California Theatre

2113 Kittredge Street,
Berkeley, CA 94704

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mlind on January 21, 2013 at 10:03 am

At one point it was called the Fox California.

Mikeyisirish on December 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm

A few July 2012 photos can be seen here, here, here and here.

MagicLantern on March 1, 2011 at 4:52 am

Anyone got a breakdown of number of seats in each auditorium?

kpdennis on April 25, 2009 at 1:41 pm

The Cal as it appeared in spring 1996:
View link

kencmcintyre on January 1, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Here is a photo showing the opening of Fahrenheit 9/11 in June 2004:

larrygoldsmith on September 15, 2008 at 10:14 am

Terry, Me again. In regards to proper title curtain cues, at the beginning of a film usually the “Trademark” is shown first, curtain should remain closed during this time. There usually a short dark period right after trademark is shown, this is the curtain open cue. If film preludes the trademark the curtain cue would be immediate.NEVER should a curtain open on a blank screen, that’s why there are curtain cues. The end of a film will show the curtain cue with a small “splash” at top right of screen, which is not the same as a changeover cue. Also, curtain should be closed and reopened if previews are shown before feature showing feature trademark on curtain. In the old days this format was followed, if the projectionist was well seasoned. Fox West Coast Theatres, NGC Theatres used to monitor to make sure this curtain procedure was followed.

terrywade on September 14, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Hi**The downstairs theater at the California is the same size as it was before in the 50’s. They only twined the balcony into two small cinemas. They put in a smaller flat screen and moved it up a little. The curtains are still on the sides but they don’t work,the motor is broke. Landmark does have curtains that work across the street at another cinema they run. They have them only because the original owner had put them in. Every time I go to the Landmark Albany or the California I always tell them If you can’t fix your curtains then at least put some blue, green or red lights on the boring white screen. I watch people come in 20 minutes before the film starts and look at a white screen. Sometimes music will be playing or you may be lucky to see video adds run with the house lights up to wash all the add image off the screen. How nice If the California got the motor fixed and put in some blue lights on the curtain like the old days. Some projection managers at Landmark don’t even know the proper way to work the curtains they do have. Some theatres will open the drapes to a dark white screen then wait and start the film. I think the best way is to start the film then open the curtains so you have the film showing on the drapes as they part to the screen. Same at the end close them on the last 10 seconds while the credits are still on the screen. This can be done with the auto tabs moved up a little.

larrygoldsmith on September 13, 2008 at 8:23 pm

The problem with Landmark Theatres is that they lease theatres for the most part. Some are owned. They have always “milked” their theatres, rather than “operate with showmanship”. Luxury like an operating title curtain, is not important to them. Nothing worse than going into an auditorium and staring at a blank white screen. I am sure due to downsizing for a twin cinema is the reason there is no Cinemascope screen. A theatre must have plenty of depth to accomodate this type of screen, due to visual comfort of patrons.Fox West Coast/National General Theatres ALWAYS maintained a level of showmanship that was hard to find with any other chain.

terrywade on September 13, 2008 at 7:35 pm

Larry***I think the old Fox West Coast managers that ran this once grand small movie palace would be very upset at the current condition that the California Theater is in now in 2008. Like I have said in a past note Landmark is not going to spend a penny on theatres they just lease that they don’t own. How nice If someone came in like ‘Sundance’ and put in a large curved Cinemascope screen with curtains that was once in the downstairs part of the theater. At least with all the people that have complained in the last three weeks and lost business Landmark Theaters is now back to advertising in the Cronicle again starting this past Friday with the times of all their theaters in the SF Bay Area. Thanks to true theatre managers like the Fox West Coast/NGT team at least some of us got to see true showmanship at the once grand California Theatre.

larrygoldsmith on September 13, 2008 at 3:47 pm

I would love to hear what long time ex-manager, Jim Scurlock would have to say about the current operation of this theatre. During the time he was there, it was operated by National General Theatres, later, Mann. It remained a first class house during the NGT days. Mann let it go to pot, does'nt look much better now.

kencmcintyre on October 31, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Here is a 1980 photo from the LA Public Library:

terrywade on August 11, 2007 at 9:59 am

Next time you go complain that the curtains don’t work. Wait till you hear what the manager tells you. I don’t understand why they put in such a small screen in the downstairs part. The manager says it’s because they had to move the screen up during the seismic work. It can still be enlarged on the sides. The projector is in a strange area below the old balcony. The lens looks plastic not a good image. Landmark won’t spend any $ to fix the curtains or put in a larger screen. I remember seeing with my parents in the 50’s a double bill of The King & I with Anastasia when it was a big single screen house with 4 track stereo on a huge curved cinemascope screen. No wonder people are staying home and watching Dvd’s. The California needs to bring back that showmanship experience. At least they do have some nice lights up on the side walls in the upstairs twin and use red and blue bulbs.Someone must be awake still at the CAL. With all the students going to school at UC this is a hot spot for good movies.

mlind on March 26, 2007 at 8:48 am

California Theater under construction in 1920.
View link

rkoch on May 21, 2006 at 2:14 pm

Went to an opening night after a remodel in either 1934or 35. Lovely theatre, steep balcony, excellent projection. Floyd Wright[not Geo] played the organ there for a couple of years then he went to the Golden Gate.I,myself, installed an RCA sound system{PG 142] for FWC about 1948-9 replacing the old Western Electric[ERPI] set that was there.

William on March 29, 2006 at 12:39 pm

The California Theatre was given a Skouras style remodel in the early part of 1952. The theatre reopened to the public on May 14th. 1952. During this time the theatre was operated by Fox West Coast Theatres.

cinecityposters on March 23, 2006 at 8:13 am

The kids in my West Berkeley neighborhood on Acton St. south of University went to the California often in the early 60’s. During the summer they had matinees that one could attend for a few soda bottle caps. I recall seeing The Lost World and Journey to the Center of the Earth on one such double bill. There were mimeographed programs for the matinees and I would love to find one. I’ve been looking for over 15 years. btw I can see the marquee from my office window.

gsmurph on April 19, 2005 at 1:54 pm

Perhaps it’s just some peculiarity of mine, but I actually find the two balcony theaters more “classic” than the main one(!). Did the California ever have a proscenium—-or was it one of those “open-spaced” (for lack of a better term) live theatrs? Something for a real theater historian to ponder…

gsmurph on September 20, 2004 at 8:07 am

The original architect of the T&D/California was Albert W. Cornelius.

PaulF on September 17, 2004 at 12:32 pm

In response to “jedleland”: I stand behind what I said about the weak visual and the terrible sound problem 100%. Maybe Eternal Sunshine was playing on two of the Cal’s screens, and one was better that the other. Possibly you are a theater owner or manager lashing out to protect your business. All these three movies you mention are of course “dazzling” films… as films…but seeing/ hearing them as projected through an algae covered fish tank is not what I pay 9 bucks for. I wish I was you and could blissfully enjoy these movies presented this way, but alas…to my acute senses..(ears and eyes checked only two weeks ago)…the experience is excruciating. As for cutting edge cinematography: I had seen the Hidden Dragon courtyard scene in three other places before I saw it at the dark as an Oregon cave Act 1 theater…most detail was lost…and I know “Eternal Sunshine” is experimental and even has a lot of “lo-fi”45 rpm noise and reverse looping in it’s soundtrack , but it’s hard to appreciate through a blown drive-in movie speaker. That said, the Act1 and 2 provide a priceless service with their midnight movies and their screening of the only print of Bruce Campbell’s “Running Time” was an awesome event, which I’ll be forever grateful for. Which leads one to think that they (Landmark ) like movies , but that someone’s giving the order to keep the bulbs low to save money, and that their “plants” â€"theaters , are falling into disrepair. And sorry, I didn’t really mean to bulldoze the pretty building, (the Cal) , but that it might be better utilized as a ballroom or something.

jedleland on September 13, 2004 at 3:03 pm

I also saw “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” at the Act 1, “Return of the King” at the Grand Lake, and “Eternal Sunshine…” at the California – twice. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the audio or video at any of these shows, in fact the Grand Lake and California offered dazzling presentation.

Is it possible that PaulF might want to see an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist, or bone up on cutting edge uses of cinematography.

PaulF on June 23, 2004 at 2:48 pm

Hi…didn’t know who to write/ talk to. We saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind at the California theater… 4/10/04. The screening was a disaster. The projection bulb was “low”…the image was dark, blue-ish…you had to strain to see details…I’m actually used to that. But the sound was another story- it was turned up to ear bleeding levels and the speakers sounded shredded. Loud is good , as in a good rock'n'roll record…loud as in killing squirrels in just negligent or teenage workers goofing around or bad policy. (one projectionist on the inet used the term “blown speaker drivers”) No one complained that I could see, which is terrible…people just accepting this. It was heartbreaking/ frustrating because this was an extremely important, anticipated movie. As was Hidden Dragon which got the same low bulb treatment at the Landmark Act 1 theater. This treatment of these movies is signaling the death knell for 9 dollar a head public theaters. We saw the third Lord of the Rings at the Grand Lake theater in Oakland, CA..and I could tell in the first minute that it will look better on our 249.00 dollar tv at home. Preserve and protect indeed….I’ve always said I would throw myself in front of the bulldozers if they were heading for the Castro Theatre (S.F.)…but I can’t say the same for the California.

JimRankin on May 27, 2004 at 3:16 am

This theatre is one of some 200 that could be described as “Skouras-ized For Showmanship” which is the title of the ANNUAL of 1987 of the Theatre Historical Soc. of America. In the late 1930s through the 1950s, there occurred on the west coast of the United States a phenomenon known as the ‘Skouras style’ in recognition of the oversight of the Skouras brothers in their management of several cinema chains. They employed a designer by the name of Carl G. Moeller to render their cinemas/theatres in a new style best described as ‘Art Moderne meets Streamlined Rococo.’ The then new availability of aluminum sheeting at low cost was the principal material difference to this style allowing for sweeping, 3-dimensional shapes of scrolls to adorn walls and facades in an expression that would have been much more expensive and not at all the same in plaster. With the use of hand tinted and etched aluminum forms, the designers could make ornaments in mass production that allowed much greater economies of scale. The ANNUAL also shows in its 44 pages how some 20 theatres were good examples of this combining of aluminum forms with sweeping draperies heavily hung with large tassels, and with box offices and facades richly treated with neon within the aluminum forms. Few of these examples survive today, but it was a glorious era while it lasted, and this collection of crisp b/w photos is a fitting epitaph by the late Preston Kaufmann.
To obtain any available Back Issue of either “Marquee” or of its ANNUALS, simply go to the web site of the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA at:
and notice on their first page the link “PUBLICATIONS: Back Issues List” and click on that and you will be taken to their listing where they also give ordering details. The “Marquee” magazine is 8-1/2x11 inches tall (‘portrait’) format, and the ANNUALS are also soft cover in the same size, but in the long (‘landscape’) format, and are anywhere from 26 to 44 pages. Should they indicate that a publication is Out Of Print, then it may still be possible to view it via Inter-Library Loan where you go to the librarian at any public or school library and ask them to locate which library has the item by using the Union List of Serials, and your library can then ask the other library to lend it to them for you to read or photocopy. [Photocopies of most THSA publications are available from University Microforms International (UMI), but their prices are exorbitant.]

Note: Most any photo in any of their publications may be had in large size by purchase; see their ARCHIVE link. You should realize that there was no color still photography in the 1920s, so few theatres were seen in color at that time except by means of hand tinted renderings or post cards, thus all the antique photos from the Society will be in black and white, but it is quite possible that the Society has later color images available; it is best to inquire of them.

Should you not be able to contact them via their web site, you may also contact their Executive Director via E-mail at:
Or you may reach them via phone or snail mail at:
Theatre Historical Soc. of America
152 N. York, 2nd Floor York Theatre Bldg.
Elmhurst, ILL. 60126-2806 (they are about 15 miles west of Chicago)

Phone: 630-782-1800 or via FAX at: 630-782-1802 (Monday through Friday, 9AM—4PM, CT)

RobertR on April 29, 2004 at 1:43 pm

I thought the Sound of Music sing along was a discrace

bruceanthony on April 29, 2004 at 1:33 pm

I recently saw The Sound of Music sing a long at the California. I liked what landmark did with the theatre. The California was a Fox West Coast/National General Theatres house for many years. I saw the Odd Couple here back in 1967 when it was still a single screen. The California boasts the largest screen in Berkeley but it is much smaller than the screen that use to be in this theatre. It would be nice if Landmark would restore the lighting in the ceilings and the curtain in front of the screen. The staff at this theatre loves working there and we had a long discussion of its history and when it was a single screen.brucec