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Places: The Warnor's Theatre Complex
There’s a spot of worn-down concrete in front of the ticket booth at the Warnors Theatre. It’s barely noticeable if you’re not looking, but Sally Caglia points it out and there it is — the result of countless feet stepping up to get inside the 83-year-old theater.
Forget the suspended-dome ceiling or the Robert Morgan Organ — possibly the last of its kind — this is Caglia’s favorite part of the entire complex. It’s the spot where her father stood in 1928 to buy the first ticket the theater ever sold.
“I just love this old building,” says Caglia, whose father bought the theater and adjoining buildings out of auction in 1973. Fresno isn’t exactly a town known for its love of longevity. So, the fact that the Warnors Theatre exists at all is a credit to the Caglia family, who put a considerable amount of time and money to keep the place open. Many people still associate the theater — and the accompanying Frank’s Place and Star Palace — with the Caglia family, but it’s actually run by the nonprofit Warnors Center for the Performing Arts.
This is harder than it sounds.
“We have a lot of needs,” says Jim Pacini Jr., who was hired as the organization’s executive director this year.
While some upgrades have been made over the years, most of the building is original. The 14 green rooms underneath the theater are all lighted and functional, but that’s 1928 functional.
And that's true of almost everything in the theater, including the heating and cooling system, which looks like a mechanical monster and takes up the space of several underground rooms. When something breaks, it can’t just be replaced. It has to be fixed and that comes at a price. To bring the place into the 21st century — with elevators and working kitchens for each venue —would cost somewhere around $55 million. Of course, even if it sits empty the costs pile up, Pacini says.For now, his job is to keep it occupied.In October, the theater hosted Audra McDonald and the Fresno Grand Opera. It already has a steady slate of shows lined up for the new year, including the Roots & Boots Tour Jan. 12, and the band Superchick in February. On Dec. 11 it will host a Big Band Christmas, featuring The Joe Lenigan Band. The band also hosts a popular sunday afternoon dance, the second Sunday of each month at Frank’s Place.But the theater complex is not just for musical acts, Pacini says. It’s hosted everything from body-building championships and the BYU Ballroom Dance show and tryouts for the television show “X-Factor.”
When Pacini took over, the organization wasn’t sound financial shape. It’s gotten over that hurdle. “Now, we’re not losing money every month,” he says.So he can focus on really developing the board of directors and creating a long-term plan for the complex — which includes several retails store fronts along both Fulton and Tuolumne Streets. Soon, the board will start a capital campaign and do some major fundraising. “No one can deny it’s the most beautiful theater in the city,” Pacini says. They idea is to keep it that way, while making sure it’s viable for the community. “We want it to be a building that will bring people back downtown.”