By Al Weissberg
Redding’s Cascade Theatre was inaugurated on Friday evening, August 9, 1935, in a blaze of festivity accompanied by the full blare of show biz hype. A special section of the Searchlight for that date proclaimed the formal opening at 6:30 p.m. of “the finest cinema house in northern California” by T. and D., Jr. Enterprises, at which time residents of Shasta and adjoining counties would receive their first view of “an interior rich in beauty and fitted with all the latest discoveries of science designed to offer the most comfort and the greatest pleasure to theater goers.”*
The article called attention to the wide frieze across the top of the exterior facade depicting northern California’s resources and the great neon sign rising from the top of the marquee to the top of the building, with numerous small lights located in the pilasters on either side of the sign “which throw the entire facade into scintillating beauty.” (Judge Richard Eaton notes that the Cascade was unique among Redding’s commercial buildings in that its exterior was the only one which displayed special attention to artistic considerations, in this case a fine example of Art Deco which was carried throughout the house.)
The glowing picture of the theater’s physical attractions continued with the description of the interior:
Entering the foyer one’s gaze is immediately caught and held by a great expanse of mirror, indirect lighting flooding it in subtle manner; one’s foot sinks in deep carpet of green with accents of rust, tan and orange. The ceiling is truly splendid, a Byzantine grandeur gone modernistic; a score of blending colors worked into a gorgeous whole . . .
The sweep of the auditorium wins the approval of all visitors. The ceiling under the balcony is charmingly done in blue, with curving outer edge in tones to represent water and waves breaking on the shore. Then the lofty ceiling of the auditorium proper breaks on one’s view, terra cotta forming the background for the modernistic design in many pastel shades. Huge glass and metal chandeliers in a handsome shade of green and measuring at least three feet across are suspended in this great amphitheater . . .
Rows on rows of comfortable red leather chairs invite the visitor. And moving smoothly under the modernistic proscenium arch in invisible currents is the stage drapery in rayon plush, composed of vertical stripes of gold and silver.
The loges, offering the best view in the house of the stage, occupy the lower front of the balcony, reached by wide softly carpeted stairs at each side of the foyer . . . And one of the little things in the theater that will be most appreciated is the lights set under tiny grills in the balcony steps, casting just the proper glow so no one anymore has to fumble his way to a seat. [On the main floor, of course, ushers with flashlights showed patrons to their seats.] . . .
And everywhere is the indirect lighting which heightens the beauty of the building and brings out the lavish color display.
The inauguration of the new theater was also marked by the distribution of a special souvenir program to the opening night patrons. Smaller in size than those which had celebrated the opening of the sister theaters of the T. & D., Jr. Enterprises chain in Chico (the Senator on April 21, 1928) and Red Bluff (the State on March 30, 1929), the program featured on its cover an idealized artist’s impression of the striking Art Deco facade.
All three of the programs contained the same basic dedication statement, proclaiming “A magnificent theatre — modern in every particular — and built, always with the thought in mind of your happiness and comfort,” and making a solemn pledge:
We promise: Our programs will be the finest — clean and wholesome — chosen for the entertainment of the entire family — worthy of your good will and loyal support.
Elsewhere in the program a list of theatre conveniences covered a variety of information, including the location of restrooms (that for women on the mezzanine being referred to as the “ladies’ parlor” and that for men on the main floor receiving the equally euphemistic designation of “gentlemen’s retiring room”) and stern warnings about behavior on the part of both patrons and staff: “No rowdyism will be tolerated.” “Whistling strictly prohibited in this theatre.” and “Patrons are requested to report to the Manager any inattentions or incivility on the part of any attache of this theatre.”
The program for the opening night consisted of five “units” — “Cookie Carnival,” a Walt Disney Silly Symphony in Technicolor; “Telephone Blues,” specialty performers in a screen program of singing and dancing; “Thicker Than Water,” a Laurel & Hardy comedy; dedication speeches by State Senator J. B. McColl, Mayor William Menzel, and Harry Thompson, president of the Redding Chamber of Commerce; and the feature film, Jane Withers in Ginger, with a supporting cast headed by Jackie Searle, O. P. Heggie, Walter King, and Katherine Alexander.
A front page story in the Searchlight for August 10 reported that 2000 people attended the dedication of the magnificent new cascade show house:
With every one of the 1348 seats in the house occupied and hundreds of persons standing in the lobby awaiting admittance, brilliant, gorgeously blending, multicolored lights faded off beautiful mural decorations to the soft darkness of a modern motion picture house last night as the new Cascade Theater was formally dedicated …
In spite of Friday being one of the warmest days of the year, the theater’s refrigeration plant, the most modern type available, kept the Cascade at an even temperature …
“The dedication of this magnificent building tonight,” said Mayor Menzel, “is the fulfillment of a long felt need in this community.
“New building always mean progress and measuring Redding by this rule indicates that this city is progressing on all lines at this time.”
The story indicated that Michael Kassis, the theater manager, also spoke at the ceremony and that R. A. McNeil, secretary of T. & D., Jr. Enterprises, acted as master of ceremonies.
The opening of the theater took place at a historic point in time. A column directly to the left of the Cascade story reported the final passage of the Social Security Act after seven months of turbulent debate and backstage negotiations, while a small story to the right indicated the arrival of Will Rogers and Wiley Post at Dawson, Yukon Territory, on their illfated air tour of Alaska. An adjoining picture showed “Queen Helen,” tennis great Helen Wills Moody back home in San Francisco with her Sealyham terrier after what was described as the greatest comeback in the history of the game.
A couple of weeks earlier, on July 27, the Searchlight reported the signing by President Roosevelt of the bill authorizing the Bureau of Reclamation to begin work on California’s central valleys water project. The same issue carried a story indicating that the bid opening for Redding’s new post office would take place on August 20. And two months before, the May 2 issue contained a banner headline announcing that Redding’s population now stood at 6,226.
The manager of the new theater, Michael J. (“Mike”) Kassis, had come to Redding in 1932 at the age of 31 as manager of the Redding Theatre on California Street. His brotherinlaw, Michael A. Naify, was president and general manager of T. & D., Jr. Enterprises, a movie theater chain headquartered in San Francisco, and young Mike worked at the Metropolitan Theatre there for three years before requesting an assignment away from the Bay Area. He was given the managership of the Redding Theatre, which had been built in 1910, and after a year in that job suggested to Mike Naify that the town could use an upscale house. Naify gave him permission to find a location for the new facility, and construction began in 1934.
Both the Kassis and Naify families were Lebanese. They were Christians in a Muslim society and like so many other immigrants to the United States sought greater freedom in a new land.
Michael Naify and his brother James settled first in Atlantic City, where they ran a linen importing business. They decided to try selling their wares at the Pan Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, and, according to the story passed down in the family, had the ill luck to be assigned a location directly opposite a nickelodeon. They observed with considerable envy the much greater traffic of patrons to the nickelodeon and decided to switch businesses. Within a few years they were operating a substantial number of nickelodeons in the San Francisco area, as well as a number of regular movie theaters.
Five Kassis brothers came to North Dakota to take advantage of free land. Mike Kassis’s father Charles started as a peddler, a common beginning in the New World for immigrants from eastern Europe and the Middle East. Later, in that same pattern, he ran a general merchandise store in the town of Rugby, North Dakota. A pool hall was located above the store, and when Mike was eleven or twelve his father moved the family to California in order to remove his son from the pool hall influence. He operated a chicken farm outside Sacramento and later the ChickIn restaurant, which specialized in fried chicken prepared from a “secret recipe” (actually dipped in pancake batter).
T. & D., Jr. Enterprises (the name derived from the original operators of the chain, Turner and Duncan) operated a number of film houses in major cities of central and northern California and Nevada. There were theaters bearing the T. & D. name in Oakland and Lodi, State Theatres in Sacramento and Martinez, the Castro and Royal in San Francisco, the Granada and Majestic in Reno, and the California in Dunsmuir.
Mike Kassis and his wife Sarah had three children, Barbara, born in 1931, Raymond, born in 1932, and Robert, born in 1934. Ray remembers watching the artist William Chevalis of the San Francisco firm of Chevalis & Sautocono work on the ceiling mural in the auditorium of the theater, which he recalls as a fanciful mix of cupids and nude female dancers. The more famous mural over the entrance in the lobby depicted scenes of the gold mining activity in California during the Rush.
All three of the children would later work in the theater, Barbara as a cashier, the boys in various capacities. Ray recalls one of his first assignments was to scrape gum from beneath the seats so that the hats placed by male patrons in the wire holders under the seats wouldn’t become soiled. Then there was the big job twice each year of cleaning the six ornate chandeliers, three located over each of the two center aisles. This began with the ascent into the attic area at the top of the theater near the projection booth where the heavy cables used for raising and lowering the chandeliers were secured around winches. When the chandeliers had been lowered to the floor of the auditorium it became the job of Ray and one or two other young men to remove the hundred or more pieces of glass from each and give them a thorough washing. Mike Kassis was insistent that everything about his theater be kept clean and in good order. (Ray would work for his dad through his high school years and two years at Shasta College, of which he was a member of the first class.)
One of the original ushers at the Cascade was the late Bill Brickwood, who would subsequently become Redding’s city manager. Retired Shasta County Sheriff John Balma worked in the same capacity at both the Redding and Cascade theaters (Barbara Kassis also cashiered at both) and particularly remembers the task of trying to deal with teenagers who occupied the balcony at the Redding with the purpose of making either love or mischief.
Carolyn Jacobson Bond, later to be director of the Redding Art Museum, moved to Redding with her family from Woodland in 1939 and served as an usherette at the Cascade during the period 1943-45, when she was a student at Shasta High. She recalls wearing a uniform of blouse and slacks in colors of tan and dark brown and enjoying the experience as part of a congenial family presided over by Mike Kassis, who affected a gruff exterior but was a caring employer.
Katherine Manter Raymond remembers the excitement of attending the opening night at the Cascade, a very special experience because her moviegoing, like that of most young people of the period, was usually confined to matinees. She recalls Mike Kassis appearing very dapper when he made his remarks from the stage as part of the dedication ceremony. (The admission in those days was 10¢ for kids under twelve, 25¢ for those twelve and older, but Katherine was small for her age and so got away with the lower charge for some time past her twelfth birthday until doorman Forrest Smith became suspicious.)
The original cashier at the Cascade was Marjorie Linn, with the late Katherine Barrett as relief cashier. Katherine’s brother Jim worked on the construction of the Cascade and recalls hauling bags of cement from the Diestelhorst gravel works, as well as a large amount of loam from Churn Creek Bottom for the lawn at the Kassis house which was built on Chestnut Street.
Crellan Champney was the chief projectionist, having served in that capacity at the Redding Theatre since 1931, when he and his family came to Redding following his similar employment in Martinez and Chico. He did continue in charge of film presentations at the Cascade until his retirement in 1977.
Champney’s sons Bruce and Crellan, Jr., worked as relief projectionist while they were in high school, as did Jerry Magee, who went on to combined careers in Redding as a radio disk jockey and film projectionist for the next half century.
During the pleasant hour of conversation about the Cascade which I enjoyed one Saturday afternoon in February with Barbara Kassis Moses, who now lives in Red Bluff, and her two brothers at the home of Ray and his wife Sharon on Gold Street in Redding, it was suggested that young Richard Eaton never missed a movie at the theater. Judge Eaton, however, indicates that his most ardent moviegoing was reserved for the Redding Theatre, where the traditional Saturday matinee bill consisted of a “shoot ‘em up” Western, a slapstick comedy, a newsreel, and an installment of a suspense serial.
There are undoubtedly many other residents of this area who have fond personal recollections of the Cascade to share. We hope to hear from some of them for a followup article on the later years of the theater which is planned for the next edition of The Covered Wagon.
I’m indebted to Barbara Kassis Moses and Ray and Bob Kassis, as well as Jack Michael Naify and Steve Naify for invaluable help in the preparation of this article. Ray Kassis in particular has responded with great patience and kindness to many followup questions related to the foregoing material.