What was formerly the El Rey Theater is today the
Kelley Brothers Brewery.
Photo courtesy of Waymarking.com
Now I know Manteca is a bit outside of what one would call the "Fresno area", but I found this story interesting as I love the idea of a haunted theater so I thought I would write a bit about this one. In the center of town on Yosemite Ave just a bit east of Main Street was the El Rey Theatre. Built in the 1930's in the classic Art Deco style, the El Rey Theater was a famous landmark for the small town of Manteca. Everything from movies to local plays were done here and during the Christmas season the owners would open the theater to children for free and show a variety of cartoons and Three Stooges films.
All that came to an end in 1977. Ironically the last movie to be shown there was the Steve McQueen classic, The Towering Inferno. Here is where the story differs. Some claim that the fire happened as the movie was playing. Most of the audience was able to exit to safety, but it's said that a few died along with several firemen that were trying to save the building. The other story is that the fire occured when the theater was closed for the evening and there were no deaths due to the fire. From the research I did this seems to be the more popular belief, but I wanted to include both as they are part of the legend of the theater.
The El Rey Theatre layed abanondened for over twenty years before the Kelley brothers bought the building and remodeled it into a brewery and brickyard oven restraunt in 1997. It's not sure when it was determined the building was haunted but it's said that hot spots from the fire can be felt at times in the brewery and it's even rumored that sometimes the ghosts of the fire fighters and movie patrons have been seen wandering about lost, almost like they were trying to find a way out.
Given the conflicting stories of the night in question, if anyone actually died in the fire is hard to say. If no one did actually die in the fire, where do the accounts of wandering spirits and hot spots come from? The hot spots can be a type of haunting where a traumatic event left an impression on the place where it occured and is replayed from time to time. So this could perhaps be what is occuring when people report feeling hot spots.
But what of the rumor of ghosts being seen? A story spun into a tall tale and turned into an urban legend thanks to the internet? Or pershaps there is some truth to the ghosts that are said to be seen wandering through the brewery and they were drawn to the place for some other reason. Or maybe it's just an overactive imigination of someone who had one too many beers. There may never really be a way to determine what is fact and what is mere legend.
The Kelley Brothers Brewery has their own site which lists the brewery's menu as well as location and events occuring throughout the year.