Classic Stanford Theater reopens after two years of shuttered doors

July 16, 2022, 6:57 a.m.

After shutting its doors for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Stanford Theater made its long-awaited reopening on July 9.

The theater played a major role in the Stanford community and in downtown Palo Alto for over a century. It brought students, professors, friends and families closer together with the magic of original film prints from the Golden Age, which are projected on-screen at the theater just as they were intended to be shown decades ago.

“It’s an experience that is distinct from digital projection and completely different from watching a film on a television, laptop or tablet,” said film and media studies professor Karla Oeler. “As photography-based film recedes into the past, I feel more grateful to places like the Stanford Theater and the Niles Essanay Film Museum for preserving — and educating us about — the material history of twentieth-century cinema.”

The theater reopened with a Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers double-feature experience, consisting of “The Gay Divorcee” and “Top Hat.” In honor of the film’s 80th anniversary, “Casablanca” will be on screen from July 16 to July 17. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror films “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief” will play from July 28 through July 29, while “North by Northwest” and “Notorious” will be screened from Aug. 27 to Aug. 28.

“I arrived at Stanford 25 years ago, and Palo Alto didn’t strike me as a cultural Mecca,” said film and media studies professor Scott Bukatman. “But there was the Stanford Theater, showing not only the best of classic Hollywood cinema but interesting lesser-known films as well.” As a New Yorker and film professor, Bukatman added, the theater sustained him as an indispensable asset. 

If cinemagoers are feeling nostalgic for more youthful classics, “The Wizard of Oz” will be available to audiences from Aug. 6 to Aug. 7. Some of Audrey Hepburn’s most famous movies, such as the romantic-comedy “Sabrina,” the late-summer Italian getaway “Roman Holiday” and “My Fair Lady” will be screened from late July to early September. 

There will even be silent comedy nights on the program, including “Safety Last!” (starring Harold Lloyd), Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel’s “Two Tars” and “The General” (starring Buster Keaton). Live music will accompany the silent films, with Dennis James performing with the Wurlitzer organ that he has played at the theater since 1993.

“It has always been a place for people to gather together and enjoy the magic of movies on the big screen, along with live music,” said Cyndi Mortensen, the theater’s manager. “People have met their spouses here and later brought their children and their grandchildren.”

The theater was renovated during its closure. One of the recent updates is the new ventilation system, which has been installed inside. Due to the ongoing pandemic, masks will remain mandatory for employees and optional for customers.

Despite current high levels of inflation, ticket prices will remain the same — seven dollars for adults and five for seniors (65 and over) and youth (18 and under). Tickets are available at the box office on the day of the show. 

“Come early to hear Dennis James or someone else play the theater’s magnificent pipe organ between films, and don’t miss any opportunity to see a silent film with live musical accompaniment,” Bukatman said. “Don’t skip movies you may not have heard of. And, it’s the best popcorn in town.”

The Stanford Theater’s Summer Festival runs from July 9 to Sept. 16, and the full schedule of movies is available at their website.

Aslıhan Alp is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at'

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