God Calls Yost Theater Matriarch Phoebe Olivos

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Another part of old SanTana disappeared this week as Phoebe Olivos passed away July 23 at 89. The artists and hipsters who currently troll the city's downtown, marveling at how authentic the area is compared to the rest of OC while munching down on $9 "street" tacos owe her respect, as she was the matriarch of the Olivos clan who helped keep one of the county's few brick-and-mortar downtowns from the wrecking ball through their Yost Theater.

For decades, the movie palace located on SanTana's Fourth Street screened Mexican films, brought in film and movie stars from across Latin America, and served as the cultural focal point for OC Latinos. After gabachos left SanTana to the Mexicans in the 1970s (although don't believe the Know Nothing hype: wabs were always there), it was the Yost's continued vibrancy (and, in later years, the West Coast Theater the family purchased) that ensured those old buildings kept tenants and saved them for the city council's current gentrification plans. The Yost's takeover by city officials in 1985 remains the Chavez Ravine of Mexican OC history, an episode so traumatic it drove Phoebe's beloved husband Lewis to insanity and the rest of the family to ruin. Thankfully, after a quarter-century of use as a Pentecostal Church, the Yost is alive again, although few who use it, whether hipster or immigrant, know its full history.

Phoebe and her familia also helped desegregate SanTana's ritzy Floral Park neighborhood in the 1950s, only to be greeted by burning crosses. Born in Calexico but raised in Anaheim, Doña Olivos received her only real public recognition in a 1999 Los Angeles Times profile of the Olivos family. "It was a dream come true for [my husband] once we got the Yost, to have his own theater," Olivos told the reporter, but also adding that city officials "just wanted us out of there" as the years went on. The more things change...

According to the paid Orange County Register obituary in today's paper (how about a story on Phoebe instead of a front-pager on a $27,000 bed?), Olivos' viewing is tomorrow from 6 to 9 p.m. and a "Celebration of Life" service Saturday at 9:30 in the morn; both will occur at First United Methodist Church of Santa Ana, 609 N. Spurgeon Street. Burial at Fairhaven Memorial after.


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