SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Two theatres are long gone, the circus train has left the building, but one venue still stands, and inside its walls, some of the best comedians around, have entertained us. Grab some popcorn and circus peanuts and watch these entertaining stories from the distant past.
Loma Theatre, 1945-1987
The bright neon art deco sign is still there, but the Loma Theatre is long gone. News 8’s Artie Ojeda was there after the last movie played in December 1987. The Michael Douglas Glenn Close thriller "Fatal Attraction" was on the marquee. Big movie houses that played one film at a time were being replaced by multiplexes. The owner was planning to convert the land into office space. Former manager Clark Jordan recalled its heyday when going to the movies was going to the theater. Patrons went to be seen and they enjoyed being greeted and talked to. It was a sad day for him, but he said, “progress is progress.” Instead of offices, it turned into a bookstore, and today it is Barnes & Noble Bookstar. The gorgeous ceiling and the marquee are still intact -- a wonderful reminder of the past.
Barnes & Noble Loma Theatre
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, July 1979
What a sight! A parade of animals making their way to the Sports Arena down city streets. The circus train was in town and the "Greatest Show on Earth" was about to begin. The parade began in Old Town and ended at the Sports Arena -- a chance to view the animals before the performance. It was a tradition that went on for years. News 8's Shirley Clum was just one of hundreds of kids who loved the spectacle.
Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus 1993 and 1994
Fast forward to the 90s and a new generation of animals and spectators. Larry Himmel, our own ringmaster, was clowning around with kids and circus employees in 1993. A year later, Hal Clement got the fun assignment. He asked kids how they would recognize the elephants -- “their trunks, they’re fat, they’re big huge gray things.” They screamed with delight at them as they marched down the road.
The last year the circus came to town was 2016 and in 2017, after 146 years, Ringling Brothers Circus took its final bow.
Fox Theatre 1925-1985
The Beatles performed in San Diego in 1965. 14 years later The Beatlemania Bus and Truck Tour came to town. Not quite The Beatles but News 8’s Janet Zappala said David, Joe, Rob, and Ralph look, talk, and most importantly, sing and play with the same intensity and brilliance that made four boys from Liverpool historical superstars. Beatlemania was a Broadway musical revue and ran from May 1977 to October 1979. The international tour ended in 1983.
Fox Theatre is now Copley Symphony Hall.
The Comedy Store La Jolla 1979
The La Jolla landmark was two years old when News 8’s Janine Tartaglia caught Hoover High graduate Biff Manard’s act. The former class clown got lots of laughs from the crowd. According to IMDB, his acting career began in 1970 on "Mission Impossible." The last entry is "Dirty Jokes the Movie" in 2008. He passed away in 2014.
In August 1979 four comediennes were on the bill. News 8's Gene Cubbison talked to three of the funny ladies, Judy Carter, Sandra Bernhard, and Lotus Weinstock. The house was packed with sizable contingents of women. Karen Hartman was also performing.
For 43 years generations of San Diegans and visitors have been entertained by the likes of David Letterman and our own Larry Himmel. Fun fact, News 8 News Director Jim Holtzman caught Larry’s act and thought he might make an interesting addition to the newsroom staff. Brilliant move! From 1979 to 2014 he brought light and laughter to the daily newscast. Next week’s News 8 Throwback will be Himmel stories, including the time he went up to Los Angeles to score an interview with his old Comedy Store buddy David Letterman. It’s a hoot and you must “tune in.”