporate, public events, concerts, special events, proms." An Australian-based Christian church called Hillsong Church still gathers in the space on weekends.

On the second floor, the Yost is connected to another events space next door called The 1912, so organizers plan to use both spaces during large gatherings.

Allison Shane takes photos at the grand reopening of the restored Yost Theater on March 29.
Allison Shane takes photos at the grand reopening of the restored Yost Theater on March 29. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Janelle Nicole Wylie, a floral artist who lives near the Yost, said she witnessed changes at the theater over the years and believes its latest incarnation is a tremendous improvement.

"It's modern, but not too far from its original feel," said Wylie, 30, who was born and raised in Santa Ana. "I do remember this place as being more cherished than it has been."

Wylie recalls attending a concert at the Yost years ago, and "felt it was more upscale than the Observatory," another Santa Ana concert venue (formerly known as the Galaxy).

"It's something that has been beautiful but has been tarnished, and they came in and polished it up," she said of the new Yost. "There have been an insane amount of improvements. The theater is reopening and is actually going to acknowledge art. It's not just going to sell out to EDM shows. It's utilizing the space for what it's intended to be used."

The Yost Theater is at 307 N. Spurgeon St., Santa Ana. For more information, call (714) 880-7924 or visit theyosttheater.com.

Richard Chang is a contributor to Times Community News.

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