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A True Film Bargain--and Free Popcorn, Too


Imagine a movie theater where the screen is wide, the seats are plush and the admission price for a double feature doesn't mean financial ruin.

This isn't nostalgia. This is the Avo Theatre in Vista.

In its heyday in the late 1940s and early 50s, the Avo packed in moviegoers, who saw for the first time such classics as "From Here to Eternity," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "I Was a Teenage Werewolf." Now, after three decades of on-again, off-again success, the 460-seat movie house is playing to capacity crowds once more.

Responsible for the Avo's new lease on life is Gaylord Tohill, an associate pastor at the Calvary Chapel in Vista. The nondenominational church bought the operation last August from Western Amusement, a Los Angeles-based company that was spinning into bankruptcy.

Seeing a need in Vista for a theater that showed wholesome, family-type movies, Tohill viewed the Avo as heaven-sent. He and another pastor at the church embarked on the new venture.

"We just wanted to reach out and do something for the community," Tohill said. "I wanted a place where a family of five could go and spend an evening that wasn't super expensive."

With prices at the Avo, that's no problem. Admission for adults is $1 and children younger than 12 are free.

Everyone gets free popcorn, and sodas and candy are all sold at cost, Tohill said. A family of five can take in a double feature, have some movie munchies and come away with the children's college fund still intact.

Mostly G-rated movies are shown. Playing Friday and Saturday at the Avo is "No Deposit, No Return." Upcoming flicks include the Walt Disney animated hit, "The Little Mermaid," "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Ben Hur."

Perhaps the only drawback to the Avo's new format is that the theater is open only Friday and Saturday nights, Tohill said. Often, there are sellout crowds.

"This has been a big success as far as people wanting to come," Tohill said. "We don't like to turn people away, so sometimes we have to add a Saturday matinee to accommodate the overflow."

The Avo Theatre was built in 1948 and named for Vista's major agricultural contribution, the avocado. Abraham Shelhoup, the owner of a department store in Vista, built the movie house on property he owned.


The Avo Theatre is at 303 E. Vista Way in Vista. For show times and information, call 726-3668.

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