Varsity Theatre

616 Second Street,
Davis, CA 95616

Unfavorite 3 people favorited this theater

Showing 1 - 25 of 30 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.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on November 11, 2009 at 7:52 pm

This is a close-up shot of the Varsity.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 6, 2009 at 5:23 pm

I found the address and I’m going to submit the other Varsity Theater. I’m adding both of your names (ken mc/Joe Vogel) to the new Varsity Theater listing.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 6, 2009 at 4:59 pm

There is a 400 seat Varsity Theater listed for Davis in the 1940 Film Daily so there was a Varsity Theater operating prior to 1950. No address is given.

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.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on October 25, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Another photo can be seen here.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on December 28, 2007 at 8:57 am

This is a recent night view of the Varsity.

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.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 5, 2007 at 7:22 am

Here is a 4/7/2006 article about the Varsity Theater.

“Varsity’s here to play: Spruced-up Davis theater opens as home for independent films.

Source: Sacramento Bee
Byline: Pamela Martineau

Apr. 7—Culture vultures can now watch first-run independent movies in Davis, as the city-owned Varsity Theatre was reopened Thursday night as an elegant venue for “indie” films.

The newly remodeled theater aims to satisfy local residents who have long complained that Davis didn’t have a permanent venue for such films.

“It will satisfy a major craving in Davis,” said Sinisa Novakovic, who with business partner Jon Fenske launched the venture in the historic theater at 616 Second St. in Davis' downtown.

“It would be embarrassing for a university community not to have an independent movie theater,” Novakovic added.

City leaders joined a throng of excited local residents Thursday night for the sold-out grand opening. The theater debuted the independent film “Thank You for Smoking,” a satirical comedy about a tobacco industry spokesman. It’s the first showing of the movie in the region.

“Downtown Davis has been transformed over the last two years, and this is our crown jewel,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sue Greenwald, referring to the city’s many new restaurants and other businesses.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Davis resident Kelli O'Neill said of the new movie house as a jazz band played outside the theater while people waited for the doors to open. “It’s like having the Tower Theatre in your own backyard,” O'Neill added.

Tammy Pohlof Woodland said the new theater fits in nicely with the restaurants, bookstores and art galleries she and her husband love to visit in Davis.

“This will be part of our night, coming to the theater and seeing a good movie,” Pohl said.

The two multiplex theaters in Davis have occasionally offered independent films on weeknights, but have not offered first-run films.

Before the main movie Thursday, moviegoers watched a brief documentary on the Varsity’s history by a young British filmmaker who lives in Davis.

“It’s an iconic building in Davis,” said filmmaker Liam Creighton. “Nothing in town looks like this.”

The Varsity Theatre was built in 1950 by a company called Westside Valley Theatres in a style related to Art Deco called Streamline Moderne. The architectural style features smooth curves and horizontal lines. The theater thrived for many years, but business tapered off as multiplexes proliferated in the region.

In 1990, the first of two multiplex theaters was opened in Davis. It was owned by Signature Theatres, which also owned the Varsity by that time. The company moved to close the smaller Varsity. The city eventually purchased the Varsity and operated it as a venue for live performances, lectures and other events. But it still struggled financially.

When the Davis Musical Theatre Company – one of the primary tenants at the Varsity – opened its own theater, the city entertained proposals for other ventures that could operate from the venerable theater. Novakovic and Fenske won out with their idea to open an indie film venue.

Novakovic runs a popular cafe called Mishka’s a block from the Varsity. Fenske is an engineer. Novakovic said he hopes to move Mishka’s adjacent to the theater and to open a gelato store called Icekrimski on the other side.

The two men are leasing the building from the city and spent about $120,000 for improvements. The city also contributed about $85,000 in renovations.

Improvements include plush seats, surround sound stereo, a concessions stand, carpet and a movie screen on a movable platform. The venue will be available for lease to community groups.

The theater is at 616 Second St. in Davis. Film tickets can’t be purchased in advance, but can be bought at the box office the day of the show".

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