For 100 years the Empress Theater in Vallejo has been a form of entertainment for Bay Area residents with plays, vaudeville acts and movies. Like any old building, the theater has seen its share of clientele come in and out of its doors as well as actors, actresses, singers and other performers. But what if some of those clientele liked the building so much that they never left?
The California Haunts Paranormal Investigation Team from Sacramento had the opportunity to investigate the theater twice and found that when the lights go down for the day, the theater comes to life.
Located at 330 Virginia Street in Vallejo, the theater has had several name changes in its history as well as several owners. A fire in 1930 gutted the building but it was rebuilt. Originally there were 960 seats in the auditorium.
Although there have been no reports by employees of the theater being haunted, rumors have circulated for years and that is what prompted the California Haunts team to pay a visit.
"Currently, I am the only employee, “ said Managing Director Bill Lipari. “I work 40-hours per week. Sorry to say, I haven't seen or felt anything.”
But investigators, just being able to look into the rumors was a treat.
“Anytime that we get the chance to investigate in a historic building, it's always a great experience,” said Kat Trevena, 48, of Oakdale. “Even if nothing comes of it, it's just an honor to be able to visit a piece of history.”
And the team has done just that. With more than 150 investigations under its belt, investigators have looked into cases ranging from alleged residential hauntings to historical and commercial buildings which may have activity.
“It's something we enjoy doing,” Trevena said. “We like helping people. In our experience about 95 percent of the alleged hauntings can be explained rationally. It's something electrical or maybe the plumbing isn't so good. We look at every possibility when we go out to a location.”
Trevena recalls one instance in a historic hotel where guests reported the faucet in the sink in a certain room would turn on in the middle of the night. Investigators spent the night in the room and discovered that the pipes in the wall expand and make a rushing sound. The sound was so strong that it sounded as if the water was running in the sink.
At the Empress, team members carefully went over nearly every inch of the building with Electro Magnetic Frequency Meters to measure electricity levels of wiring, appliances, lights and other items that could give off readings.
“High EMF readings can cause cause headaches, dizziness, and in some cases paranoia and hallucinations,” Trevena said. “We look for any reading that may be on the high side as that could have something to do with the client's experiences.”
Utilizing state-of-the-art equipment that includes a nine-channel DVR, team members performed various experiments on and off stage, in the basement, in the auditorium and in the projection room.
At one point during the first investigation of the theater, a heavy hand truck fell over as investigators walked by. Team debunkers re-set the hand truck into position and tried to figure out what could have caused it to fall. They jumped on the stage causing vibration, walked heavily past it, but the hand truck wouldn't move. As debunkers walked away, the truck once again slammed down.
During an Electronic Voice Phenomena session in the basement area under the stage, investigators asked if “someone would give them a sign that they were there,” the door to a filing cabinet slammed shut. Shortly after, a deep male voice that seemed to laugh at investigators, was caught on a digital voice recorder.
Near the same area, one investigator followed a heat source that seemed to move around the basement, sometimes in a circular motion. In another instance, locking chains on a pair of cabinets began to swing back and forth during a late-night EVP session. Investigators could find no explanation for their movement.
Working with Psychic Caren Clarke, 47, of Fair Oaks, team members performed Electronic Voice Phenomena tests utilizing digital voice recorders and a question and answer format.
“On the bottom floor, Kat and I did an EVP session and we picked up a little girl spirit who revealed herself to me,” Clarke said. “She lived close by during the 1940s or late 1930s. She loves to dance around. Her presence is felt on the first floor and she likes to tap dance and swirl around.”
In the auditorium area, Clarke said she came in contact with the spirit of a man who died in the 1980s of AIDS. She said he was part of a theater group and had acted in some plays. He may have done some sort of public relations work for the theater. He used to bring his mother to the theater and for some reason he still returns to the seats where they both sat. He sometimes will nudge visitors walking down this left corridor aisle to let them know he is still around and his energy is alive.
Near the stage, Clarke came in contact with the spirit of a woman.
“I believe her name is Margaret and she hangs out and stays around the stage,” Clark said. “If there are any present day actors that report feeling air being blown down their necks, a swish or swirl of air pocketing around them, this is Margaret. She also can play with the curtains and sometimes they unexpectedly move on their own. “
Clarke added Margaret has no tolerance for anyone who messes around or horses around and she expects everyone on stage to show respect for the company and for others respectably.
“I did pick up that she was married in life and it was a fairly solid marriage but since she has passed, there is no real connection with him. Independence defines this spirit.” Clarke said.
So for those patrons who enjoy ambiance and a good movie, the Empress Theater is the place to go. Is the theater haunted? Evidence collected by the paranormal team seems to point that way but, for those of you who enjoy a good movie or stage performance, just remember one thing. That empty seat next to you may not be so empty.
For more information on the California Haunts Paranormal Investigation team, visit www.californiahaunts.org.