The history of Santa Ana’s Yost Theater (El Cine Yost) and its important role in Orange County’s Mexican-American community will be the topic of Professor David-James Gonzales’ program at the Orange County Historical Society’s April 8, 2021 meeting at 7:30 p.m., online via Zoom. To register, visit the OCHS website or https://tinyurl.com/OCHSYost.
Opened in 1913 as The Auditorium, the Yost Theater is Orange County’s oldest and most historic entertainment venue. During its early years, the Yost was considered Orange County’s finest playhouse, as it hosted vaudeville performers and musicians. With its massive stage, 970-seat capacity, and full array of backstage props and dressing rooms, the theater was a popular site for the performing arts, film exhibitions, charitable events, religious services, and political gatherings throughout much of its hundred-plus year history.
But to the ethnic Mexican community, the Yost was much more. The Olivos family, who purchased and then ran the Yost for 33 years, not only introduced Spanish-language cinema to Orange County, but also gave Mexican Americans a public place to gather and “feel proud of their ethnic heritage,” writes Gonzales. “During the early-to-mid-twentieth century when schools, neighborhoods, and parks were segregated throughout Orange County, Latinos could enter the theater and feel a sense of community.”
The theater was, wrote Louis Olivos, Jr., “our answer to the Grand Ole Opry.”
A Southern California native, David-James Gonzales completed his Ph.D. in History at the University of Southern California in 2017, writing his dissertation on the Mexican American struggle against segregation in Orange County from 1920 to 1950. He went on to teach at USC, UCLA and is currently an Assistant Professor of History at Brigham Young University. He is also a producer and host of the scholarly book review podcast “New Books in Latino Studies.”
His article, “El Cine Yost and the Power of Place for Mexican Migrants in Orange County, California, 1930–1990,” was published in the Journal of American Ethnic History in the Summer of 2020. He is currently preparing a book manuscript on the effect of Latino civic engagement and politics on the metropolitan development of Orange County throughout the 20th century.
Caption: The Yost Theater on Spurgeon St. in 1974. Photo by Werner Weiss, courtesy Orange County Archives.