Metropolitan Will Not Renew Lease for Oaks Theater

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Sunday February 07, 2010 - 08:41:00 PM
Metropolitan Theaters will not renew its lease for Solano Avenue's Oaks Theater.
File photo by Richard Brenneman
Metropolitan Theaters will not renew its lease for Solano Avenue's Oaks Theater.

Five years after taking over Solano Avenue’s Oaks Theater, Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Theaters has decided not to renew its lease when it expires at the end of February. 

Berkeley broker John Gordon, of Gordon Commercial, told the Daily Planet Friday that Metropolitan had been losing rentals to other theaters, such as AMC and neighborhood rival the Albany Twin, theaters that have been more successful in acquiring the latest Hollywood blockbusters. 

“They [Metropolitan] were out-of-town operators and Oaks was the only theater they owned in Northern California,” Gordon said. “They were not able to book films as someone who has more of a presence here.” 

Gordon has already begun the search for a new tenant, advertising the 16,000-square-foot Art Deco movie theater for 75 cents per foot. 

“We are out looking, even as we speak,” Gordon said. “We would like it to stay a movie theater.” 

Metropolitan’s owner, David Corwin, could not be reached for comment Friday. 

A historic building designed by the Reid Brothers in 1925, the 1,000-seat, two-screen Oaks Theater was handed over to Metropolitan in 2005 by Allen Michaan, owner of another Reid Brothers creation, Oakland's Grand Lake Theater. 

In an interview with the Planet at the time of its sale, Michaan said, “The Oaks is the best theater in Berkeley in the best neighborhood in Berkeley. The problem is that we were not able to get the first-run art films we wanted.”  

Gordon is hopeful that the location of the Oaks—at the top of Solano Avenue, a lively commercial district—will attract another movie theater owner. 

Michaan, whose firm Renaissance Rialto, Inc., restores Art Deco movie houses and helps bring vintage films to new audiences, said at the time of the sale that it had been difficult to get the kind of movies he wanted for the Oaks Theater because of the control that powerhouses such as Regal Entertainment and Landmark Theaters have over movie distribution in Berkeley. 

An 85-year-old family-run business, Metropolitan didn’t have plans to bring about dramatic changes to the Oaks when they took over, but had hopes of expanding its offerings and turning the theater into more of a family destination. 

Gordon said he was sad to see Metropolitan leave. 

“I never knew a landlord who wanted to see a tenant go,” he said. “It’s a big chunk of money ... But compared with the volumes at the other theaters in town, it wasn’t doing well. So they weren’t interested in renewing the lease. The economics of movie theaters have changed—it’s all about big theaters, megaplexes and DVDs." 

Recounting a recent trip to the Oaks to watch the Meryl Streep movie Julie and Julia, Gordon said, “They had opened up the mezzanine, and it was good to see the crowds there, but at the end of the day they were just not able to compete with AMC on blockbuster films.” 

“Take Avatar for example,” he said. “You don’t see a movie like that at Oaks, you see it on four screens in Emeryville. Multiplexes are changing the ways people view movies—some of them are even offering food and hard alcohol. That sort of thing leaves Metropolitan at a disadvantage.” 

Landmark Cinemas remodeled downtown Berkeley's Shattuck Cinemas last March to lure moviegoers with love seats, kobe beef sliders and cocktails. 

The million-dollar upgrade has worked well for the theater so far, although the rest the block is still struggling with retail vacancies. 

Metropolitan’s biggest presence is in Santa Barbara, and the company currently operates 21 theaters with 104 screens in California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and British Columbia.