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It’s the End For Act 1&2 Theatre By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Tuesday March 28, 2006

A Berkeley cinema staple for 35 years has closed.  

Act 1&2 Theatre at 2128 Center St., showed final screenings of C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America and Summer Storm to sparse audiences Sunday before closing down for good. 

The lease for the two-screen cinema, owned by Landmark Theatres, had run out, said Vice President of Marketing Ray Price.  

He refused to comment on specific reasons for the closure, but said, “In general, one of the problems with theater properties is the retail value of the square footage is higher than the value of the theater. Other retail venues can better afford to pay that.” 

“It’s not uncommon,” he said. 

Landmark operates 57 theaters nationwide and specializes in art-house first-run independents, foreign film classics and other nontraditional cinema. In the East Bay, the company owns the California Theatre, Shattuck Cinemas, Piedmont Theatre and the Albany Twin. It acquired Act 1&2 in 1994. 

Employees who chose to stay with the company were given the option to transfer to other theaters, said Act 1&2 Manager Chris Hatfield. 

Last week, a theater employee told the Daily Californian on condition of anonymity that the theater was closing because low customer turnout was exacting a toll on financial solvency. Price would not confirm that. 

“No one will comment on the financials of theaters,” he said. 

But it’s not a mystery why small cinemas are struggling, said Grand Lake Theater owner Allen Michaan. 

“It’s just getting harder and harder for people to survive,” he said, pointing to a wave of small theater closures in San Francisco in recent years, including the St. Francis, the Alexandria and the Coronet, which shut down last March. 

In Berkeley, eight theaters compete for moviegoer dollars. Additional competition comes from surrounding megaplexes including the 16-screen AMC multiplex in Emeryville, built in 2002.  

Moreover, the film industry itself is in a slump. In 2005, box office admissions were down 8.7 percent in the United States, from 1.54 billion to 1.4 billion, and down 7.9 percent worldwide, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. 

Industry watchers quibble over whether the drop results from the wide availability of DVDs—some released simultaneously when films are screened—increased ticket prices or a slew of underwhelming movies. 

Landmark as a whole, however, appears unfazed by the downturn. The company added 11 screens in 2003 when Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner of 2929 Entertainment took ownership from Dallas-based Silver Cinemas. 

The company constructed a new theater in Washington, D.C., in 2004, a cinema lounge in Indianapolis in December, and is in the process of implementing a DVD retail division. 

The building housing Act 1&2 was built more than 70 years ago, and had been a furniture store, a shoe store and a children’s clothing boutique before it was reinvented as a cinema in 1971..