Movie house converting to stage for local talent

By: Dori Barrett
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Once a stage for vaudeville acts and later used a movie house, the Colfax Theater has been the centerpiece of local entertainment since 1880. However, declining profits have forced the independent theater owners to re-examine the future of the business. They are torn between letting the theater fall into obscurity, like other small town theaters across the country, and continuing to run it at a loss for the sake of nostalgia. “It’s no longer equitable to show movies,” said Colfax resident Cindy Jacob, daughter of Wendell Jacob, who has owned the building since 1988. “We feel it’s best to redirect the focus and take the theater back to its roots of live entertainment.” At present, the family has decided to go temporarily dark while they spruce up the interior and then re-open it as a venue showcasing community-oriented events. When the marquee lights shine again on Dec. 14, they will be announcing rising country star Emma Mae Jacob’s “Christmas Show.” The concert will feature country music star Jeremy McComb, who will be performing the holiday single he recorded with Emma Mae entitled “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Also performing that evening will be Kate and Kacey Copolla, twin sisters from the television show “Can You Duet.” After a fire destroyed the original theater building on Depot Street in 1940, local business owners rallied to build another one. Oswald Marson, owner of Marson’s Haberdashery, took charge of the project along with George and Frances West, who owned the mortuary and a store downtown. Marson had the theater built on a lot he owned on South Main Street in three months for $30,000. In addition to the theater, the building housed two other small businesses — a barber shop for Marson, and a dress store. The Colfax Record reported “the new theater is modern and right up to date in every detail and equipped with the latest theatre and projection equipment.” An inclined floor was installed to ensure every moviegoer had a good view of the screen. By 1988, however, it was starting to show its age. Wendell Jacob, a Southern California resident who had worked as a movie projectionist since he was 16, purchased the building and enthusiastically began to restore it. He oversaw the work, including the installation of crystal chandeliers from Germany, carpet imported from Ireland, red velvet curtains and seats purchased from an old theater. Jacob gifted the little gem to his granddaughter, Emma Mae Jacob, on her 13th birthday. The plan was that she could take over the business when she turned 18. “I thought it was so cool that my grandpa owned a movie theater. When he made me part owner, I was thrilled,” Emma Mae Jacob recalled. But industry trends have shifted over the last 10 years, making it increasingly difficult for small movie theaters to stay competitive. So, thousands of movies and bags of popcorn and 68 years later, the Jacob family has made the decision to bring the Colfax Theater full circle. The little theater will become a stage for local talent – honoring the spirit of its early years. Emma Mae Jacob remains positive about the future of the small theater. “We’re very excited about being able to provide live entertainment to Colfax again,” she said. “The theater is a huge part of this town and we’re looking forward to keeping it open for everyone to continue to enjoy.”