Varsity Theatre

616 2nd Street,
Davis, CA 95616

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Showing 23 comments

Mikeyisirish on January 12, 2014 at 12:45 pm

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

Prof David Ducay
Prof David Ducay on October 15, 2013 at 7:15 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.

GeorgeStrum on June 4, 2012 at 8:44 am

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

AlanSmithee on September 20, 2010 at 2:14 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?

alabhaois on May 17, 2010 at 9:30 pm

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.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 6, 2009 at 4:44 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.”

kencmcintyre on February 17, 2009 at 6:23 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.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on November 20, 2008 at 9:25 am

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.

valvann on December 18, 2007 at 11:29 am

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.

valvann on April 24, 2006 at 9:43 am

The Varsity opening was actually Thursday April 6th, following the interior remodeling, including a beautiful new concession stand faced with copper, and the foyer redone in a rich red color scheme, new carpet etc. Besides the feature “Thank You for Smoking”, the program included a short film on the history of movies and movie theaters in Davis.

LJC on February 22, 2006 at 2:57 pm

Latest remodel news:

The projector has been rebuilt. A new sound system is being installed and a new screen is being constructed on the stage. The cinema will re-open on 16th April 2006. The first feature will be “Thank You for Smoking.”

More information here:

kencmcintyre on December 27, 2005 at 5:05 pm

1957 photo. The marquee is partially obscured by a tree:
View link

jpfenske on December 14, 2005 at 7:12 am

I am one of the partners who will be leasing the Davis Varsity, and we are in total agreement with the comments made in the Oct. 8, 2005 post.

The theatre has lost alot of its original grandeur over the years. We are going to do our best to restore it. This includes: attempting to replicate the original art deco murals, building the concession stand at its original location, replacing the glass doors at the front, investigating whether we can remove the white paint from the brick, removing the bow tie benches on the sidewalk, upgrading the entire color scheme of the theatre (carpets, wall fabrics etc), and many other smaller “moderne period” touches.

valvann on November 5, 2005 at 2:39 pm

The original July 1949 plans for the Davis Varsity Theater confirm that the designer was “William B. David & Associates”, “Industrial Designers” San Francisco. The plans were signed by an architect named Horstmann; this is typical of David’s MO: because he wasn’t licensed, submitted plans were always signed by a licensed architect or engineer of the firm, but David was the actual designer.

The city owned Varsity has just been leased by a local group who intend to operate it as a single screen art/indy film theater after making some upgrades & alterations, mainly to the interior.

valvann on October 18, 2005 at 4:32 pm

Oops, sorry, not Lark, PALM in San Mateo.

valvann on October 18, 2005 at 4:32 pm

The photo link above (actually from Special Collections, UC Davis) was taken in 1951, when the theatre was about a year old. By 1953 the house to the left was replaced by a bank building. The house to the right is still there (it’s on the National Register).

To see a sister theatre (design-wise), check out the photo links for the Lark in San Mateo (just demolished in July 2005)

kencmcintyre on October 18, 2005 at 4:21 pm

From the UCLA Digital Archive:

View link

valvann on October 8, 2005 at 10:14 am

Opened June 9, 1950 with 850 seats.
Interior decoration by Santocono of San Francisco.
Architect “unknown” but strong possibility William Bernard David.

Only recently designated a City Landmark (1998).

The $800,000 1992 renovation for legit theater under city ownership essentially reduced the auditorium to half its original size/seats (400), installed performance theater stage & facilities (dressing rooms, etc. at the screen end), which removed whatever was left of the original end of the auditorium & the proscenium & murals (after the twinning; I’m not sure what was left after that), removed the foyer concession stand to make doors to access a special seating platform at the back, and in general eliminated all traces of the original interior, including whatever was left of the murals.

All that’s left of the original interior is the neon over where the concession stand used to be and a curved wall that used to have a mural, now covered with weird wallpaper. All this was before the Landmark designation, so stuff, like destroying the murals, happened that wouldn’t have if it had had historic resource protection, to prevent somebody remodelling or redesigning it to suit their own ideas.

The exterior also has taken its lumps over the years, including the recent renovation: it has been painted white, so the original color scheme (earth tones) and textures (brick, concrete) are negated, along with a number of other original design features. Some weird “artist” etched doors were added. The original blue, white & silver terrazzo floor of the lobby/entry is still there.

The theater is now closed more or less since the local theater group found quarters elsewhere. A proposal to do another renovation and operate by private company as a single screen art/indy theater is under review Sep-Oct 2005; the main idea is to get some kind of economically sustainable operation on the property.

AlanSmithee on May 5, 2004 at 2:47 pm

If anyone cares (I certainly don’t), the last movies shown as a twin were Taking Care of Business and Flatliners.

AlanSmithee on May 5, 2004 at 2:44 pm

The 2 platters used when it was a twin are now in the 2 new theatres at the Crest!

AlanSmithee on May 5, 2004 at 2:43 pm

Was an awful twinned theatre from 1976-1990, with fixed-ratio screens and mono sound. Mercifully de-twinned in 1992. The two projector heads used during that time are now installed in screens 3 and 4 of the Holiday Cinema and have been working fine.
The projector, screen and sound system from the now-closed Cinema 2 are at the Varsity, though I don’t think they’ve ever been used for a public film showing outside of a short demonstration. The platter went elsewhere since they didn’t think it would fit, but turns out there is room for one so last I heard they were trying to get one.