5.21.2009

The Cerrito Theater - I Won't Write a Eulogy

Imagine: a movie theater within walking distance from home, where the concession stand bursts with home made brownies, veggie burgers and pints of local beer. The 1930s late-Art Deco structure has been renovated to its original grandeur; the cozy individual theaters split evenly between seats and giant, plush couches. There's no Digital Dolby sound, or Imax-sized screens, but they play a cartoon before the feature - - only a cartoon; no loud, frenetic previews. Here, you might find the new Paul Rudd comedy I Love You Man, or the mega blockbuster The Dark Night, and if you're lucky, you'll make it to a Sunday showing of a classic; Rear Window, Indiana Jones, or the 1930s version of War of the Worlds. The best part? Admission for two = $14. Unless it's Wednesday, that is - because that's two-for-one night.

Sounds amazing, right?

That place? It existed, here.

Cerrito Theater, El Cerrito California, May 21, 2009

For this little city, locked between the violence and struggle of Richmond and the indie fabulous Berkeley, lost within high cost of so much in the Bay Area, the Cerrito Speakeasy was a sanctuary. It was a symbol of what's important; community, family, and great entertainment all wrapped up in one historical package. A place where I always felt welcome among friends.

The woman in white is, in fact, staring shockingly at the letters on the marquee. When she saw me snapping photos, she asked, "what happened"? I told her about the situation that had lead to the closing of the Cerrito Theater. As I finished, she clutched her belly, which barely formed a tiny baby bump, and said, "I was so excited to bring her to Baby Brigade".

As we chatted, two middle-aged men walked up to the ticket window and peeked in the doorway. One turned to me and said, "Are they closed for the day?" She and I exchanged a glance. "No, it's an indefinite thing" I replied. The man turned to his friend with wide eyes. "What happened!" the other asked.

So, what happened? Of course, money; like the Parkway that fell before it. This story, however, is frustratingly sad, between the Fischer family (who opened and ran the theater) and the city of El Cerrito who seem unwilling to compromise. That being said, the unfortunate truth is that neither party is fully accountable for the desperate times The Cerrito has faced.

Built in 1937 and operated until the early 60s, the Cerrito went dark for over 40 years and was used as a furniture warehouse. In 2001, the theater became available for sale, and a group of citizens called Friends of the Cerrito Theater organized to save the building and turn it back in to a movie theater. The city of El Cerrito purchased the building, and hired the Fisher family (of Speakeasy Theaters) to run the business. Over the next few years, the Fischers (along with many donors and the Friends of the Cerrito Theater) renovated the building and in 2006, the doors were opened once again.

Last month, the Fischers were forced to close their flagship theater, the Parkway, in downtown Oakland because of financial issues. While it was hoped that the closing would bring business to the Cerrito (and it did), a matter of only weeks passed before the same fate befell the second theater. If you're interested in reading the details, you find them here.

With the Fischers' lease being terminated, the website for the Friends of the Cerrito Theater has blogged that they are in full support of working to find a new operator for the establishment as quickly as possible. Sadly, in this economy, there will be nothing 'quick' about this situation. I sincerely hope that the City Council, who have been the acting party, understand what they've lost when the corner of Central and San Pablo Avenue is dark.

2 people's thoughts:

david May 21, 2009 at 3:33 PM  

well put. It is a sad story made that much more complicated by the fact that no one is at fault...it just is what it is. We can pull the couch around in front of the tv, eat some popcorn out of a metal bowl, watch a popeye cartoon, and an old classic. It was great to share movies with you there.

manateelotti May 27, 2009 at 1:17 AM  

That is so sad... Yes, I only got to go once but it was such a great experience... I'll keep my fingers crossed that they will find a solution!

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