Fine Arts Cinema Officially Dead

posted by gsmurph on July 16, 2004 at 9:20 am

BERKELEY, CA — Theatergoers of Berkeley, CA and the East Bay recently suffered the end of an era of repertory cinema when the Fine Arts Cinema was officially declared dead.

Patrick Kennedy, owner and developer of the apartment and commercial complex being completed on the cinema’s former site, said that the last operator, Keith Arnold, had informed him that he had given up on reopening in the building bearing its name because he had been unable to raise the $800,000 to $1.2 million necessary to outfit the unfinished space offered by Kennedy.

In 2001, Kennedy had unveiled plans to demolish the Fine Arts and two other buildings and replace them with the Fine Arts Building, which would incorporate housing, a restaurant, an art gallery, and a two-screen theater that Arnold and his partner Josephine Scherer could use to screen their art-repertory movie fare—-provided they paid an estimate of $800,000 to fit out the theaters.

“Anyone who crunched the numbers would’ve realized it wouldn’t work,” said Leslie Landburg, daughter of the founder of The Cinema (the Fine Arts' original name). “The theater simply can’t make that kind of money.”

Despite a last-ditch effort by a group of cineastes enlisted by Landberg, Kennedy succeeded in getting a demolition permit, and the cinema was demolished on March 30, 2002.

“Kennedy just uses these people for PR,” Landburg said, “then puts them over a barrel to say ‘this is a done deal.’ But somehow it never is.

“it’s the same thing that happened with the Shotgun Players and the Gaia Building.”

When the Fine Arts Building opens, the theater space will stand vacant—-in much the same way as much of the first-floor space in Kennedy’s other buildings.

“It makes me angry,” said Elliot Cohen, a longtime habitue of the Fine Arts. “We lost an important cultural amenity.”

This is a summary of an article by Richard Brenneman that appeared in the July 2nd issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet. The full article can be accessed in the paper’s archive here.

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