Ask Me

Final Ask Me uncovers memories of Old Town Clovis theater, Kist soda and Offutt family

Dolores (Billalba) Bair in front of the El Rey theater in 1941.
Dolores (Billalba) Bair in front of the El Rey theater in 1941. Special to The Bee

Q: Was there ever a movie theater in Old Town Clovis?

Terry Lyon, Clovis

A: The El Rey Theater on Fifth Street near Pollasky Avenue was owned by Thomas P. Cosgrave and his wife, Bea, from 1935 to 1942, according to Peg Bos, president of the Clovis-Big Dry Creek Historical Society.

The theater showed “first-run movies,” according to the book “Images of America: Clovis.”

Bea Cosgrave’s son, Bud Baird, and his future wife, Delores Billalba, worked at the theater during their first two years at Clovis High School, according to their daughter, Dr. Susan Pappas.

“My dad worked helping out in the film room almost every day while he attended Clovis High. So did my mom,” Pappas said. “I don’t know if they got paid. My dad has often told me stories about the multiple reels he had to run for each movie, and the times he forgot to start the next reel.”

The Cosgrave family hosted Yule parties for children from 1936 to 1940, according to The Fresno Bee.

After the theater closed, the building housed the Rasmussen Jewelry store. The building was torn down during an Old Town Clovis renovation in the early 1980s.

kist front
A Kist soda bottle recently unearthed by crews working in Clovis. courtesy Richard Ewy Special to The Bee

Q: Utility crews working near my home recently unearthed a Kist soda bottle. The printed label on the back says it was bottled in Fresno. Can you tell us about this company?

Richard Ewy, Clovis

A: The front label of the 7-ounce bottle says Kist brand beverages were “bottled under license from Citrus Products Co, Chicago, Ill.”

Citrus Products Co. began on East Kinzie Street in Chicago in 1919. The company’s favorite products were the “sparkling” Kist citrus drink and Chocolate Soldier, a chocolate milk-style beverage. The company also bottled orange, ginger ale, lemon and grape drinks in 7-, 10- and 12-ounce bottles. The company also produced lime, lemon sour, punch, black cherry, root beer and “imitation cherry” flavors, but apparently for a limited time.

By 1958 Kist products were “bottled by franchised bottlers in every state,” according to a website about old bottling companies.

kist back
A Kist soda bottle recently unearthed by crews working in Clovis. courtesy Richard Ewy Special to The Bee

As the back label notes, the soda was bottled by Kist Beverages Co. of Fresno. Owner Fred Diel opened a new bottling plant and warehouse at 337 Palm Ave. in 1946, according to The Bee.

The two-story building housed a mixing room and advertising and sales offices upstairs. Diel’s office, a sugar storeroom and the bottling plant were downstairs. The warehouse was in the rear of the building.

The company distributed Kist products from Madera to Bakersfield. New owners purchased the Kist plant in a bankruptcy sale in 1954.

The last known owner of the national Kist company was Moxie Industries, Inc. of Atlanta. The Kist trademark is no longer in use.

Q: When I was young, Asalee Offutt was a friend of my family. She and her husband, Henry, owned a luggage shop in downtown Fresno and other properties. Could you help me discover their history?

Glen Barber, Madera

A: Henry Clay Offutt, who was born in Kentucky in 1888, married Asalee Rentfro, an Illinois native, in 1912. They came to Fresno in 1919.

Their home at 227 N. Glenn Ave. is listed on the Local Register of Historic Resources as the Henry C. Offutt Home. The Craftsman Bungalow-style house, built in 1928, is described as “an idiosyncratic example of masonry Craftsman bungalows” which is not common to Fresno. At some point the couple moved to 718 E. Floradora Ave.

The couple opened Offutt’s Luggage Co. in about 1928 but apparently owned it for only a few years. They owned several other properties, including four apartment buildings and the historic M.R. Madary home at 1115 N. Van Ness Ave.

madary home
In 1940, Henry Offutt donated the 17-room Madary house, previously used as a rest home, to the Fort Washington Golf Club. According to The Bee, club president L.J. Moore said the house would be moved “to the club’s ground about 10 miles north of Fresno” and converted to a new clubhouse. Fresno Bee archive

In 1940, Henry Offutt donated the 17-room Madary house, previously used as a rest home, to the Fort Washington Golf Club. According to The Bee, club president L.J. Moore said the house would be moved “to the club’s ground about 10 miles north of Fresno” and converted to a new clubhouse.

Henry Offutt died about five months later at age 52. He died of an apparent heart attack just hours after filming the California State Open golf tournament at the Sunnyside Country Club, The Bee said.

Asalee Offutt died in 1966 at a Santa Barbara hospital at age 74. She was a member of the First Christian Church and active with the Fresno Nutritional Home and local SPCA.

The couple was survived by their siblings but not any children.

Paula’s last column

Dear Readers: I am retiring and so this is my last Ask Me column. It has been a delight and also an honor to search out interesting bits of Fresno history. Many of you have said you’ve learned a lot from reading Ask Me. I’ve learned a lot from researching and writing it, too. My heartfelt thanks for the many questions you sent – I’m sorry I couldn’t answer all of them – and for your kind encouragement over nearly 11 years.

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