Downey's Meralta Theater was named after two women who performed in vaudeville together before they entered the theater business.
Meralta is a combination of the names of the original owners' old stage act – Laura Peralta and Pearl Merrill traveled all over the United States as a saxophone comedy act. Laura was 5 foot 3, weighed 100 pounds and Pearl was an enormous woman, nearly 6 feet tall and 300 pounds. They were billed as Ella Fant and Miss Kito.
Both women were getting homesick for California as Laura came from one of those big, tight-knit Catholic families with nine kids, and Pearl got tired of living out of a suitcase, so after two years on the road, they gave up the act and opened a movie house in Boyle Heights in 1917.
Later they opened the Downey Meralta where Laura was the cashier and Pearl stood at the door taking tickets. Laura would climb a ladder to change the marquee. One of the first "talkies" – "The Jazz Singer" – got its play at the Downey Meralta in 1928.
The Downey Champion newspaper dated Jan. 28, 1926 had an article about Downey people taking part in a filming of a picture. Pearl Merrill made arrangements with the Collegiate Comedy Company of Hollywood to film their next one-reel comedy in Downey. The unique part of this arrangement was that the cast was to be comprised entirely of local people. Pearl also stated that the Collegiate Comedies would make the interior scenes of this comedy on the stage of the Meralta – they would use Kleig lights, spots, cameras, etc. In other words, the Meralta stage would be transformed into an actual motion picture studio and the people in the audience would be given a rare treat of seeing an actual motion picture being made.
Audience members got an opportunity to come up on the stage and appear in some of the scenes. Part of the cast included Paul Bomler, Peggy Runnalls, Randolph Butlet, Marie Gunter, Kenneth Lee, Martha Hiers, Norma Weiss and Williame Williford, who were well known in the area.
The director, Roy M. Douglas, had the first exeterior scenes shot at First and Downey streets and almost everyone in Downey who desired to be seen on the screen had an excellent opportunity on Friday morning to be on the street and in the movie. The film was to be titled "Dapper Dan of Downey" and photographed by the well known Hollywood cameraman Herbert C. Johnson. The finished picture would be given an exclusive run at the Meralta.
The article stated that regular prices would prevail at the showing of this comedy and would be an added attraction to the Meralta's usual high-class programs.
If anyone has seen this movie let the Downey Historical Society know.