George M. Mann was the founder and President of The Redwoods Theatres Inc., of San Francisco. The company owned theatres throughout northern California from the 1930-1970s eras. A few of those treasures, like the Noyo still exist.
Redwood Theaters Inc. broke ground for the Noyo Theatre on December 15, 1939. The value of the project was estimated to be $25k for the building and another $25k to equip the 650 seat movie theater. The theater would be designed in the Streamline Moderne/Deco style by Architectural Designer, William Bernard David (1905-1985) who worked closely with Redwood Theaters in building their Northern California chain.
The Noyo had their "Invitational Opening" on May 3, 1940. The next day the opening feature was a northern California premier showing of THE DARK COMMAND, directed by Raoul Walsh, who was familiarly identified with Willits in that he was the owner of the Willow Brook Ranch, northwest of the city, on Sherwood Road.
The Willits News described the new building as "One of the most lavish small-city entertainment houses in the north bay area. Modernly finished and equipped to the minutest detail, the theater portrays a major step in the advancement of Willits."
Mr Mann passed his theatre empire down to his son Richard who sold the Noyo to Lory Pontone and Bob Loya in the early 70s.
The new owners made quite stir in 1976 by showing the XXX rated movie, DEEP THROAT. The police confiscated the film numerous times as the owners kept getting new copies. The police buried them in the landfill and the owners were cited for decency laws and jailed for showing the film. The controversy this film created all over the nation only enhanced its popularity and made it one of the highest grossing films of all time. The case against the Noyo Theatre owners was finally dismissed but soon after the theatre was set ablaze in what authorities describe as "definitely the work of arsonists". Following the fire the owners paid homage to their court battles on the marquee of the abandoned theatre which read "Deep Sixed". Rumor has it that the box office receipts for this movie were controlled by the mob to earn and launder money. Did the owners run afowl of the controlling mob? Was it the religeous zealots who burned the theater? Was it a group of concerned citizens/vigilantes with an issue against porn? Theories abound but thankfully the theater was not totally consumed by the fire.
Glen Sirchuck bought the theatre in 1990, patched it up and continued to play first run movies but endeavored to provide live entertainment as well. One unique event was provided by The Rose Tint Review. They performed in front of the screen for Rocky Horror Pictures Show. This was so popular that they later had casting calls to play the parts. The beloved janitor at the time , Bob described the place as a total mess after those shows. He said that the rice was extremely difficult to cleanup. Rocky Horror Picture Shows are notorious for audience participation in costumes, props, and consumables thrown all over the place. Occasionally, there were concerts and dances at the theatre and in 1994 the Noyo screened a rare copy of the 1927 silent film, VALLEY OF THE GIANTS for Roots of Motive Power museum.
In 1995, the theatre closed citing the lack of business and competition from the multiplexes.
In 1996, David Corkill aquired the dilapidated theatre and began a massive renovation project that included a new roof, concessions area, bathrooms and other interior improvements. The main auditorium was returned to its original glory and two smaller theatres were constructed in back of the original auditorium. A lower marquee was added to accommodate the expanded venue and some of the windows were covered. The lower front of the building was stuccoed. However, the stepped profile, the noyo sign, and the chandeliers are from the original construction.
In January of 1997, closed for over a year, the Noyo reopened with the
reissue of the blockbuster STAR WARS, plus THE ENGLISH PATIENT and SCREAM. The children's movie 101 DALMATIONS was the matinee the special.
A grand reopening was then held with the premier of the HEARTWOOD. The film was made in and around Willits with the locals being very much involved. The Director/Producer, Lanny Cotler gave the proceeds to the local high school and Community Theater. In attendance at the big event was 1950s projection operator Frank Freitag, as well as the theater builder's son, Richard Mann.
The Noyo Theatre was also part of another historic event, the world premier of Universal Studio's SEABISCUIT, starring Jeff Bridges and Tobey Maguire. Patrons came from all over the country to attend the event and some may have visited Seabiscuit’s home at Ridge Ranch in Willits.
With the onset of digital projection, film is becoming commercially obsolete, mostly due to the cost of making film copies and delivering heavy film canisters to the theatres. The future of first run movie houses rests in their ability to adapt. In June of 2012 the old projectors were set aside to make room for new digital projectors. The digital conversion added flexibility unheard of in the old movie houses. In addition to flawless first run features, the Noyo will be also be presenting RealD 3D in the main theater.
The Noyo still retains the atmosphere of the old moviehouse. Located in the sleepy town of Willits where the big event of the year is the rodeo people love this old theatre where many of them saw their first feature film. The staff artfully craft the popcorn for many of their friends from Willits Highschool. We are locally and lovingly owned and operated. Stop by, slow down, relax & enjoy a move at the Noyo Theatre.