Sunk down low into the rich, red velvet of the Mayfair's seats, I felt my fingertips move over the smooth skin of Joe-from-the-skating-rink's fingers as they laced in mine; we caressed palms, knuckles, nails; the magic of this sensual delight summoning awareness of my impending adolescence, my own awkwardness merged with a guilty pleasure that I would carry for the next decade as I slogged toward adulthood.
I could hardly remember Joe's face even a week later, but the Mayfair Theater is etched into memory and soul. It was there I held hands for the first time, and there I saw my first movie sex scene (tame by today's standards). It was also where I became the ultimate movie patron, learning to suspend disbelief so completely that the only time I saw a horror film there, it sent me running to my parents' room every night for at least a week. I was 30 by the time I finally saw a movie I didn't like. Hunkered down on my velvet throne with a box of Dots or Milk Duds I spent the afternoons watching childhood classics, Bambi, Snow White, 101 Dalmatians, The Sound of Music, Fantasia. There was always a double feature and always cartoons before the movie started - four hours plus of movie goodness.
The Mayfair was simple, but intimate, with a cozy lobby and a lounge in the restroom. The lounge was shrouded in mystery with its leafy carpet, red-leather chairs and high frosted windows. It always felt as if something clandestine would happen as soon as I left, something more momentous than an underage girl buying cigarettes from the levered machine. From the outside, the Mayfair was a thing of beauty. The rounded entrance overhang faced diagonally across Santa Clara Street. The curved double doors were upholstered in button tuck vinyl and the small round windows gave movie-goers a little glimpse inside, even before they opened the doors. The outside wall along Ash Street featured colorful, oversized posters for upcoming releases, a herald for our future plans.
After newer, modern theaters opened further east, the Mayfair became the Pussycat, it's marquee continuously flaunting its new status, XXX, XXX. For far too many years, the Pussycat was the butt of many jokes, each one making me a little nostalgic for the Mayfair's former glory. Eventually though, the invention of the videocassette pretty much put an end to the adult theater business, and a few attempts were made to open the Mayfair again. Once someone tried to establish it as a coffee house, but the owners were ill mannered and mean, maybe too, just a little ahead of their time. Coffeehouses flourish, almost overwhelm us today, but back then, downtown at night was struggling to survive on a few bars and a club or two. Now it thrives, but sadly, the Mayfair is gone, razed a couple years ago to be replaced by townhouses, central to the downtown revitalization plan as was the new multiplex theater. It was sad to see the empty lot, but the gaping hole they dug to house the support structure crushed me the first time I drove by. I felt more than a little gloomy when I realized a landmark, a piece of bygone Ventura had been swept away, and along with it a piece of my own personal history.