Royal Theater

Theater entrance with Art Deco Sign reading Royal, and marquee reading
Royal Theater

Photograph by Carole Denardo, courtesy of California State Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
848 Gualalupe Street, Guadalupe, California
Architecture, Entertainment/Recreation, Ethnic Heritage-Asian
Listed in the National Register – Reference number 100007474
The Royal Theater, in Guadalupe, California  is located within the former Japanese enclave at the south end of Guadalupe’s historic commercial business district. The rectangular two-story building with a one-story lobby is a 5,084 square foot commercial block building, 124 feet long by 41 feet wide, composed of unreinforced brick masonry, with a concrete foundation and a flat roof with a parapet. The Royal Theater was designed in the Art Moderne style with specific Art Deco elements still extant on the marquee and inside the building. The building’s prominent marquee exhibits a geometric floral motif, chevrons, and linear horizontal design elements. For a small agricultural community like Guadalupe, the building represented one of the town’s finest construction. The theater boasted seating for 530 individuals. 

After the US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, an influx of Japanese immigrants to Guadalupe supplanted a previous wave of Chinese immigrants, who were formerly employed during construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad. A Chinatown district had formed along Guadalupe Street south of 4th Street (later 9th Street), which later became the Japantown district for Japanese immigrants. The newcomers were drawn to opportunities in the sugar beet fields by the Union Sugar Company. By the end of 1909, the Japanese population in Guadalupe had increased to 500. As Japanese immigrants began to succeed in business, an anti-Japanese movement emerged.  

The theater opened in 1940 by owner Arthur Shogo Fukuda. However, in 1942 Mr. Fukuda was forced to sell the building before he, and his wife, Kikuno Okumura, were interred at the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas. Arthur Shogo Fukuda (1885-1968) lived in Okayama, Japan prior to moving to the United States as a student in 1903. As early as 1914, he began his career in the theater business. By 1918, he was already the proprietor of a silent movie theater. With the advent of feature sound films in 1927, Arthur Fukuda and his partner Jack Takeuchi expanded the business to include five separate movie theaters, the Royal Theater in Guadalupe is the only one extant.   

When the Royal Theater officially opened for business on August 30, 1940, it was the only movie theater in Guadalupe. Japanese American Kiyozo Noji and his family were employed by owners Arthur Fukuda and Jack Takeuchi to operate the business. It was a welcome addition to Guadalupe, for the Japanese immigrants, all residents of the community, and soldiers serving at nearby Camp Cooke. Japanese language films, as well as feature films, were shown. 

Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, numerous government raids detained Japanese American men. When President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 18, 1942, it led to internment of all individuals of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. As war bonds were being sold at the Royal Theater in Guadalupe in 1942, families and individuals of Japanese descent were rounded up and placed in detention camps.  

Before their movie theater businesses in Hanford and Sanger were taken away by the government, Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Takeuchi were able to sell the contents and equipment to movie theater mogul Robert Lippert on April 20, 1942, although for a fraction of their worth. Given the uncertainty of when they would be interned, they turned over power-of-attorney for their businesses to Shiro Omata on March 29, 1942.(Shiro Omata was also detained at the Jerome Relocation Center, then he enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a lieutenant in the U.S. Army where he served as General Douglas McArthur’s personal interpreter for five years.) 

After release from internment, Arthur Fukuda and his family moved back to their former home  in Hanford where he resided until his death on March 27, 1968. He no longer owned or managed any of his former theaters; instead, he made a living as a farmer.

After World War II, immigrants from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries gradually supplanted the Japanese American agricultural work force in Guadalupe. The theater featured movies in Spanish that were appealing to the substantial Latino population. The theater was renamed Cine Royal and regularly advertised its variety of films in the local newspaper, including movies in English and Spanish or with Spanish subtitles, Filipino films, and by the mid-1960s, technicolor movies and cartoons. The building was renamed the Royal Theater in the mid-1990s after a remodel with fresh paint and a new neon sign on the marquee. Residents still regard the Royal Theater as one of Guadalupe’s most treasured buildings, and adaptive reuse is anticipated.

Last updated: June 27, 2022