Russian Time Magazine

Neon city lights: Reliving and passing down personal cinematic experiences in Sacramento

The Crest Theater on K Street in Sacramento is the only regular big screen in town for cult classics, holiday films and local-event screenings.

One of the first landmarks that greets visitors entering Sacramento on I-80 Business from the south, particularly at night, is a 100-foot glowing spire of neon red and green. It was there before much of the skyline on the other side of the freeway, and before the freeway, too

When that spire was built, the United States was climbing out of the Great Depression, civil infrastructure projects such as the Tower Bridge were remaking the bones of the city, area farmers were struggling and people craved entertainment. Most Americans, even if they didn’t have two nickels to rub together, found it at “the pictures” — at the Hippodrome theatre (now the Crest Theatre) on K Street, the Alhambra, the New Oak Park Theater and beneath that spire, at the Tower Theatre on Broadway.

Now 15 years shy of its centennial, the spire is outwardly unchanged, but its business is as different as the skyline back then. Consumers have more screens competing for their attention than all previous generations had combined. A movie ticket is $10 on the low end. And custom-built movie palaces, once projecting films for the masses on celluloid — transparent, flammable plastic that defined a cinematic era — have been edged out by look-alike multiplexes playing digital video files mostly for younger audiences.

And that was before COVID-19 cut their businesses in half. Yet market share aside, novelty has made Sacramento’s remaining movie palaces of the 20th century, the Tower and the Crest, beacons in the night for the local film scene — for cult and independent cinema, festivals, special screenings and irreplaceable connections to film history.