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PostHeaderIcon Village Theatre Celebrates 100th birthday

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Danville’s Village Theatre celebrates its 100th birthday this month and like anything (or anyone) who makes it to a century, it has seen a lot of changes over the years. From its inception as a farmers lodge built in 1873, to a modernized update in 1912 as a grange hall, it has served as a movie theater, a church and is now a performing arts center with a fine arts gallery. A lot more has changed in Danville, as well.

The venue opened as a social and fraternal hall on Nov. 28, 1913 with a gala party that included dancing to the live melodies of the San Francisco orchestra. It was purchased by the Town of Danville in 1987, and has hosted plays, concerts, film festivals, lectures, performances for youth and adults and many special events.

I wasn't around back in 1913, but I have seen the theater and the town change over the last 40-plus years.

We moved to Danville, which  I call “Little Carmel without the ocean,” on Aug. 1, 1970, with my 2-year-old daughter and my late husband when there were just 15,900 people living in the coveted suburban hamlet.  Should I mention that we had just purchased a brand new home of 2000 sq. ft. with triple car garage on 1/3 acre for just under $38,000?

In 1972, our second daughter was born and the kids had plenty of open space to play as we had a spacious walnut orchard with cattle grazing nearly next door. A shallow creek and the fresh fragrance of live oak and wide-open meadows at the foot of Mt. Diablo was our backyard. We spent a lot of time outdoors but went "downtown" too.

The place for lunch was Foster’s Freeze with their original soft serve ice cream cones and grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids. But it didn’t take long to discover another landmark lunch location for outdoor enjoyment--Father Nature’s on Prospect Avenue, originally known as a Goat Shed, famous for selling specialty coffee and tea. It still remains an all-time fave.

Of the many familiar landmarks lending to the attraction of the current city of 42,000 residents, often referred to as “The Heart of the San Ramon Valley," are the historic (but now closed)  Danville Hotel and the popular Elliott’s Bar, both on the town's main drag, and icons since 1858 and 1907 respectively. But even before that, the first post office was established in 1860, serving a population of 20 residents. Incorporated in 1982, curiously, 82 percent of the population growth of Danville occurred after 1970.

Taking advantage of the safe and convenient Iron Horse Trail for a daily walk, biking or skating trek seems so natural.  However, it hasn’t always been a track for leisure use.  Established in 1986, its name reflects the origin of its once known purpose.  The Southern Pacific Railroad operated a transport system from 1891 to 1977, connecting 2 counties and 12 cities along its route from Concord to Pleasanton.

Living just blocks away from the train crossing on Greenbrook Drive, our family became accustomed to a clicking sound seemingly coming from inside our fireplace.  Was it a ghost, we teased.  Not really, but it peaked our interest to investigate and found that it was a signal transmitted along the track forecasting the on-coming train.  As a family, we have made good use of the easy accessibility of the paved path as a biking route for 3 generations, from grandparents to the kiddies with training wheels, family pets leashed alongside.

What remains of the era of the Iron Horse is the original, only remaining depot on the line, sustaining the test of time since 1891.  Now named the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, restored and firmly settled at the junction of Prospect and Railroad Avenue, it houses revolving exhibits reflecting the culture and human experiences of early settlers.

And lets not forget the Tao House. My first excursion to the Tao House was in hopping aboard the shuttle bus with my then 75-year-old mom, for a tour organized by the Danville Senior Sneakers.  The 1½ hour visit high atop Kuss Road, overlooking the valley with spectacular views, was a peek into the past of life, love and literature, Eugene O’Neill style. To mark the 100th anniversary of the theatre, the 14th Annual Eugene O’Neill Festival of historic drama by America’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright and original resident of  Danville, takes place Sept. 6 -29.  For information, contact www.eugeneoneill.org.

To mark the 100th birthday, there is a  variety of on-going activities planned for the fall, including after-school youth performance workshops, evening live music series and classic movies.  For information regarding tickets,  contact www.villagetheatreshows.com or 925.314-3400.  Parking is free.

The grand engagement festivities are slated for Nov. 16 with a gala event at 5  p.m. followed by the centennial presentation at 7 p.m. at the Village Theatre, 233 Front Street, Danville.  For details, visit www.ci.danville.ca.us/

Interested in submitting a special memory relating to the Danville Village Theatre, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . -KRB

 

Karen Balch is a retired registered nurse, freelance writer and San Ramon resident. She writes regularly for All News No Blues.

 

 

Last Updated (Tuesday, 07 January 2014 22:38)

 

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