Place

“It’s a really sad thing,” Dale Sophiea, a manager at the theater from 1998 to 2016, told SFGATE last Thursday prior to confirmation of the news.

He said he was aware that a dumpster would be dropped off in front of the theater’s iconic blue-and-yellow marquee, which is now adorned with a melancholy message: “Visit the Shattuck.” (The Shattuck, the Albany Twin and Piedmont theaters, also operated under Landmark, will remain open).

“Right now, they’re putting everything in piles and sending things to the other theaters that can still be used,” including projectors, cups and concession supplies, he said. “It’s too great of a place to lose, and it has such a rich history.” 

Good night sweet prince 🥀

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— Michael Campos-Quinn (@mcamposquinn) October 18, 2021

Originally named the T&D Theatre, the Greek Revival-style movie palace provided a space for live performance as well as films. Designed by architect Albert W. Cornelius, the single-screen-turned-triplex theater reportedly opened in Dec. 1914 for a screening of the Italian silent film “Cabiria,” complete with a live orchestra and a Wurlitzer organ transported from the Embassy Theatre in San Francisco. In 1994, Landmark purchased the venue, operating it as the California Theatre. 

Sophiea’s own favorite memories at the theater included screenings of the 2004 Michael Moore documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” 

“The whole city of Berkeley turned out,” he said. “The Cal was the number-one-grossing theater in the country for it on opening weekend, and we had sold-out shows every single day, with lines around the block.”

A photo of the California Theatre taken in 2002. 

A photo of the California Theatre taken in 2002. 

Courtesy of Dale Sophiea
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Sophiea said the 600-seat theater was the largest indoor auditorium in downtown Berkeley, and that its loss would have a residual impact on smaller theaters like the Shattuck and the Albany, not to mention the downtown corridor. 

“There’s going to be nothing left to draw people down there anymore,” he said. 

The fate of the theater remains unclear — Gerber said Landmark was unaware of the property owner's plans — but Sophiea is holding out some hope that it will survive to screen movies another day. He noted that a report from the city of Berkeley had declared the theater as “historically significant due to its distinctive architecture” and found it eligible for landmark status through the National Register of Historic Places. 

“It’s a beautiful building, and deserves to be preserved as a movie theater,” said Sophiea. “I don’t see how they could turn it into anything else.”

Source : https://www.sfgate.com/sf-culture/article/Too-great-of-a-place-to-lose-107-year-old-Bay-16563313.php

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