The historic Cerrito Theater is one of El Cerrito’s hidden treasures.
The Cerrito Theater, located at 10070 San Pablo, re-opened in 2006 after being shuttered for decades. Since then, it has been resurrected as a community institution and epicenter of El Cerrito entertainment.
Friends of the Cerrito Theater, as a project of the El Cerrito Community Foundation, began to organize in 2001, when the building came on the market for the first time in 40 years. To their amazement, the El Cerrito activists discovered that the beautiful Art Deco murals and mirrors inside had survived! Efforts were directed towards saving the building and its interior artwork, while renovating the theater and restoring it to health.
BEFORE < SLIDE > AFTER
For over 40 years the Cerrito Theater remained in darkness, all but gone from public memory.
Much fanfare and celebration surrounded the Gala opening of the Cerrito Theater on Christmas Day, 1937. “Thin Ice” with Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power was the first movie shown. General admission was 30 cents, and a child’s ticket sold for a dime. Patrons looked forward to “Dish Night” when pottery was given away. During World War II, GIs were admitted free.
In 1937, newspapers featured pages of ads by local merchants welcoming the new enterprise. The Berkeley Gazette claimed it to be “…of luminous beauty with the finest appointments and most modern mechanical equipment. It will be the last word in comfort and luxury.”
William B. David was selected as the architect. He had designed a number of other theaters in California. He did not design a grand motion picture palace such as the Paramount in Oakland. Instead, he designed a small movie venue that would be a good fit for the El Cerrito community. According to a 1944 survey done by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Cerrito held 644 seats. A loge in the rear main floor area was considered a luxury for its elevation and exclusivity.
The oval jewel box lobby was embellished with Art Deco architectural elements. A blue mirror etched with the goddess Diana, hunting bow in hand, was prominent in the foyer. Deco chandeliers and sconces graced the ceiling and walls. Several doors had round portholes with blue etched glass windows. Some of these features can still be seen today.
DARKNESS INTO SUNLIGHT
In 1963, movie ads for the Cerrito Theater disappeared from local newspaper listings. Two years later, owner Naomi Goldenberg died. In 1966 Henry Goldenberg sold the Cerrito to the Keifer family and the lights went dim on a movie house that many had called “home”.
In 2001, the movie house came on the market again, and public interest in seeing it restored reached a feverish peak. In February 2002 the Friends of the Cerrito Theater, a project of the El Cerrito Community Foundation, was formed. On May 3rd, the City, with the help of the Friends, hosted an open house which drew 3000 people to view the theater and its wonderful murals. In June of that year, the Redevelopment Agency/City Council voted to purchase the Cerrito Theater for future restoration.
History research done by Pam Challinor
SECRETS oF CITY HALL AND DMV COMPLEX
El Cerrito's municipal complex, built in 2008, is one of the best city office facilities in the East Bay. Those in-the-know can pull right up to an EV charger in the parking lot. The adjacent DMV is often selected by many parents throughout the East Bay for their teenagers to take the driving test, because of the pleasant experience and smaller crowds.
The Ohlone Greenway terrain ranges from a bicycle path on city streets, to a dedicated course within an open green space right-of-way through Albany and El Cerrito. Most of this dedicated open space is a rails-to-trails site along what was formerly a railroad right-of-way.
BART X2, AND BIKE TRAIL TOO
With two BART stations, El Cerrito has plenty of transportation conveniences. The city has done a magnificent job of making use of the elevated track space in building the Ohlone Greenway. The incorporated 5.3-mile bike trail runs the entire length of El Cerrito, linking Berkeley to Richmond and Albany in between.
GREEN RIBBON TO ALBANY
Below the BART tracks on the Ohlone Greenway, formerly the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe right-of-way. With this connection to Albany, shopping and brunch doesn't always mean dealing with traffic. And, no matter where you live in El Cerrito, you're near a ribbon of park.