MENDOCINO Co., 2/8/23 – One of Willits’ most iconic landmarks is for sale: the Noyo Theatre. For over 80 years, generations of Willits film buffs have enjoyed first-run movies at the historic theater. Current owners Lois and Jeff Hoover have decided to “pass the torch on to a more ambitious owner who can bring enthusiasm and creativity and continue to maintain the building for its intended use as a movie theater.”
Lois Hoover announced the news on Tuesday, February 7, via the theater’s Facebook page and in the Willits Fan Page Community group. “Good news is that the building is in great shape. Bad news is we can’t run it forever,” she wrote. “The Noyo Theatre is a great opportunity as a family-run small business in this beautiful town.”
This is the second time the building has been listed for sale by the Hoovers, who purchased the cinema in 2012. When the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses in March 2020, the theater closed. The lack of income created a dire economic situation for the Hoovers, who put the theater up for sale. When word spread of the theater’s future, the community rallied and raised funds to help the theater survive, and the Hoovers also received federal relief funding. The funds were used to make urgent renovations and ensure the theater would reopen when Hollywood rebounded.
Hoover cited “a personal health issue” and that the couple is “getting older and ready to retire” as reasons for selling the theater this time.
According to Cinema Treasures, a website dedicated to the history of movie theaters in the United States, the Noyo Theatre opened on May 9, 1940 with the premier of Dark Command starring John Wayne and Claire Trevor and directed by Willits local Raoul Walsh. Walsh owned the Willow Brook Ranch on Sherwood Road. The theater was designed by architect William Bernard Davis in the Streamline Moderne style.
The Noyo Theatre’s website states that in the early 1970s, Lory Pontone and Bob Loya bought the theater. Pontone and Loya created quite the controversy in 1976 when they showed the pornographic film Deep Throat. The police confiscated the film, and Pontone and Loya were jailed for violating decency laws. Eventually, the case against the theater was dismissed. However, the theater’s ongoing drama continued when an arsonist set it on fire. The theater closed indefinitely.
In the 1980s, the theater was repaired by Glen Sirchuck. The Noyo became known throughout the region for its regular performances of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. However, the growing popularity of multiplex theaters led to the theater’s demise once again. Eventually, it was renovated and reopened by David Corkill. In 2003, the Noyo Theatre made history when it held the world premier of Seabiscuit, starring Jeff Bridges and Tobey MacGuire.
The Hoovers bought the Noyo in 2012 and completed additional renovations. Today, the building includes three theaters, central heating and air, and digital projectors. One of the theaters is called the Over 21 Club, where moviegoers over the age of 21 can enjoy luxury recliner seating and beer and wine service.
As for the future of the theater, the Hoovers hope a family will purchase the theater and keep it as a movie theater and not transform it into a live performance venue. “The theater would have to be completely refitted to work as a live music or theater venue,” wrote Lois Hoover in her Facebook post. “We do not have the lighting, sound system or stage to support these things.” This type of transformation is being witnessed across the country with old cinemas, including the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, which has made the news over what the future holds for its hallowed halls.
The Noyo Theatre is listed by Coldwell Banker Realty for $895,000. The sale includes the 7,164-square-foot building in downtown Willits and all furnishings and equipment. As a bonus for the new moviehouse impresarios: the Hoovers will delay retirement to help train new owners, ensuring the next generation of cinema moguls are ready to bring big-screen joy, tears, fear and fun to Willits.
Sarah Stierch covers food, beverage, culture and breaking news for The Mendocino Voice. Contact Stierch at [email protected]. The Voice maintains editorial control.