The Lakeport Theatre opened in 1949, and was designed by San Francisco theater architect Vincent G. Raney for owner Leo Reese, who had operated Lakeport’s Orpheum Theatre for twenty years.
When construction on the Lakeport had recently begun, the building was described in an article in the October 2, 1948, issue of Boxoffice magazine as being built of Bakelite blocks with a rough stucco finish on the exterior. Raney designed the house with a section of stadium seating, to maximize capacity on the fairly small building site. The completed house had about 600 seats.
The Orpheum Theatre building burned in a fire soon after the new theatre was built by Leo Reese. His wife, Lillian, was the organist for the silent movies there. Bob Reese (Leo and Lillian’s son) returned to Lakeport to run the new theatre for Lillian when Leo passed away at the early age of 53. And the family business prospered. The importance of that theatre to the community was immense.
The Lakeport Theatre (now the Soper-Reese Theatre) was remodeled into a twin when longer running times were required and Bob Reese feared a corporate competitor would come into the small community and build a theatre that would put him out of business. So a wall was built down the center of the large auditorium and the huge screen replaced by two smaller screens. It operated as a twin until he built the Lakeport Cinema 5 outside of town and the Performing Arts Council purchased and began remodeling it. The Cinema 5 was built on the front section of the property on which Bob Reese had built the Lakeport Auto Movies (drive-in) in the early 70’s. The Drive-In still operates during the summer. Margaret Reese managed the Drive-In while Bob ran the walk-in downtown.
The Lakeport Theatre operated as a movie house for nearly half a century, closing in the 1990’s. In 1997, the building was purchased by the Lake County Arts Council, with a donation by Jim and Florence Soper, and renovations were begun to convert the space into a community performing arts center. The theater was designated a Lakeport Historic Building by the city in 2000.
The theater has operated intermittently as a live performance venue while undergoing renovations. The first phase of renovation was completed in 2008, and the house is now in use for live performances and for theatre classes of Mendocino College. Funds are being raised for further renovations.
Despite considerable alteration, some period features remain in the house, including the entrance doors with their Art Moderne floral pattern etched glass.