California Theatre

351 Railroad Avenue,
Pittsburg, CA 94565

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California Theatre Pittsburg

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A pioneering entertainment center, the California Theatre was built before the Oakland Grand Lake (1926), Oakland Fox (1928), San Jose Fox (1927), the SF Curran (1922), the SF Golden Gate (1922), the Lafayette Park (1941), the Berkeley Oaks (1926), the SF Castro (1922) and the SF Orpheum (1926).

At 6:45 PM, on Tuesday, May 4th, 1920, the California Theatre opened its doors for the first time and hosted a gala event. The theatre cost $65,000 to build, and was a landmark for Pittsburg, showing the best in Hollywood films and booking entertaining vaudeville acts. There was a constant supply of live performances available, and was a stomping ground for many performers in, among others, the Fox vaudeville circuit.

The California Theatre sat unattended and empty since the week of February 15th, 1954. Because of inattention the theatre suffered extensive damage to the inside of the auditorium, including fallen plaster, lost artwork on the walls, and sagging and weakening throughout the main hall. Any vestige of being a movie house is gone; no seats, no movie screen, no projectors. The original marquee was removed in 1975.

The City of Pittsburg dedicated funds to renovate the theatre as a community-based performing arts venue. In June 2011, the city council approved fast track funding, to allow for restoration. A replica of the 1920 marquee was installed in 2010. The community envisioned that the theatre will bring in desired business and commerce to the area. It has dedicated itself to revitalize downtown Pittsburg, and has been successful in beautifying the downtown area.

The California Theatre reopened on January 15, 2013, initially using 300 seats located in the orchestra. Work to restore the balcony seating area continues……

Contributed by David Smith

Recent comments (view all 18 comments)

Patsy on February 14, 2007 at 5:53 am

What happened that this theatre was allowed to just sit and be neglected? And what happened to the movie screen, projectors, seats, artwork? A b/w photo shows that the Califoria was completed stripped which is a crime. So when reading the words “extensive damage” that sets the tone and the very uphill battle the community is faced with today. What was the church plannning to do with the organ? When I read….“The organ is installed in a far less than desireable environment, but it remains largely intact” it made me wonder why they let it go to a “far less than desireable environment” condition!

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 6, 2007 at 6:19 am

Here is another article dated 4/3/2006.

“Theater could return to glory days: PITTSBURG: Council to vote tonight on contract for preservation work on once-grand California Theater.

Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.
Byline: Laurie Phillips

Since the California Theater closed more than half a century ago, the only people who have been inside the downtown Pittsburg landmark are vagrants and people repairing the roof and facade. Today, the theater could move a step closer to reopening its doors if the City Council votes to approve a contract with an architectural group for the preparation of exterior and seismic strengthening designs, plus plans and specifications related to the first phase of preservation work. The approximately $422,000 the group estimates it will need for the drawings and plans would come from $2.5 million budgeted by the city’s Redevelopment Agency for initial work on the theater, which closed in 1954 and has been in disrepair since at least 1991, when the roof was discovered to be leaking. Since the city bought the building in 1970, the facade was restored in 1993, the roof was sealed and an alarm was added last summer to keep out trespassers.

When the California opened in 1920, it was the grandest theater in Contra Costa County, said Pittsburg resident Tom LaFleur, who has studied its history and what would be needed for the venue to reopen. He attended one film there — a Western — when he was 6. But LaFleur said his attachment to the theater is not nostalgia, it’s the building’s aesthetics, historical value and community role it would play as a gathering place. He called theaters “secular churches.” He said he was encouraged that the city hired a firm to do the initial work but dismayed that the group estimated it will need 12 to 14 months to complete it. The first phase would include steps to make the front part of the building usable. That includes putting the marquee back on the building, renovating the lobby and offices, and adding an elevator and rest rooms accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The work would protect the auditorium, which is in poor condition and would be repaired later, City Manager Marc Grisham said. He called the action before the council a “very important first step.” “As Old Town evolves — and I think it will evolve very quickly — I think we will find opportunities to put the theater back in place,” he said.

In the meantime, Grisham said, city leaders, the Pittsburg school district and residents should focus their efforts on improving the theaters inside the Creative Arts building, a facility he called “just as good” as the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. This week, people in downtown Pittsburg considered what a reopened California Theater could mean for the area. “It would bring more business down here,” said Pittsburg native Danae Bonds. “All we have is the Creative Arts building, and that’s fine for plays and little high school things, but we need something else.” Roger Tumbaga of Pittsburg called the action before the council “a great idea,” saying it would start the process of improving the building’s safety and opening it for films and community events. “This is eventually going to be a destination point for the city,” he said".

tomdelay on April 10, 2007 at 6:36 pm

Point of fact, the organ from the Cal Theatre Pittsburg has been purchased by a determined organ preservationist. This person has a proven track record for quality restoration work. It would be great if the original Morton organ could go back to the Cal someday—but that is a long way off.

Brad Smith
Brad Smith on February 14, 2010 at 8:31 am

Click here to read an article about plans to restore the Beaux-Arts style California Theater into a community performing arts center.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 15, 2011 at 3:30 am

There is now a web site for the California Theatre. Not all of its internal links work, but the photo and restoration links do.

The announcement in the October, 1918, issue of The Architect and Engineer that architect A. W. Cornelius had been engaged to design a new theater at Pittsburg for the Enea Brothers noted that the Eneas were already operating a theater in Pittsburg called the Palace.

The only other place on the Internet that I’ve found the Palace mentioned is this page at Silent Era. Does anyone have any additional information about it?

wurl240 on January 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm

The Enea brothers and David Solario constructed the Pittsburg Palace Theatre about 1910. Demolished in the early 1970s. The California is now (2012) being refurbished for a May, 2012 re-opening. Due to California’s budget woes, the theatre restoration budget has been reduced to about $6 million. More than $20 million, I was told, was needed for a first rate job. The 3/10 Robert Morton sits in storage about one mile away. As of January, 2012, the Pittsburg city council and mayor have pushed to have the organ reinstalled. It had been threatened by a HVAC plan that wanted the air handling system placed (you guessed it..!)in the organ chambers. Preservation advocate Tom LaFleur has pushed for the organ installation and costs should be largely covered thru private donations.BTW—a nephew of the Enea brothers (theatre owners) played the original Smith 2/11 in the Twenties and later did intermissions in the Thirties on the Morton.

Carol_Schapker on June 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

An important element in the development of any communities' culture lies in the local theater. It is a pleasure to see not just a resto-mod but a full restoration performed on the crown jewel of downtown Pittsburg. This commitment to cultivating good times in the downtown area demonstrates our level of commitment to quality of life in Pittsburg, CA.

Mikeyisirish on June 26, 2013 at 9:17 am

Does the marquee light up at night? Is there a current website?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 26, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I lost track of this one. The California Theatre officially reopened on January 19, 2013, and is now slated to be the home of the Pittsburg Community Theatre. The closest thing I can find to an official web site for the theater itself is its Facebook page, which has a few photos. There is some stud lighting crowning the marquee, but the attraction board does not appear to be lit from within. I can’t find any events currently scheduled.

CaliforniaTheatre on August 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm

We are OPEN and ready for business!

Our website is:

Like us on Facebook and see our upcoming events:

For rental or other inquiries contact me directly at:


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