A secret safe was found in a historic theater gutted by the North Bay floods

If you had something to protect in 1947 in the Bay Area, you might have gone to the Hermann Safe Company.

San Francisco’s most illustrious safe-makers, they’d provided the vaults for the Old Mint. They also sold commercial products, like small safes and money chests.

It was one of those money chests that was purchased by the River Theater in Guerneville. It boasted incredible security. In order to open it, you needed to crack the combination dial and have two keys to open the inner lock; one key was meant to be kept off-site. The theater had good reason to protect its assets. Among its visiting talent over the years were Frank Sinatra and Buddy Holly.

The River Theater kept its safe in the box office. At some point, it was encased in concrete. And then it was forgotten.

This year, the River Theater has undergone major renovations. Back in February, Russian River floods gutted the first floor. Owner Jerry Knight and volunteers from KGGV 95.1 FM, the community radio station, have been fixing up the place. Last week, they were working on the old box office when someone got through enough concrete to reveal the safe’s face.

Now, they’re hoping to get past the facade and into its tantalizing interior.

“That amount of degree of security, there’s going to be something in it,” Knight told The Press Democrat.

There are a number of barriers preventing Knight from cracking in. Brute force doesn’t seem like an option; the passage of time has not softened its tough exterior. The keys are both missing — “Bad news if you’re the only one here and there’s a gun to your head,” Knight said — and the combination lock is so rusted it may not even work.

But Knight is hopeful someone will reveal the tiny vault’s secrets. He’s thinking of letting visitors try their hand at the combination, a neat ploy to also get folks to visit the historic theater. There’s plenty of speculation in Guerneville about what’s inside — gold, silver, a deed to the Sonoma County town — and just a bit of trepidation.

After all, like Geraldo Rivera once learned, sometimes the contents of a dusty vault are best left to the imagination.

Katie Dowd is an SFGATE Senior Digital Editor. Contact: katie.dowd@sfgate.com | Twitter: @katiedowd

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/mystery-safe-guerneville-river-theater-14130995.php.

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