Memories of a Lost Boulevard Series, A Tribute to Whittier Boulevard
Whittier Boulevard Movie Theaters, Part 2.
THE GARMAR THEATER
2325 Whittier Blvd., Montebello, CA
As I was speaking to someone the other day about this lost Montebello movie house, A long time resident who was standing within earshot came up and sighed; “The Garmar! I loved that Show! If you couldn’t afford the Golden Gate, you couldn’t afford the Garmar!
The Garmar was indeed, the “ritziest” of the Whittier Boulevard “Shows” (as we called them). For sheer luxurious comfort, perfect sightlines and cool comfortable temperatures, this was the “Tops”. You always found ample, conveniently adjacent parking, moderate and civilized crowds and top-notch projection values, and of course, the glass walled “Crying Room” for your movie viewing convenience.
This was the kind of place a young man could bring his best girl to on a date before he manhandled her on the ride home.
Opened in the spring of 1950, the original owner, Al Olander, had two sons, Gary and Mark for whom he named the theater after. The Garmar was built in the postwar popular “Quonset Hut “design with the exterior front trimmed in copper and stainless steel and adorned with coral and sea green neon forming an arch over the double sided marquee. I remember that all the doors in the lobby were done in a neat redwood paneling.
I saw many movies there in my time, but there is one very special and historic personal movie-going milestone I experienced within those pastel shaded walls of the Garmar auditorium. It was the Summer of 1973 and the anticipation for the premier of ENTER THE DRAGON starring the great Bruce Lee, was unimaginable. Watching a Bruce Lee film in those days was a spiritual, visceral and mind-blowing experience. Never before had we been witness to the so many poetically graceful yet uncannily powerful ways to kick somebody’s ass. Countless younger siblings found themselves on the receiving end of flying Kung-Fu kicks and homemade Nunchukus, thanks to the awesome inspiration of those Bruce Lee films.
On this particular night of the “Enter The Dragon” premier at the Garmar, it had been advertised all week that “Free Bruce Lee Posters” were to be given to the opening night audience (while supplies last!). This drove the frenzy of the day to a fever pitch. I recall sitting in the theater that night, as we watched and savored every frame of the movie in a stupefied state from the opening credits and those exotic opening notes of Lalo Schifrin’s thrilling score. The rising thrills and passions within us were hardly containable as finally, the last credits rolled. We had never witnessed anything so slick and so satisfyingly action-packed in this genre. The enormous sadness and sense of loss we Bruce Lee fans had experienced only a month before with the news of his untimely death had now become a glorious celebration of his immortal legacy on film. As we filed out of the auditorium, my brothers and I suddenly spied the theater’s ushers standing in the lobby holding armfuls of black & white posters of our hero, Bruce Lee, in an action pose from the movie. Instantly, the masses descended upon those helpless uniformed geeks and grabbed at the prized swag. As I made my way to one of the poster handlers, I noticed him roll his eyes and breathe heavily through his mouth for a moment out of sheer overwhelmed panic. Suddenly, his arms went limp, allowing the stack of posters to fall. And fall they did, magically into my hands. That night I went home, the proud new owner of 44 Bruce Lee posters, and one of the most special movie going moments of my life had been born that glorious night, at Montebello’s Garmar Theater.
The theater was closed down around 1980 and couple of years later they began building the Garmar Plaza mini-mall on that site. (Just like one day they’ll eventually tear down “Manuel’s El Tepeyac Café” and put up “The El Tepeyac Plaza and Artist Lofts”.) Here’s the former Garmar Theater site today…..
The far corner of the mall housed a Video Arcade in the 80’s called the “Electric Planet”, my brothers and I dropped many a quarter there as I discovered the elusive “Secret” to perpetual winnings on “Galaga”.
The neighboring area has some interesting tidbits that I can’t resist including in this story. Across the street you’ll find the spot where “Roadhouse Records” stood in the 80’s. The owner had an amazing selection of import vinyl, and most Eastside DJs were known to get their latest grooves at Roadhouse. Yes, that is where I bought my 12” of “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo
A little further down on Whittier Boulevard sits a hard-to-spot former famous “Roadside Attraction”, The “Tamale Building”. I’m happy to report that it still stands today. Currie’s Ice Cream Parlor, of the “Mile High Cones” was also nearby, later known as the “Krazy Kone” (or the “Nieve con Sangre” as my family called that outdoor sign.)
Near the Garmar were a few great eateries as well. One that still survives is GARDUNO’S, a long time favorite for Tacos & Burgers, usually swamped by Montebello High School students on School days. Another local favorite was Marcel & Jeanne’s French Restaurant, closed for years and recently demolished.
There was another movie house nearby in Montebello called the Vogue located in what is now Montebello Travel. Unfortunately it operated and was closed down way before my time. (Click on the image to view)
And yes, it’s true that Quentin Tarantino’s mom once brought him to the Garmar, although he has not revealed whether she had to take him into the crying room.
Here’s what was showing at the Garmar as listed in the L.A. Times in October of 1969.