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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Manteca's haunted El Rey Theater

What was formerly the El Rey Theater is today the
Kelley Brothers Brewery.
Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures

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 occurred 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 laid abandoned for over twenty years before the Kelley brothers bought the building and remodeled it into a brewery and brickyard oven restaurant 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 occurred and is replayed from time to time. So this could perhaps be what is occurring 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 perhaps 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 imagination 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 occurring throughout the year.


Anonymous said...

The theatre was closed for the night when the fire started, it had been closed for a few hours when the owners got the call about the fire.

Anonymous said...

We lived a block away from the El Rey Theater, and the fire occurred in August of 1975, (not 1977) after the theater was closed for the evening. No one was hurt, not even fire personnel who handled the situation perfectly. It was never determined what caused the fire. The interior was gutted but the outside, for many years, remained and looked just like a normal theater, with the exception of scorch marks on the vertical marquee. We watched it burn, only flames seen was coming from the roof, and there was a tremendous amount of black smoke. Bill Peters the owner and manager, was right there. How the rumors of ghosts running for the exits got started no one really knows, but as a lifelong Mantecan, the stories of it being haunted is unfounded, as the theater had no customers in it when the fire started, and in the history of the theater no one ran for the exits for any kind of emergency, and no one ever died in the theater ever.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was the owner at the time and my dad still remembers getting the call in the middle of the night. It was Chris and George Peters, Williams sons that owned and managed the theatre at the time, and my dad is fairly certain that the fire was in 1974 on 1975. There was nobody hurt in the fire, as it was closed for the night at the time. No firemen were hurt either.

Javadoglvr913 said...

Bill Peters had already passed away at the time of the fire.