California Theatre

2113 Kittredge Street,
Berkeley, CA 94704

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California Theatre Berkeley

The T & D Theatre was built for live theatre and movies. Designed in a Greek Revival style by architect Albert W. Cornelius, it opened December 9, 1914 with the Italian movie “Cabiria”. It had an orchestra and was equipped with a Wurlitzer 2 manual, 7 ranks organ which had been transferred from the Embassy Theatre, San Francisco. Two more ranks were added to the instrument.

It was taken over by West Coast Theatres in early-1928 and was closed on May 5, 1928 for remodeling to the plans of architectural firm Balch & Stanbery, reopening on October 10, 1930 as the New Fox California Theatre with Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers in “Follow Thru” and organist Floyd Wright playing the Wurlitzer organ. It was remodeled in 1952 and the Wurlitzer organ was removed in 1954, transfering to Vallejo. The Clifornia Theatre was triplexed on April 9, 1976 and renamed California Cinema Center. The California Theatre has been operated by Landmark Theatres since 1994.

Known as ‘The Cal’ to locals, the theatre closed in 2001 and was reopened by Landmark on June 28, 2002.

Contributed by Ian Grundy

Recent comments (view all 41 comments)

chronicler
chronicler on October 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm

This theatre was built in 1913, not in 1920.

Year: 1913 Building permit #: 3418 Address: 2115 Kittredge Street Owners: Turner & Dahnken Architect: A.W. Cornelius Contractor: Kidder & McCullough

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 25, 2014 at 4:50 pm

chronicler is correct. I suspect that the mistaken opening year of 1920 was taken from this photo information page from the Berkeley Public Library, which is titled “California Theatre under construction” and dated 1920. It is wrong about both.

The parked automobile in the foreground is clearly from the later 1920s, and if you zoom in on the license plate you can see “CAL 30” on it, so the photo probably dates from 1930, and certainly not from 1920. Zooming in on the sign at the lower right corner of the theater you can read most of it. It says “This Theatre is being completely rebuilt for Fox West Coast Theatres.” William Fox did not take over West Coast Theatres and add his name to it until the very late 1920s. The photo clearly depicts a remodeling that took place around that time.

The T & D chain became part of West Coast Theatres in 1923. The name T & D Theatre appears in the Berkeley Daily Gazette as late as March, 1923. The name California Theatre appears in the paper in May, 1923. This indicates that West Coast Theatres probably took control of this house early that year and changed the name soon after.

chronicler
chronicler on November 20, 2014 at 5:23 pm

The T&D Theatre was renamed the California later than April 1923. It was still advertised as the T & D on 30 June 1923. By the beginning of October, it was the California.

chronicler
chronicler on November 20, 2014 at 5:29 pm

The news that West Coast Theaters acquired the T & D chain first appeared in the Oakland Tribune on 20 March 1913:

“For a consideration of $1,675,000 the West Coast Theaters, Inc., a Southern California concern in which Sol Lesser, the Gore brothers, Adolph Ramish and Joseph Schenck are interested, took over the T. & D. holdings from Mrs. Hattie Turner, widow of James Turner, and Fred Dahnken, founders of the circuit.”

lateslice
lateslice on January 16, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Hi, i work at the Cal.To answer a question from above;the two theaters upstairs seat 185, and the mainfloor is 600 capacity.

gabrielbarr
gabrielbarr on April 19, 2015 at 7:06 am

Great history! Does anyone know when the marquee was made? It looks like it is not from the 20’s or 30’s. It looks newer. Just my guess.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 19, 2015 at 12:19 pm

gabrielbarr: An earlier comment by long-time Cinema Treasure member William says that the California theater got a Skouras-style remodeling in 1952. That was probably when the current marquee was installed.

There might have been an earlier remodeling under the Skouras regime (major theaters in the chain would get an updating every few years, and the California would have been due for one in the late 1930s or early 1940s) but the pre-war marquees tended to be more elaborate than the one on the California, so it is most likely a post-war creation, and thus most likely installed as part of the 1952 project.

walterk
walterk on February 12, 2018 at 6:01 pm

This was the third Berkeley theatre built by Messrs. James Turner and Fred Dahnkan, the previous being the Berkeley Theatre (1911) and the Varsity Theatre (1912). They divested of both these venues before opening the T&D.

The last show under its original name took place September 16, 1923, a double bill featuring “White Shoulders” with Katherine MacDonald, and “A Noise in Newboro” featuring Viola Dana. An ad in the previous day’s Berkeley Gazette announced that afterwards the house would be closed for “extensive alterations”, reopening the following Saturday, September 22, and that its name thereafter would be the California.

The following Friday an announcement ran in the Gazette that the opening was to be delayed until the following Wednesday, September 26. The opening night’s feature was “Within The Law”, starring Norma Talmadge.

Ads for the final show, subsequent delay, and re-opening night now in the photo section, along with two ads announcing the 1914 opening.

rivest266
rivest266 on August 13, 2018 at 8:39 am

This reopened as the California Cinema Center on April 9th, 1976. Ad in photo section.

walterk
walterk on October 2, 2018 at 9:18 am

The California was one of three Berkeley theatres acquired by Fox when it took over West Coast Theatres Inc. in early 1928, the other two being the UC Theatre and the Campus Theatre.

One early action Fox took was to mothball the California, it went dark for just over 29 months after the May 5th presentation of Norma Talmadge starring in “The Dove”. That day’s Berkeley Gazette carried two items from the California Theatre, one announcing the final showing of “The Dove” that evening and mentioning “tonight will be that last opportunity to see a show at the California Theatre.” The second, also in relation to The Dove, mentioned that “The California Theater closes its doors tonight for the summer”, which it had never done in the past. There were no ads for shows at the California from this date until October 7, 1930, when an advertisement announcing the “Grand Opening of Berkeley’s New Fox California Theatre” on October 10 appeared.

The Berkeley Gazette featured an 8-page section in its October 9 issue with numerous items written by the Fox publicity department. According to one of these, the original California was “torn down, a sacrifice to progress”, which was not the case, it was seriously gutted and reworked, which included a new facade. The remodel took 8 months and was said to cost $250,000. The original Greek Revival style of the auditorium was replaced with a design theme billed as “A Symphony in Modernism”. It was designed by the Los Angeles firm of (Clifford) Blach and (Floyd) Sanbery, Architects and Engineers.

The auditorium was described as “Neutral walls flowing into a proscenium arch distinguished for its block motif presented in shades of buff and desert sand. Organ Grills of pale gold stand out in silhouette against a background wherein pastel greens rose and browns blend in conventional pattern. Auditorium ceilings repeat the design and the rose note is accented again in richly upholstered seats of plush and leather”. The stage curtain was described as “shimmering orange velvet with its border and floral pattern of royal blue. Silver sequins and multi-colored jewels lend added brilliance”.

A two-sentence item mentioned that the California had a “new and magnificent $25,000 Wurlitzer pipe organ”, the console of which was “finished in Roman gold” with “raised fleur-de-lis designs on either side that contribute further to its modernistic and individual appearance.”

I checked the Wurlitzer opus list to get details, there is no record of a new organ being installed at the California in 1930, and all instruments installed that year are accounted for.

The venue was however home to a Wurlitzer, opus 85. Moved there in the spring of 1917, Opus 85 had originally been installed the previous year in this theatre in San Francisco. It was a style 3 Sp with a two manual console and 7 ranks. Two additional ranks were added when it moved to Berkeley. Opus 85 wound up going to the nearby town of Vallejo in 1954, where parts were used in restoring opus 1833.

The feature opening night was the Paramount romance comedy “Follow Thru”. Also on the bill were a Mickey Mouse cartoon, a talking dog comedy, newsreel, travelogue and an organ concert by Floyd Wright.

Added to the photo page are a 1914 architect’s drawing of the original T & D Theatre, a photo taken during the 1930 renovation, a circa 1932 photo of the recently remodeled Fox California, and two of the 1930 opening night ads. My thanks to the Berkeley Historical Society for the scans of the photos, also for aiding me in obtaining the scan of the architect’s drawing.

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