Remembering the Magic of the Silver Screen

It was that tender moment in late afternoon when autumnal dusk
falls, and the town takes on the faint shimmer of illumination from
street lamps and shop windows. Driving down Monterey Street last
week, I marveled at the brief return of something that so many of
us have greatly missed: the grand marquee of the old Granada
Theater was glowing once again.
By Gale Hammond

It was that tender moment in late afternoon when autumnal dusk falls, and the town takes on the faint shimmer of illumination from street lamps and shop windows. Driving down Monterey Street last week, I marveled at the brief return of something that so many of us have greatly missed: the grand marquee of the old Granada Theater was glowing once again.

Heralding the upcoming film festival, there she was – the splendid cinematic jewel of Downtown, her neon lights glimmering tentatively, a little hesitant after months of darkness.

Cannes. Sundance. Telluride. Taos. Morgan Hill?

Last weekend our fair town again took its place among the giants with the second annual Poppy Jasper Film Festival, a gift to the city thanks to a group of hard-working volunteers and generous sponsors. The festival presented a three-day weekend of 30 independent short films and gave us a rare, inside peek at filmmakers disclosing the mysterious art of making movies.

Downtown bustled with theater-goers, festival workers, and honored guests. Films were screened at four separate venues, offering visitors a glimpse of Morgan Hill at its best. The golden sunlight of November provided a backlighting that was almost… well, cinematic.

Like the rare stone it is named for, the Poppy Jasper Film Festival is an exceptional gem. True to film festival tradition, the screenings were spread over a variety of locations, but it was the old Granada that drew us like moths to a flame.

What small town doesn’t treasure its old theater? Is there a man who doesn’t recall fond memories of taking his date to a Saturday night movie? Or, as teenage girls when we were escorted there by a new beau… sitting patiently, wondering if a courageous arm would make its way around the back of the seat, coming to rest with a warm hand covering our young shoulders.

Remember going to Saturday matinees when you were a kid? In my hometown it was the Chief, the Main, or the Uptown that beckoned us, where we spent happy afternoons cheering for the good guys and booing the villains. Remember the ever-present row of rowdy boys in the back who whistled and guffawed at the kissing scenes, then furtively hurled popcorn at the girls seated a couple of rows down?

Remember how hard the girls played at ignoring the boys, all the while stealing secretive sidelong glances at them – pretending to be annoyed? And the cute uniformed ushers who led us with flashlights down the dark aisles, beaming the light as we safely threaded our way between the rows and found our seats – do you remember?

The movie theater was the heart of downtown. The gathering site of young and old, after the movies we strolled the walkways past inviting window displays, wandered into tempting coffee shops and restaurants, savored the familiar sights of our downtown and kept the local businesses vital and strong.

Last weekend gave us back a little of our collective history. Old movie queen that she is, the Granada played her part pleasingly. Her slip may have shown a bit after standing neglected for so long, but she still embodied the spirit and nostalgia of the great era of movie houses in America.

The Granada – the Grande Dame of Monterey Street – has gone dark again. I hope she’s rescued from permanent oblivion so that more boys and girls will make memories of Saturday matinees, young couples will shyly accompany one another on gentle first dates at the movies, and older generations will return to relive irreplaceable old memories of another time.

Morgan Hill residents and leaders: Do you remember?

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