Oakland’s Grand Lake owner vows to keep going

posted by CSWalczak on July 20, 2010 at 7:40 am

OAKLAND, CA — Some thought he was crazy when he bought it, and it doesn’t really make him much money, but Allen Michaan, the owner of the 1926 Grand Lake Theater, still believes his theater is unique and one of the last bastions of the classic movie-going experience. He’s added 3-D and changed the bulbs in the theater’s terrific rooftop sign, but in other ways, going to this theater treasure is like stepping back in time.

But Michaan, who once operated 20 theaters in the Bay Area, has no intention of letting his last one die. He talks about the Art Deco theater as if it’s a living being – an old hunting dog that hasn’t caught a fox in a while, but he can’t bear the thought of putting it down.

“I would feel really, really bad if something happened to this building – if it wasn’t a theater,” Michaan says. “The Grand Lake is special. It’s one of the last of its kind. I sort of feel like I made a lot of money here over the years, and I owe it to the theater, even though it doesn’t make me any money any more.”

The full story, with pictures, is at SFGate.com.

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Comments (14)

bruceanthony on July 20, 2010 at 9:28 am

Im glad Allen is sticking with the Grand Lake and put some money back into it. The Grand Lake was a cash cow until the building of the multiplex theatres in Emeryville and Jack London Square which has plenty of parking. The Grand Lake was at its most beautiful during the roadshow years of the mid to late 1960’s after a remodel by National General.I have seen movies here since 1959’s Ben Hur through Harry Potter. I haven’t attended the last couple of years becuase the theatre was starting to look rundown. Im glad Allen is putting money back into the theatre and I will have to come and check it out. I wish the Grand Lake could reposition itself like the Stanford Theatre or maybe a mix of classics and first run.Allen is correct there are very few first run movie palaces left in the United States and we should treasure what we have left.brucec

RobertAlex on July 20, 2010 at 10:00 am

I lived 4 blocks from the amazing Grand Lake from 89-97. This was the only place to go see a movie in the Bay Area. Although at the time most of the single screens in the City were still alive (Metro, Cinema 21, Alhambra, Coronet, etc), The Grand Lake stood above them all, and for a good film all my friends would come out from the City to see a movie here. They were the first theatre in the area that installed Digital Cinema Sound for the run of Dick Tracy. They then installed DTS soon after.

Every weekend night there were lines to see movies here. There was an excitement to seeing a film in that magnificent auditorium, usually close to being sold out. I heard that the curtain in the main house was from the original Fox San Francisco. The two smaller add on houses were small and narrow, yet with the incredible themes and the small balconies, even these were fun to see a film in. It was always a great show at the Grand Lake.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on July 20, 2010 at 12:39 pm

I’ll never understand WHY fans of CT bother wasting their time and money in multiplexes… sorry, I mean LITTLE BACK BOXES. They’re all alike with postage stamp size screens… and run by kids and CANDY MERCHANTS who have zero talent with regard show business.

I fully resent the “chains” constant bombardment of commercials and trashy movies coming sometime during the next decade.
Leave these cold and loud places to the little teenyboppers and their utter obsessions with their stupid and ridiculous texting.

Even more enjoyable at the Grand Lake is to enjoy the live music from the Wurlitzer pipe organ while looking around in wonderment at the magnificent decorations and beautiful curtains!!!

davidkaye on July 21, 2010 at 3:18 am

Movie palaces had been doing better the last few years due to the distributors opening the doors to additional theaters for first-run shows. SF’s Castro and Balboa and the Grand Lake benefited in being able to book some first-runs.

But I guess that first-run option is fading. The Castro is closed 4 nights this month. The Balboa continues to struggle (Gary Meyer says he does not take any salary from the Balboa). It looks like times are tough in the movie theater biz.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on July 21, 2010 at 11:21 am

Don’t you think that if our nation of struggling cinema owners were to cut back on the number of daily presentations -who needs noon-time or 11pm movies?, then operating expenses, and losses, would help ones bank account.

Multiplexes could further $ave a few more bucks by not running the film OR lamp if zero tickets are sold for that auditorium.

Further more, I truly believe that more patrons would attend if admission prices were to drop below the $10 + range. Also, who out there actually publicize that they offer “MILITARY DISCOUNT”?

Two more suggestions… One; CLOSE on the slowest day of the week: Mondays (?) and Two; TIMING is most important to those of us who do NOT have enough time to get home from work, feed the family, drive to the cinema, search for parking, get tickets and a ton of junk food and be seated in time for a screening at 7pm!!!
Please consider a 7.30pm show.

movietheatres on July 21, 2010 at 10:49 pm


You clearly have no experience in the logistics of operating a cinema that offers first run commercial product. I own a small chain and you really sound just like those idiots who when the power goes out get pissed because “we didn’t just rewind the movie.”

You can’t close on Mondays…you are forced by the studios to be open 7 days. You are forced by the studios to do mulitple showings per day. You don’t have an option.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on July 22, 2010 at 11:47 am

Hey Mister small chain “Rude Boy” JDC…
Go tell your story to the owner of San Francisco’s fabulous Castro Theatre… they do exactly what I mentioned above and are still just about the most popular single screener in the bay area!

Thank God I don’t work for you.

PeterApruzzese on July 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm

The Castro is not a first-run theatre, so they do not fall into the “open 7 days” and showtimes policy that the Grand Lake and most other first-run locations do.

qavishahzad on July 23, 2010 at 2:30 am

Go tell your story to the owner of San Francisco’s fabulous Castro Theatre… they do exactly what I mentioned above and are still just about the most popular single screener in the bay area!
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terrywade on July 26, 2010 at 11:49 am

Go check out the new 3-D system the Grand Lake has in the large theatre. It is the best in the Bay Area, tons of light and great 3-D if the movie was filmed in true 3-D. I will not spend my extra 3-D money on movies that are made in 2-D and converted over to a poor mans 3-D. When the Grand Lake Theatre was run by Fox West Coast Theatres in the 50’s and early 60’s this was a great place to see showmanship in operation and I am glad Allen still keeps the history going at this classic East Bay movie palace. Even the up stairs balcony cinema is fun to watch a film on a semi large CinemaScope screen. Thanks Allen for having different low colored lights on when the movie is on. If your tired of the Multi Shoe Box cinemas go visit the large downstairs #1 Grand Lake Theatre. Now if only the Castro Theatre in SF can put some blue bulbs when they have a film showing like in the main overhead large light and organ grill curtains plus border stage bottom title curtain lights with blue/purple Led’s they can be more like the Grand Lake. Let’s send the Nasser brothers(owners of the Castro)over to the Grand Lake in Oakland and the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto so they can see how It’s done with color lights.

Dramatrauma on August 7, 2010 at 4:18 am

Oaklands a couple hours away so I can’t support the Grand Lake regularly, but for a chance to enjoy such a CinemaTreasure Ive seen more then one first run movie a second time when I was in town.

Wow JDC, I knew about the multiple showing clause for first run cinemas, but didnt know about the 7 day a week rule. Youd think the studios would relent on Mondays. As many times as I have enjoyed going to teh movies on Mondays (I work in theater so often Monday is my Friday) I feel bad for the added expense/effort of owners and weary managers to open a near empty house.

amirkey01 on August 23, 2010 at 2:46 am

Agreed with indian girls
They are still just about the most popular single screener in the bay area!

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