It was April 7, 1934, when the doors first opened for what would become one of the most historic icons on the Sonoma Plaza, the Sebastiani Theatre, with the first movie screened being “The Fugitive Lovers” for a mere entrance fee of 30 cents.
Built in the heart of the Great Depression under the direction of Samuele Sebastiani, it’s just one of the jewels that the Sebastiani family legacy has left Sonoma, and it’s in good shape now, but that was not always the case. In the 1960s, the popularity of television almost brought around the demise of the theatre, with many nights having fewer than seven tickets sold.
In 1983, the City of Sonoma had the chance to purchase the building from Sam Sebastiani, Samuele’s grandson, but opted to let a company from the East Bay purchase the building and entered into a lease with the new owners, who own the property to this day. The Mission Hardware building fire in 1991 almost took the theatre with it, and led to a number of building issues that in 1993, again threatened the demise of the historic single screen theatre, until in stepped Roger Rhoten.
Rhoten negotiated with the new landlords, and not always easily, to make the building repairs and installed a state-of-the-art Dolby sound system and modern projection equipment, all at his own expense.
Since then Rhoten and his wife, Diana, along with numerous “Friends of the Theatre” have kept the theatre afloat with a number of fundraisers and programs that actually make the theatre pay for itself, kind of.