January 29, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
John Currant, Associated Press
Golden Theaters began as a small time, local business in San Francisco shortly after the rush of pioneers, miners, and entrepreneurs headed west to California for gold. Castle Cabaret, as it was originally called, was a business founded on harsh whiskey and dancing girls. If a little extra on the side paid the bills, then Wellman Castle would look the other way. When the gold mines dried up and vaudeville took over the entertainment world, Castle’s daughter Hattie and her husband Edward Topham brought in entertainers from the East Coast to perform in their theater on the north side of the bustling town, affectionately called (by some) the Barbary Coast. After the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed much of the city, hoards of patrons and performers banded together to rebuild their beloved theater. Lemuel Castle, Harriet’s brother who took over upon the death of her husband in 1905, looked upon the glorious structure that, like the city itself, rose from the ashes, and supposedly claimed, “Look at what we as a community have built. An effort that was golden from a populace founded upon gold.” With that, Golden Theaters was born. When “moving pictures” began to be all the rage, it was the Topham-Castle clan that brought “movies” to California.
Now, after 160 years of entertaining people all over the country, word out of San Francisco is that Golden Entertainment, Inc. is looking to expand their role in the entertainment industry by dipping their hands into other realms of the entertainment world.
Walking into the Grand Ballroom of the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco, wearing his trademark Giants cap, Michael Topham approached the podium, removed his cap and addressed the gathered press. “Golden Entertainment has been proud of our roots as a home grown business that has expanded nationally, with theaters in over 1,000 cities nationwide,” said Topham, great-great-great grandson of Wellman Castle and Golden Entertainment CEO. “Even with the advent of the multiplex, we have been able to hold onto our single screen houses because our audiences view coming to one of our ‘houses’ as an experience. The quality of workmanship in our theaters, the quality of food available, personable employees – all have gone a long way in making Golden Theaters one of the leading revenue generators in the movie industry.
“I am here to announce that Golden’s Board of Directors has approved an ambitious plan to expand our business and diversify our holdings. In the last year we have quietly purchased twelve amusement parks across the western half of the US, including the historic Santa Cruz Beach & Boardwalk and Denver’s Lakeside Amusement Park and Elitch Gardens. We have bids out on three mall projects in conjunction with the Mills Corporation, one of which we are still looking for approval from the Port of San Francisco on land across from old AT&T Park. Finally, we are waiting approval from the Las Vegas Hotel-Casino Commission for our concept hotel and casino which we tentatively are calling ‘Gold’. We’ve a plot of land between the newly built Wynn’s and Palazzo and across from Trumps and Treasure Island. We feel this end of The Strip is a rapidly expanding area and we look to capitalize upon that fact.”
Financial pundits question the bold moves Topham has planned for Golden Entertainment, especially during the tough financial times as the global economy enters a fourth straight down year. Experts suggest that Golden is throwing their money away on projects that are destined to fail, while others hail the moves and point towards the timetable for the projects. The Mills deal is projected to not even begin until spring of 2013 at the earliest. Reports are the Gold Casino will break ground in early 2012, with their doors opening in late 2014. Many of the amusement park deals are small, family-oriented ventures that may be tied into new theater deals. With major projects not even reaching fruition until 2014 or later, clearly Topham is looking ahead and counting on an improved economy.
Shares of Golden Entertainment (symbol: GLDN) finished up $1.25 on Friday, closing at $88.88 per share.