The earliest forms of entertainment in Santa Ana were variety shows and opera, prior to the 1920s and the introduction of “talkies.” The Yost Theater, for example, was a vaudeville house and later shared the same fate of other vaudeville houses that switched to talkies.
Further back in time…
Santa Ana got its name in 1810. What is known now as central Orange County, used to be called Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. It was a land grant given to the Yorba family by the Spanish crown, when Alta (Upper) California was still part of New Spain. After the Mexican-American war, the town of Santa Ana was plotted by Kentuckian William Spurgeon in 1869. The town was officially recognized twenty years later and then became the political center of a new project, the formation of the County of Orange, separate from Los Angeles County.
Santa Ana wasn’t just the county political hub, it also became its entertainment hub. The county’s first playhouses, like the opera house and the Temple Theater were built in Downtown Santa Ana.
The county’s first opera house was located near the corner of Fourth and Spurgeon streets. It was eventually demolished and it may have become a house of ill repute. One image of the opera house had a sign on the entrance asking its patrons, “Do you know where your daughter is?” It makes you wonder. An image of the opera house is available in the book Early Santa Ana. It can also be found online through the Santa Ana Public Library’s Digitized Historical Photograph Collection.
With time, the old boundaries of Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana became splintered into the modern-day towns of Orange County, and now, people think “Orange County” and not Santa Ana. By the way, ever since the TV series “The OC” came out, designed by people in Beverly Hills, it became trendy to say “OC.” But during the county’s early history, Santa Ana was the center of it all, it was the place to be and the most important center between Los Angeles and San Diego. Hollywood’s players knew this as well, and they came to get away. There was even a time that Newport Beach used to promote itself as being near Santa Ana, eventually Desi Arnaz went fishing at Newport Harbor with his Santa Ana friend and pantomime, José Esobar Pérez, “Pepito.”
The entertainment climate got competitive with time. The Yost Theater was built a walking distance from where the old opera house used to be on the east end, and there was the Broadway and West End theaters on the opposite side of the downtown. In between there was the Fox West Coast, on Main and Third streets.