Varsity Theatre

616 2nd Street,
Davis, CA 95616

Unfavorite 4 people favorited this theater

Varsity Theatre

This was the second Varsity Theatre to operate in Davis. It opened June 9, 1950 with “The Eagle and the Hawk”. It was designed by architect William B. David, with Art Deco style murals on the splay walls of the auditorium designed by San Francisco based designer Gale Santocono. It operated as an 850-seat single screen movie house until 1975. From 1975 to 1990 movies shown on twin screens.

In 1992, it was de-twinned and from October 10, 1992 to present, it has been run by the City of Davis as a community theater presenting live entertainment and occasional movies. In 2015 its program consists of 1st run movies and independent movies.

Contributed by Bob Bowen

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

valvann on December 18, 2007 at 2:29 pm

The city has approved construction of a smaller 2nd screen theater in the back part of the Varsity (the part behind the main screen that was turned into dressing rooms etc for a performance venue in the 1990’s remodeling; when most of the original interior was finally destroyed.)

The current use as an indy film theatre is doing well, and the gelato concession is operating in the east front of building which originally was a small store front occupied for 50 years by a local insurance agency.

The City of Davis owns both the Varsity and the 1800’s mansion property next door; both are city Landmarks; the mansion is on the National Register and the theatre qualifies to be.

As mentioned above, the plans to open a cafe “next door” to the Varsity by one of the current theatre partners are proceeding when the city fathers & mothers recently voted to approve the cafe project after a long & highly contentious environmental impact process.

Sadly for the case of historic preservation, the cafe, to be located in the ground floor of a new modern 2 or 3 story office building between the two historic landmarks, will involve sale or lease and clearing the small hundred year old orange grove on the mansion property and relocating the mansion’s 130 year old Tank House. The Mansion will lose about 1/3 to ½ of its remaining gardens as the new building will fill most of the space between the theatre and mansion, drastically altering the visual relationship between the two buildings that has been unchanged since the Varsity was built in 1950.

The modern cafe building project was supported by the downtown business interests and friends of the theatre operators, but virtually unanimously opposed by the historic preservation community, including the city’s own Historic Commission, causing a nasty split in local historic interest groups who otherwise applauded the reopening and renovation of the Varsity.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on November 20, 2008 at 12:25 pm

It appears that this should now be the official web site:

View link

This isn’t the most elaborate web design in the world. But it is clear that they spent a little bit of money to make sure the results turned out to be respectable.

kencmcintyre on February 17, 2009 at 9:23 pm

There was a story in Boxoffice magazine, June 1946, about the Varsity Theater being sold by the Luft family to Davis Theaters, Inc. The article mentioned that the Varsity had been operating for about 25 years at that time, which would put the opening around 1921. Since the listed Varsity opened in 1950, I’m wondering if there were two Varsitys or alternatively if the 1950 opening was not a new theater but some kind of remodel.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 6, 2009 at 7:44 pm

There were indeed two Varsity Theatres in Davis. The August 5, 1950, issue of Boxoffice carries this brief item: “The old Varsity Theatre building will be razed in Davis to make way for a new store.”

alabhaois on May 18, 2010 at 12:30 am

Does anyone know who created the original murals? As a kid, I used to stare at them every time I went to a movie (I was always a bit early) and they utterly fascinated me.

AlanSmithee on September 20, 2010 at 5:14 am

Sometime last year they added a 2nd screen, but this time it’s behind the current one in an area that used to be a backstage area when they did live shows. I haven’t been in since this was done so I don’t know what’s changed- the screen they put in the main auditorium upon re-opening was MUCH too small though, and they’ve been pretty lackadaisical presentation-wise. Several movies I’ve seen there were platter-scratched- how dumb do you have to be to do that when you’re only running ONE screen?

GeorgeStrum on June 4, 2012 at 11:44 am

On June 28, 2012 The Theatre Historical Society will be visiting the Varsity. Phone 630-782-1800 for more information.

Prof David Ducay
Prof David Ducay on October 15, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I recall double dating with my girlfriend back in 1987 at the Varsity theatre. Remembering that it was a really small theatre with stadium type seats if I recall correctly. A screwball comedy film that we watched called “Ishstar” with Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. The film was not one of their best, it was the first time and last time I ever saw a movie at this theatre.

Mikeyisirish on January 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm

A few January 2014 photos can be seen here, here and here.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater