Ahead of Its Time: The Royal Theater in California Offered Spanish-Language Films in the ‘60s

Isaac Vallenilla
 | December 8, 2022

Credit: Nuestro Stories

Guadalupe’s Royal Theater is not only an iconic landmark for the state of California, but its story is also as important as the architecture of the Hispanic and Japanese communities in the state. 

Let’s revisit the origins of Guadalupe. In 1787, the Mission La Purisima was established. After the secularization of the mission in 1840, the area became part of the Rancho Guadalupe land grant. Rancho Guadalupe was settled by diverse pioneers, including Europeans, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, and Mexicans. 

Once the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, it caused an influx of Japanese immigrants to head over to Guadalupe. The Japanese began working in the sugar beet fields of the Union Sugar Company and the population increased exponentially by the end of 1909.

Read more: White Flight Led to the Repatriation of Many Towns and This Included Pilsen

The Royal Theater left a mark on history

The Royal Theater opened on August 30, 1940, and was the only movie theater in Guadalupe. Its owner was Arthur Shogo Fukuda, who immigrated to the United States in 1903. By 1918, he already owned a silent movie theater. In 1927, Fukuda partnered with Jack Takeuchi to open five theaters; the Royal Theater of Guadeloupe is the only one still standing today.

When World War II broke out and Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, the U.S. government arrested Japanese Americans. Consequently, in 1942 Fukuda was forced to sell his theaters, including the Royal Theater. 

The end of World War II attracted Mexican and Spanish-speaking immigrants, who eventually settled the Japanese-American agricultural force in Guadelupe. The Royal Theater was renamed the Cine Royal in the 1960s and offered Spanish-language films for the growing Latino and Hispanic population. In the 1990s, it reverted back to its original name. 

Today, the growing appreciation for the theater is reflected in its impeccable preservation. The Royal Theater of Guadalupe was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 2021.

Things You Should Know Before You Visit:

  • Chinese immigrants in Guadeloupe worked on the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad
  • When President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 18, 1942, families and individuals of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and placed in detention camps 
  • The Royal Theater screened Spanish-language movies in the 1970s and 1980s. At this time, the theater was operated by Hank Garcia

Experience it here

Location: California, US

Address: 848 Guadalupe Street


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