The Village Theater, a
theater-in-the-round in Tustin’s Jamestown Village shopping center in the 1960s, was the forerunner of The Paradox, a folk jazz coffee house, where
Steve Martin and other young Orange County entertainers often appeared.
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Steve Martin’s memoir, “Born Standing Up,”
describes the early days of his career, his work at the Bird Cage in Knott’s
Berry Farm and how he turned his magic act into a comedy routine.
He also mentions several folk music coffee houses that operated in Orange
County during the 1960s including Prison of Socrateson Balboa Island, the
Meccain Buena Park, the Paradox in Tustin and Rouge et Noir in Seal Beach.
The idea of Steve Martin entertaining at a
coffee house in Tustin has raised a lot of questions. What and where was the
Paradox? Almost no one in Tustin today remembers the coffee house, which took
over the Jamestown Village Theater location after its final curtain.
C. T. Gilbreath, a builder of fine homes and
the Jamestown Village shopping center, was a theater buff and included a small
theater at the rear when he planned the shopping center. Audiences sat in red
director’s chairs arranged in a semicircle around the stage.
Opening in 1963, the playhouse attracted full
houses in its early years, but eventually interest waned and the little
theater closed around 1968.
The Paradox, which opened soon after this, gave
many Orange County musicians their start. Steve Noonan, Greg Copeland, and
Jackson Browne, all from Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, interned there.
As both a performer at the venue and an emcee
at the club’s hootenanny nights, Noonan worked with Tim Buckley, Penny
Nichols, Mary McCaslin, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jennifer Warnes, Kathy
Smith, and Jimmie Spheeris as they were launching their careers.
Earl Scruggs, probably the best banjo player
who ever lived, was another Paradox alumnus. He invented (or at least
popularized) the threefinger picking style used in bluegrass music. He also
wrote what is probably the second-most-famous banjo tune ever, “Foggy Mountain
Breakdown,” which was featured in the Bonnie and Clyde movie. He also wrote
and performed the theme for The Beverly Hillbillies TV show, and appeared as a
guest star on the show a number of times.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band gave its first
performance at the Paradox before going on to bigger and better things
including the Johnny Carson show. Some 40 years later in 2007 they were
recognized with a Grammy Award.
Margaret Pottenger, proprietor of The
Jabberwocky, a popular shop for teenage girls, is one of the rare people
recalling the theater, only because she held fashion shows there. However she
has no recollection of the Paradox.
Stephen Gilbreath, son of C. T. and manager of
Jamestown Village today, doesn’t recall ever going to the Paradox even though
he was a Tustin High School student during its heyday. Apparently Tustin High
School students were not into folk jazz.
Today, no sign of either the Village Theater or
the Paradox remains in Jamestown Village. The location at the rear on the
south side of the complex is occupied by a beauty salon and spa. Other popular
Orange County folk jazz coffee houses suffered similar fates. Prison of
Socrates is now a pizzeria while the Mecca became Aloha Family Billiards.