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State Theatre offers historical setting for concerts, old movies
When The State Theatre reopened in 2007 it boasted some modern features like a digital marquee, but classic aspects of the theatre were kept as homage to the heritage. - photo by Photo Contributed

MODESTO – If The State Theatre could talk, the stories would be as immense and detailed as its iconic interior.

That’s just what happens when you’re 78 years old and have been a focal point for a community for nearly eight decades – transforming to stay relevant to the times and becoming a place known for the unique approach of showing movies inside the same venue where musicians perform.

Now five years after the theatre reopened following a multi-million dollar renovation project – something w started out small but ended up turning into a full-scale undertaking thanks to in-kind donations from builders and construction crews that were flush due to the building boom – the future of the iconic downtown building is bright.

“That was something that I’m not sure would have happened today if we were to do it,” said theatre General Manager Sue Richardson of the project. “Everything lined up at the perfect time and that’s what really took the renovation to another level.

“It brings another dimension to the venue.”

And this isn’t your standard throwback theatre.

While most art house cinemas stick with the independent movies that they’re known for, The State will occasionally interject first-run movies – they showed Academy darling “The Artist” and Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” – into their lineup.

Foreign films aren’t uncommon when they come around, and limited-run movies are still the bread-and-butter.

In fact, The State Theater is the only independent movie house from Bakersfield to Sacramento, which adds an additional draw for people who want to enjoy a night on the town and the chance to catch a show in an authentic art deco-style cinema.

“We have a very robust film schedule and people seem to like that,” Richardson said. “We’ll have first-run films every now and then but we don’t do the big blockbusters. We’re very selective about what we present.”

How the films are presented is also something that helps set The State apart from others like it.

While the industry standard for first-run movies has been the transformation to digital pictures, Richardson says that they try to show their movies in 35 millimeter film whenever possible – keeping with the feel that the customers and filmgoers appreciate.

And it takes a skilled projectionist to be able to prepare and show a film properly – a skill-set that isn’t necessarily easy to come across with nearly all modern movies coming across in digital, ready-to-use formats that require little to no human interaction at all.

They are equipped to show digital films when necessary, and DVD and Blu-Ray capability is also there.

But it’s not just movies that make up the schedule of events.

With a stage at the front of the building, musical acts help fill in the monthly calendar – serving up everything from acoustic rock to country to bluegrass and everything in between.

Next month, longtime country group Asleep at the Wheel will take the stage, and Rick Derringer will perform his classic rock tunes the following week. Then bluesman Dan Hicks and his accompanying musicians The Hot Licks will take their turn in October – adding a different blend of music to what Modesto might normally get.

“Concerts and performances are also part of our schedule, and we also rent out the theater for non-profits that do a lot of fundraisers,” Richardson said. “The theatre is doing well. We have a film society that meets here to screen movies and other groups will rent out the theatre from time to time.

“One of the things, I think, that’s unique about this theatre is that we’ve never taken a dime of public money from the state or federal government, other than through a grant. We’re working on a grant right now, and that type of funding is what helps us provide the offerings that we do.”

The State Theatre is located at 1307 J Street in Downtown Modesto. For additional information visit or call (209) 527-4697.


209 reporter