The Oaks Theatre at 1875 Solano Avenue in Berkeley opened in 1925, built in “Moorish style” by the Reid brothers, the pair behind Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater and San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.
Since then it’s been remodeled, renovated, and redesigned over the decades, gaining an Art Deco overhaul in the 1930s, an additional screen in the 1970s, antique chandeliers and doors salvaged from other old theaters in the 1990s, and then, sadly, multiple closures this century.
New investors swooped down in 2010 with a plan to revive the Oaks’s business with a combination of American and Indian cinema. That plan, however, fizzled out by year’s end.
“We weren’t able to meet our monthly expenses,” manager Rama Sagiraji told Berkeleyside.
Community backers made a bid to turn the Oaks into a space for live events, but “The price that the property owner was asking was beyond our budget,” as a city councilperson lamented at the time, and the potential deal fell apart.
Now the 1,000-seat classic among Berkeley classics is up for sale, hoping that its class, history, and style (including painted ceilings and antique projector on display) might rake in $4.25 million. Those reluctant to buy can also lease the place for $12,000/month.
Back when it was new the theater costs $200,000 to build, plus an extra $25,000 for an organ from the Geneva Organ Company—all told about $3.18 million in 2017 terms.
Note that, back in 2013, owner John Gordon (also the realtor behind the current sale) referred to the Oaks as “kind of a dinosaur” in terms of its appeal as a movie house.
Well, say whatever you like about the Oaks’s value as a cinema venture, but as a testament to America’s romance with the movies in the early 20th century it’s still got it. Note that the building netted official landmark status back in 2006.
- Cinema Treasures [MBI Publishing]
- Reid Brothers [Pacific Architecture Database]
- Theater On Solano Closes [Berkeleyside]
- Theater Negotiations Stall [Berkeleyside]
- 1861-1877 Solano [Gordon Real Estate]
- Oaks Theater May Be Reborn [Berkeleyside]
- 2006 Landmarks [Berkeley Heritage]