After 107 years, Berkeley’s California Theatre closes forever

3 mins read

The film community in the Bay Area is saddened with the permanent closure of a theater that had been in service for 107 long years.

Dearly called by customers as “the Cal,” Berkeley’s California theatre has been closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in October, ex-workers there learned that they can possibly look forward to reopening.

The closure was announced on Thursday by Margot Gerber of Landmark Theaters, a chain based in Hollywood that owns the historic venue on Kittredge Street. The landlord, she said, refused to have the lease renewed, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

“It’s a really sad thing,” theater manager Dale Sophiea told SFGATE before the closure was confirmed. Sophiea has been with the theater since 1998 to 2016.

According to him, a dumpster dropping off in front of Cal’s signature blue-and-yellow tent does not come as a surprise. Now, the marquee is decorated with a sad message saying “Visit the Shattuck.” (The Shattuck, the Albany Twin and Piedmont theaters, also operated under Landmark, will remain open).

“Right now, they’re putting everything in piles and sending things to the other theaters that can still be used,” he said. “It’s too great of a place to lose, and it has such a rich history.” 

The movie place, which was originally called the T&D Theater, became a venue not only for films but also for live performances. The Greek Revival-style place was designed by architect Albert W. Cornelius and opened in December of 1914. It housed a single screen before, which later became three screens, and showed the Italian silent film “Cabiria” on its opening. The live orchestra features a Wurlitzer organ that came from Embassy Theatre in San Francisco. The venue was bought by the Landmark in 1994 and runs it as the Cal.

The former manager, Sophiea, fondly recalled memories at the place, including the “Fahrenheit 9/11” screening, a documentary by Michael Moore in 2004.

“The whole city of Berkeley turned out,” he said. “The Cal was the number-one-grossing theater in the country for it on opening weekend, and we had sold-out shows every single day, with lines around the block.”

The 600-seat theater, he said, is known to be the biggest indoor auditorium in downtown Berkeley. He said its closure leaves a remaining effect on smaller theaters including the Shattuck and the Albany.

“There’s going to be nothing left to draw people down there anymore,” he said.