How to Help
On May 5, 2022, Berkeley's Landmarks Preservation Commission considered The Art Deco Society of California's application for The Cal and 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.
There's plenty more to fight for, as proposed development moves through the zoning, design, and planning stages. Also, the prospective developers are working closely with a nonprofit performing arts consortium to create a hybrid performing space. We'll be working closely with this consortium to help guide the direction of the project.
Watch this space (or check our Facebook page) 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.
What's the history of the California Theatre?
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.
Why is the California Theatre important to Berkeley?
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.
The Cal has provided a valuable link between the university and downtown arts, and its loss would mean there would be no large-seating theater in the Berkeley downtown district of any historical, cultural, or aesthetic significance.
What makes the California Theatre notable?
In recent years, the California has hosted numerous community events: Q&As by well-known local activists Robert Reich and Jake Kornbluth, who came three times during the run of “Inequality for All”; Ryan Coogler, who twice held packed houses of potentially disruptive school kids in rapt attention for over an hour by encouraging them to participate with him and their classmates in a real discussion about “Fruitvale Station” with his Q&A’s, which encouraged them to focus their minds on positive solutions, words, and actions); Planned Parenthood (which, during the run of “Juno,” set up an information table in the lobby that not only provided pamphlets, but condoms & other accoutrements, and one-on-one conversations with interested patrons). The list goes on.
Aren't movie theaters over with? Everyone streams now.
The pandemic has accelerated the demise of movie theaters, but that doesn’t mean The Cal can’t go on, supporting a variety of performing arts options. It can adapt, as the UC Theatre did. People will go out more in the future, but that can’t happen if we let valuable community resources like The Cal slip away.
Why is the California Theatre important to you?
Share your memories of going to the theater and how it's been an essential part of the cultural and social fabric of Berkeley and the surrounding Bay Area.