Apartment building planned for closed Bay Area movie theater

Berkeley’s California Theatre, a beloved 107-year-old movie theater that was permanently closed in October, could be made into a 15-story mixed-use apartment building catering to students.

Rhode Island-based developer Gilbane submitted a pre-application on July 28 that proposed turning the building into 214 housing units with a live theater space, the San Francisco Business Times reported. The project would be “student-oriented,” with 22 units reserved for households making between 30% and 50% of the area’s median income.

“Our student housing developments are based on student and/or university input, which revolves around creating residences that offer both comfort and community,” Gilbane’s website says of its student housing projects.

The company told Berkeleyside in May that the project will retain and restore the theater’s iconic facade and neon marquee, which new apartments will be built behind. This decision was made after Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to landmark those parts of the theatre. The landmark status does not apply to the rest of the building, which allows Gilbane’s developments to move forward.

The theater was shuttered at the start of the pandemic, and its permanent closure was confirmed last October. It was owned by the Hollywood-based chain Landmark Theaters prior to closing.

At 600 seats, the theater — known by regulars as The Cal — was the largest indoor auditorium in downtown Berkeley.

“It’s a beautiful building, and deserves to be preserved as a movie theater. I don’t see how they could turn it into anything else,” Dale Sophiea, a manager at the theater from 1998 to 2016, previously told SFGATE.

Friends of the California Theatre, a group that objects to the building’s redevelopment, posted in a statement that despite being disappointed, a “good note” among the changes is Gilbane’s plans to work with a nonprofit performing arts consortium to create space in the building for live performance and film.

SFGATE culture reporter Amanda Bartlett contributed to this report.

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