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The oldest theater in San Jose, the Jose Theater (now known as the San Jose Improv) was built in 1904. The theater was declared a San Jose Historical Landmark in 1990.

  • Jose Theater today
  • The Jose Theater in the 1970s
  • 1950 black and white photograph of the José theater
  • the Jose theater 1931
Now known as the San Jose Improv, the Jose Theater was built in 1904 by a Monterey landowner, David Jacks, who was also the namesake of Monterey Jack cheese. The theater hosted numerous Vaudeville acts and once hosted an appearance by Harry Houdini. 
The Jose changed hands numerous times over the years. Since it was built, the theater has changed ownership no less than seven times. In the 1920s, James Battey, the second owner of the theater, bought the Jose and began to include silent films that were accompanied by live music; this was standard for films at the time. In the 1930s, the Jose began its tradition of showing second-run films(which means a film that has already been taken out of theaters). In 1949, the theater was purchased by James B. Lima's General Theatrical Company. Barry Swenson and Jim Fox purchased the theater from Lima but they were forced to close the theater In 1989 after it was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake and the owners believed that it would cost too much money to perform a seismic retrofit to the theater in order to keep it operating.

In 1990, the theater was named a San Jose Historical Landmark and the San Jose City Council agreed to invest $5.1 million to refurbish the theater. The San Jose Redevelopment Agency purchased the Jose Theater in 2000 and completed upgrades to bring the theater up to code in October 2001. The beautifully restored theater has 450 seats and workers were able to partially salvage the pressed-tin ceiling which is now adorned with new gold leaf along the edges. The restoration of the Jose involved façade restoration, which involved replacing missing terracotta cresting, cleaning and restoring the masonry, and the repairing and lighting of the Art Deco marquee. The restoration was so successful that the project received the Gold Nugget Award for “best rehabilitation of a commercial or special use building”.

Today it is home to the San Jose branch of the Improv comedy club franchise. The city had signed a ten year contract with them and the San Jose Improv opened to the public in 2002. 

Jose Theatre, Soft Underbelly of San Jose Retrieved 11 June 2017.

“The Jose, San José's Oldest Theater.” Vintage Signs of San Jose, 24 Mar. 2017,

Pierce, Ron. “Jose Theatre.” Cinema Treasures,

“Projects.” Home,

“Project: Jose Theatre/Improv Comedy Club.” Project: Jose Theatre/Improv Comedy Club, Sept. 2007,

“Jose Theater.” Carey & Co Inc, A TreanorHL Company, Carey & Co Architecture & Planning,