Fight for The California Theatre

Berkeley’s California Theatre
is in danger.

Landmark Theatres’ 20-year lease for the California Theatre in Berkeley expired in October 2021 and the current owners declined to renew it. The theater’s future is unknown. The 108-year-old theater is now at risk of disappearing forever. The Art Deco Society of California filed an application (you can download it here) with Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the building a historic landmark.

UPDATES
May 8, 2022
In a meeting on May 5, the Landmarks Preservation Committee awarded landmark status to The Cal's facade and marquee only, with no protection for the rest of the building, and no limitation on the height of newly-proposed construction.

Thank you to the dozen or so members of the public who attended and spoke at the meeting. Commissioner Finacom, comparing The Cal to the Greek Theatre, presented a motion to add a note saying that The Cal possesses cultural – and not just architectural – significance. Commissioner Adams opposed the motion, citing the appearance of Theodore Roosevelt at the Greek as an example of why he opposed. Apparently for Adams, the early history of cinema, which The Cal also represents as an early T&D Theatre, is not culturally significant. Ditto the appearances of Hollywood movie stars, executives, local filmmakers, and documentarians at many of the theatre's openings and events.

Sadly, no one on the board moved to support Finacom's motion, so it was denied.

We are disappointed, but there's plenty more to fight for, as proposed development moves through the zoning, design, and planning stages. On a good note, the prospective developers are working closely with a nonprofit performing arts consortium to create a space in the building for live performance (and some film).

Don't sit by while the city changes around you – citizen action is the only effective check we have on thoughtless development. Watch this space for details on how you'll be able to help in the near future to make sure this building continues to be a touchstone for culture and the arts in Berkeley and the Bay Area.

April 28, 2022:
Here are the Zoom meeting details for the May 5 Landmarks Commission meeting, during which the application for The Cal's landmark status will be reviewe:

Please attend this meeting to voice support for keeping the theater as a cultural destination, not just as a facade for another apartment building. If you can't attend, send a letter. You can use the template we created, or use our suggested talking points to write your own letter.

Email your letter to FCrane@CityofBerkeley.info (please send your letter as an attachment so it can be printed out to put in the application) and reference Application #LMIN2022-0001.

Or, mail hard copy to:

Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission

c/o Fatema Crane, Secretary

Land Use Planning Division

2120 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA 94704


April 12, 2022:
Today Friends of The Cal sent a letter, with 60 influential signees, in addition to a petition with over 400 signatures, to the Berkeley City Council, urging them to take an active part in building a coalition to preserve The Cal as an important cultural and community meeting place – if not exclusively as a movie theater, then as a hybrid, offering film, community events, and live performance.


March 30, 2022:
The Cal’s predicament got some national exposure on ABC's one-hour primetime special, "24 Months That Changed the World.” Though the program was elegiac in tone, we think The Cal’s demise is far from a foregone conclusion. Watch the entertainment segment of the show here.

Landmarking is just a first step….

This gem was originally built in 1914, remodeled in the Art Deco style in 1929-1930, and again in 1952, when the fabulous neon sign and marquee were added. One of the last 12 Art Deco theaters in the Bay Area still in good shape and mostly intact, The Cal serves as a grim reminder that historic movie theaters are disappearing every day, and once they are gone, they are gone forever.

Berkeley's Arts district (Berkeley Rep, Jazz School, Freight and Salvage, BAMPFA, Aurora Theatre, and even the UC Theatre’s new live music format) is wonderful, but Berkeley needs cultural destinations that all, not just the affluent, can afford to attend.

You can help keep this theater alive:

JOIN the Friends of the California Theatre Facebook Group to pow wow with others working on saving the theater as a performing arts venue.

LIKE the Friends of the California Theatre Facebook Page to tune in to the latest city planning updates and milestones.


Questions?