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Oaks Theater Finds New Tenant, One that Promises Foreign Fare

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 06:19:00 PM

Tired of watching the same old Hollywood blockbusters or even independent flicks at your local Berkeley Theater? Well, starting very soon, the historic Oaks Theater will be showing foreign fare—Indian, Korean and even Mexican—and perhaps serving dinner and drinks with it. 

John Gordon of Gordon Commercial told the Planet Wednesday that he had found a new tenant for the Oaks Theater after Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Theaters decided not to renew their lease in February. 

Metropolitan, which took over Oaks five years ago, had a difficult time attracting movie-goers to the theater, which Gordon attributed to competition from other Berkeley theaters such as AMC and the neighborhood rival Albany Twin. 

Gordon was not able to immediately confirm the name of the company that has taken over the lease, but said it was under the management of five Indian men who own a theater in Milpitas. 

The only company that matches that description is Serra Theaters, which is located in Silicon Valley at 200 Serra Way. 

The management, Great Indian Entertainment, which is headed by five individuals, opened the two screen 300-seat Serra Theater in 2008 with the intention of turning it into a hub for Hindi movies, including regional films in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. 

“They are going to change the marquee that’s up there now,” Gordon said of the new company taking over the Oaks. “Right now it says ‘Avatar’ and some Hindi film, but soon it will display names of foreign movies. They want to tap into the Asian population in Berkeley. Overall, it’s an exciting thing for the whole neighborhood. If done right, it could open up a whole new market.” 

Gordon said that residents of the Thousand Oaks district had welcomed the news. 

“Of course the new management will need to take input from the neighbors about what’s right and what’s not,” he said. "If you look at the reviews for their theater on Yelp, it looks good.” 

Gordon said that Great Indian Entertainment would like to offer beer, wine and food inside the theater to attract more people. 

“That’s what a lot of theaters are doing these days,” he said. “If it makes a difference, why not?” 

“For instance look at Viks,” Gordon said, referring to the Indian chaat and grocery store in West Berkeley that recently moved to a new location on Fourth Street. “It started out as a simple warehouse and has transformed itself so much. We need to have something that gets people excited. Neighbors were not supporting the old theater that was there. Perhaps if we do something different, then more people will come.” 

Gordon said that though others had expressed interest in the 16,000 square foot space which he advertised as leasing for 17 cents per foot on his website, Great Indian Entertainment “was ready, able and willing to go forward in the shortest period of time.” 

“So we made a deal,” he said, adding that the company was planning to show digital films on the two screens. 

“Going digital makes a lot of sense,” he said. “You can just email the movies over.” 

Calls to Great Indian Entertainment for comment were not returned by press time. 

The Oaks Theater at 1875 Solano Ave., was designed by the Reid Brothers in 1925. 

The 1,000-seat, two-screen theater was handed over to Metropolitan in 2005 by Allen Michaan, owner of another Reid Brothers creation, Oakland's Grand Lake Theater.