Arts & Events
The Cerrito Theater opens Wednesday for the first time in more than 40 years, operated by Speakeasy Theaters, the same folks who run Oakland’s Parkway Theater.
Speakeasy is kicking things off with a signature blend of classic and contemporary screenings: Michael Curtiz’s 1942 classic Casablanca and Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 breakthrough Pulp Fiction.
The theater was built in 1937 by the Blumenfeld family, owners of a chain of Bay Area movie theaters. They built the Oaks Theater on Solano Avenue and operated Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas, as well as a host of other theaters in Marin, Solano, Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The Cerrito was designed by architect William B. David.
The drive to restore and reopen the Cerrito Theater began in 2001. The theater had shut down in the early ’60s and had, for most of the intervening 40 years, been used as a storage facility for Keifer’s furniture store. When the building finally went on the market and locals were allowed into the vacated building, they found the original art deco murals still intact. An advocacy group, Friends of the Cerrito Theater, was formed and the group then persuaded the city to purchase the building. Soon after, Speakeasy Theaters, operators of Oakland’s Parkway Theater near Lake Merritt, were enlisted to run the venue. And thus began a community-driven restoration process that has seen the interior details restored, a second theater added upstairs, and the installation of a brand new marquee, lit for the first time last week.
Catherine and Kyle Fischer, co-founder of Speakeasy Theaters, were excited by the opportunity to not only open a new theater, but to be part of a community effort to revitalize a long-forgotten treasure. Fischer says the partnership is a good fit. “We’re known for building community,” she says. “And we’re a lot of fun!”
Fischer says the Cerrito will feature many of the same popular hallmarks as the Parkway: food and beverages (including alcohol), couches, table seating as well as traditional theater seats, and over the next few months, Fischer says, the theater will roll out some of its popular programming features, such as the Baby Brigade, a night for parents with babies. The Parkway bases much of its programming on community input, and the Cerrito will do the same, taking feedback from their customers in shaping a schedule that will likely include a blend of new and classic films, family films, and festivals.
The Cerrito opens Wednesday with Pulp Fiction at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and Casblanca at 6 and 9 p.m. The schedule will be repeated on Thursday. For more information, see www.picturepubpizza.com . For information on the restoration or to join the Friends of the Cerrito Theater, see www.cerritotheater.org.
The Cerrito Theater opens its doors Wednesday. Photograph by Richard Brenneman.