ANTIOCH -- It's been a decade since downtown's majestic art-deco theater opened for its second act.

The El Campanil Theatre was reborn on the Fourth of July 10 years ago, and continues to be a popular venue for films, professional performances and local entertainment.

"It's exciting that we're still going strong. There are a lot of theaters and theater companies that are struggling; the fact that East County is so supportive is very gratifying," said Rick Carraher, executive director of the El Campanil Theatre foundation.

El Campanil, which means "tower of bells" in Spanish, first opened in 1928. It was built by the Stamm and Beede families in the late 1920s in an art-deco Spanish-Moorish style popular at the time. The Stamms operated it until 1996, when it was shut down and rented out to churches.

The nonprofit El Campanil foundation bought the theater from the Stamms in 2003 with a $500,000 grant from Calpine Corp. A $750,000 grant from the city's redevelopment agency, $100,000 in donations and the work of volunteers helped bring new lighting, carpeting and seats to the theater. A new sound system was also added.

"We changed its focus strictly from a movie house, so that the community has a place to have a real theater," Carraher said.

In 2006, the foundation completed $160,000 worth of work on the theater's exterior, including the addition of a new marquee and exterior paint.

About 40,000 people attended the 110 events held at the theater in 2013, Carraher said. Ticket sales fund half of the theater's operation costs, with the rest coming from grants and private donations.


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Ron Yarolimek and his wife Jackie appreciate having the El Campanil, as they used to travel to see shows in Walnut Creek, Sacramento or San Francisco.

"This really is a jewel for Antioch, to have this option here and not have to travel an hour to get home," he said.

The couple started as patrons, but quickly volunteered to be ushers. Ron Yarolimek joined the foundation board years ago, and now serves as president.

One goal in the future is for the theater to "stay current" with more contemporary shows, but that presents pricey challenges.

"We want to keep bringing in real talent at a reasonable price," Carraher said.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.