The Deadly Usher, Part 1

broadway_theaterYears ago I worked at a movie theater, The Broadway, in Santa Ana. It was gorgeous, built in the 1920s when movie palaces were really fit for royalty. By the time I started at the concession stand the theater had gone to seed (it has since been demolished). It had great bones though, and if you looked at the place through rose-colored glasses you could imagine how it must have been when silent films were shown there.


I was part of a motley crew of workers; among the most memorable of them was a drunken, surly guard who used to sleep in the balcony and a leering manager, old enough to be my father, whom I never let get close enough to corner me.

On rainy weekends cars would drive up and decant scads of screaming children — we were the unofficial babysitters for the neighborhood parents who couldn’t take one more minute of being trapped at home with their kids. By and large the kids were fine, if not exactly well-behaved. The trouble-makers always found their way to the balcony where the guard, if he’d been awake, may have done something about them. As it was, whatever discipline was meted out was up to us. I never objected to the flurry of Jujubes that were routinely hurled at the screen no matter what was showing, but I took umbrage with the occasional flaming popcorn box. I once had to explain to a tiny terror why throwing an incendiary popcorn box below the place where you were standing was a dumb ass idea. The time or two he attempted to throw one of his improvised torches into the balcony from the floor didn’t go too well and he finally gave up.

At least, unlike movie theater usher Lorenzo Castro, I never had to contend with gang members who carried guns and knives into the theater.crucifix2

On February 7, 1958, eighteen year old Lorenzo Castro was working his shift as an usher at the Jewel Theater at 3817 Whittier Blvd in East L.A. when he saw four guys snatch Delia Gross’ handbag from a theater seat. Delia was the wife of the theater manager, so Lorenzo was probably motivated, to some extent, by wanting to make points with the boss. Nothing wrong with that. Delia, her husband Loren, and Lorenzo chased the would-be thieves. Delia tackled one of them and Lorenzo fired a shot at Elias Alvarado when he pulled a knife. Alvarado was able to flee. Two others, Gilbert Aguirre, seventeen, and Raymond Senteno, twenty, were held until the cops arrived.

According to Sgt. Anthony Bright of the Sheriff’s Department, Alvarado ran home following the shooting and his parents, who saw blood on his shirt, took him to Angelus Emergency Hospital. Sheriff’s deputies arrested him there. It was a “come to Jesus” moment for Alvarado — the .75 cent crucifix he’d been wearing had stopped the .32 caliber slug that could have ended his life. Alvarado swore that once his parole from the Fred C. Nelles School in Whittier was ended he would mend his criminal ways and seek the path to righteousness . My guess is that his pledge to lead a better life lasted a month at best, but then I have a tendency to be cynical.

elias alvarado

Life at the neighborhood theater quieted down, at least for a couple of weeks.

On February 25, 1958 theater usher Lorenzo Castro was once again the news, but this time it was for kidnapping and murder.

NEXT TIME: The Deadly Usher continues.