Memories Of A Lost Boulevard: THE GARMAR THEATER

Memories of a Lost Boulevard Series, A Tribute to Whittier Boulevard

Whittier Boulevard Movie Theaters, Part 2.


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.

This entry was posted in East Los, Eastside, history, Personal, Photos, Uncategorized by AlDesmadre. Bookmark the permalink.

About AlDesmadre

Al Guerrero, Artist/Humorist. Los Angeles, CA. Born in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and raised in East Los Angeles from the age of two, Al Guerrero grew up just steps from the famous Chicano strip, Whittier Boulevard. His youth experiences include witnessing and participating in the 1970 Chicano Power demonstrations, cruising cars on Whittier Boulevard, and graduating from Garfield High School. After dropping out of UCLA (with honors), he drew upon his lifelong passion for art and cartooning and pursued a career in graphic arts. During this period, he traveled overseas and found artistic inspiration from the masterworks he discovered within the European Art Museums. His career blossomed when he was eventually hired by the Walt Disney Company in 1995, where he worked as a creative artist for a number of years. Although the artistic work was rewarding, he eventually grew weary & disillusioned with the bureaucracy of the entertainment business, and left to work briefly in the educational field. His credits include producing a feature film with actor, Conrad Brooks of Ed Wood fame, founding and performing with the Punk Rock group “The Psychocats” at numerous L.A. & Hollywood venues during the 1990’s, and in 1999 he founded and created a hell-bent puppet cabaret show aptly named: “The Puppets from Hell”. As a long time active member of the Los Angeles Cacophony Society, Al “Quaeda”, as he was known, was involved in countless Cacophony Society pranks and events throughout the city. He also produced the “Incredibly Strange Cinema” cult film series as well as themed events such as the now infamous “Pornothon Movie Nights” and the satirical “Mexican Night: Noche De Tequila & Putas” shows at local nightclub venues. Throughout his art career, he has exhibited his canvas paintings at various local galleries, and has also written & illustrated numerous comic strips and Graphic Novel stories. Today, he lives in Silver Lake, California and works as a freelance artist and writer with numerous multi-media projects under his belt and in the works. His personal hobbies include collecting vintage toys and comic books, cinema history and Los Angeles City history. Contact: Al Guerrero P.O. Box 29697 Los Angeles, CA 90029-0697

72 thoughts on “Memories Of A Lost Boulevard: THE GARMAR THEATER

  1. In the late ’40’s I used to go to the Royale Theatre on Whittier Blvd in E.L.A to see a western double feature, cartoons, news reel and a serial chapter, admission was 14 cents, round trip bus ride from the Simons Brickyard was also 14 cents, so for 28 cents we would have a nice day at the movies. I would shine shoes, take bottles to the store so that I could go to the show with a buck, man!, I felt like a rich kid….

  2. In the mid 60’s to 70’s I remember walking to the Garmar Theater with friends and siblings to spend the afternoon watching movies (double features). I do remember the tamale shaped building and that giant sugar cone ice cream! Garduno’s was the place to go in high school…great burgers. Thanks for the “blast from the past”.

  3. The whole family with some neighbor kids would go to the Vogue on Tuesday nights for a buck. I remember running wild up and down the aisles. Saw Hard Days Night and a short of the Rolling Stones singing with Mick leaning over the mic. in a striped shirt. We just laughed (what did we teeny-boopers know?) Then later, Help. We just screamed the whole heavenly time!

  4. I was just by the one in Montebello last week. When I was kid in the ’40’s I was living in the Simons Brickyard. Us kids would wait for the Helms truck to come into the brickyard, and as it did we would jump onto the rear bumper and open the rear doors and grab the cream puffs and take off like a bet out of hell…..

  5. i would remember the placard my grandmother would put in the front window and that would signal the truck to stop in front of the house and honk his horn. I also remember the wood drawers that had the donuts in them. they seemed like they wer ten feet long.

  6. I remember the Garmar Theater and the Helms truck. I grew up in Montebello in the 70’s. Gardunos bean and cheese were the best for a buck. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. What about Arrys Super Burgers and Pastrami, the best pastrami there is.

  7. I remember the Helms bakery like yesterday. Field trips to Helms rendered those fresh mini loaves of bread, and a fold out Helms truck. I still remember the early 60’s chevy panel truck with the whistle that sounded so cool with dual harmony. The glazed donuts were to die for. I still remember the driver “Dave” who used to let us pull the whistle lever, and alwalys had a good supply of those little trucks in which I had a fleet of them lined up in my room. I lived on Bradshawe street, and graduated MHS in 1971. Wow. Thanks for stimulating my memory banks. JT

  8. I remember going to the Garmar and seeing Butch Casidy and the Sundance Kid, Rocky and the The Apple Dumpling Gang. It was cool to run into friends from school and have a good time. Great memories of the theatre. I remember going to Foster Freeze and having the Supreme Quart Burger Meal with a chocolate cherry malt shake. Mam o Man sweet memories.

  9. Took my family to see a screening of Up in Smoke a movie in which I was an extra ( my band mate Ruben Guevara played one of Cheech’s band members of his band). At the end of the movie Cheech proclaims that the band will b bigger than Ruben & the Jets. As we walked out of the Garmar the director Lou Adler is out in front passing out Up in Smoke tank tops! I still have it.

  10. Grew up in East L.A. Went to Montebello Park Elementary, Eastmont Jr. High, and graduated Montebello High in 1967. I remember going to the Garmar to see 2 great movies + cartoon + the “Crazy Races” all for 35 cents. The first long line ever at the Garmar was for Disney’s “The Shaggy Dog”. About 10 years ago I did stop by Garduno’s for a green chile burrito and had the worst heartburn on my 7 home! I loved going to the French Cafe. My mom worked there for several years in the middle 50’s. Gone is the Victory Hobby shop, Curries Ice Cream, even Foster’s Old Fashion Freeze burnt to the ground!

  11. My grandparents lived a few blocks from the Garmar until 1959. I remember it and Curries, and, a restaurant that said French Cafe on it. I lived across the river in Pico Rivera from the mid 50s to the mid 60s.

  12. My late former husband was assistant manager at the Vogue when the first Beatles movie came out. Took my son at age of two and he wouldn’t stop dancing on the seats! I’m a Roosevelt alumni but my sister and brother grew up in Montebello. We loved Curries and the Garmar. Thanks for sharing💕

  13. I remember see the movie 4 for Texas on Christmas day 1963 with Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin. My parents had dropped me off in the afternoon to get rid of me before Christmas night dinner. As the movie started I looked over to my right and saw my good friend Ric OValle sitting there eating popcorn. His parents had dropped him of as well. The Garmar had these special seats towards the back of the theater. They were padded green leather rocker seats that you paid extra for. Ric and I tried to sit there only to be escorted back to out “cheap seats” by the uniformed usher. Great times.

  14. While growing up in Pico Rivera during the 50’s & 60’s we spent many a Saturday afternoon at the Garmar for kiddie matinees. For 25 cents you saw a double feature (monster movies, westerns, comedies and war moves), cartoons, coming attractions and the “krazy” races (you could win a free soda). Another 25 cents would buy you a popcorn, soda and a candy bar (Sugar Daddy). What a deal! But kids couldn’t sit in the last 5 rows. Those were rockers and the kids were always breaking them. What memories!!!

  15. The Garmar. 2 movies I remember seeing there were Phantom of the Paradise, and the original Dawn of the Dead. You could stay there and watch movies all day/night long. I really miss that theater. As well as the Golden Gate. I worked at Curries Ice Cream when it was The Krazy Kone. Those were good times….

  16. A little followup to my post from 2014…The last movie I saw at the Garmar was Lawrence of Arabia on a very fateful Friday night Nov. 22, 1963. We all know what happened that morning! I remember sitting in my 8th grade 3rd period algebra class at Eastmont Jr. high, Mr. Ellison was the teacher, when the announcement came.

    Now I really want that Curries Milehigh Ice Cream cone!

  17. Thanks for all the memories of the town I grew up in and the theaters I spent many a summer afternoon in. I remember sitting in the aisle seats at the Garmar because the smokers sat near the walls which had suction fans to gather the smoke!
    Also thanks for reminding me of Garduno’s.
    Do you remember Kuki’s “Jungle Fried” Chicken on Whittier and 2nd? It had the most blatantly racist painting on the street-facing wall.

  18. I remember the Garmar and the Vogue Theaters. And Joan and Susan’s Cafe next to the Vogue. And Crawford’s when it was located closer to the road and more like an open air market, before it became a big supermarket. I think there was a Safeway later that gave away plates too – two different designs over time. We didn’t go to Marcel and Jeanne’s. It was considered too fancy and expensive for us.

  19. I also remember Vogue and Garmar,Golden Gate,Crawfords and worked at Curries 62-63. Never got that Mile High to come out the same but the cherry coke where great. Curries had hambergers made in a steamer and sandwiches and counter of special candy (not Sees). Brings back a lot of memories and so many birthdays❣

  20. I used to live on Hereford dr and we would walk to the Garmar.lots of movies and on Saturdays if it was your birthday they would serve cake.popcorn was 15 cents,hot dogs were 30 cents.Place was packed whenever a frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello movie played.

  21. I found this great post when I searched Electric Planet Arcade. I still have one of the tokens from the arcade. I lived off Beverly Blvd a few blocks from the shopping center. The coin says: “The Electric Planet” on one side, and on the other side says: “is out of this world”.

    I was being violently beaten throughout high school by an uncle. The arcade was my escape. It’s probably why I still have the token 40+ years later.

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