Berkeley could be down to just 1 movie theater after proposed housing plans by SF developer

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The exterior of the 89-year-old Regal UA Berkeley theater at 2274 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley. San Francisco developer Panoramic Interests has proposed plans to replace the theater with a 17-story apartment building. 

The exterior of the 89-year-old Regal UA Berkeley theater at 2274 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley. San Francisco developer Panoramic Interests has proposed plans to replace the theater with a 17-story apartment building. 

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The last movie theater in downtown Berkeley could be closing for good, leaving just one cinema remaining in city limits after the recent losses of the 10-screen Shattuck Cinemas and the 107-year-old California Theatre, which is now slated to become a 15-story mixed-use apartment building

The seven-screen Regal UA Berkeley at 2274 Shattuck Ave. could face a similar fate. An application submitted last week by developer Panoramic Interests proposed plans for a “partial removal of the existing commercial structure” that would allow for the construction of a 17-story mixed-use apartment building in its place, with 239 residential units, 24 of which would be considered affordable housing, as well as a lobby and possible cafe on the ground level. 

The property was purchased for $7 million by the firm based in downtown San Francisco, and while the theater’s ornate facade will be preserved, it’s not certain how much of its art deco interior will remain intact, as the Mercury News first reported. SFGATE reached out to representatives for Regal Cinemas and Panoramic Interests for more information regarding a closure date for the movie house and plans for the site but did not hear back by the time of publication. 

The Regal UA Berkeley (then called the United Artists Theater) opened as a single-screen cinema on Sept. 16, 1932, with a showing of David Butler’s Depression-era comedy “Down to Earth” starring Will Rogers, Irene Rich and Dorothy Jordan. Admission was 45 cents, and a Mickey Mouse cartoon and Metrotone newsreel were also shown. The Berkeley Daily Gazette called the cinema’s debut “the greatest theatrical event in the history of Berkeley,” according to a 2007 article on the theater’s 75th anniversary from the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

“Every one of the 1,800 luxurious seats in the theater was filled within five minutes after the doors opened,” the Berkeley Daily Gazette reported the following day. “Twice as many filled the foyers, waiting for an opportunity to obtain seats for the second show.” 

City officials, including Berkeley Mayor Thomas Caldecott, and a gaggle of Hollywood actors and actresses were among them. Bing Crosby reportedly rushed over from a performance at the Fox in Oakland so he could make it, and Josephine Dunn, Conchita Montenegro, George Bancroft, Matty Kemp and Lew Cody also attended the opening night. This resulted in a “great throng” of people waiting outside to see the celebrities exit from the stage door. 

Years later, the theater is the only one of its kind to still have a direct tie to the United Artists Corporation, a theater chain and film studio founded by several actors including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford in 1919, Gary Parks, then the southwest director of the Theater Historical Society of America, told the Berkeley Daily Planet. The company was purchased by Regal Cinemas in 2001 after declaring bankruptcy.  

Now, the modest three-screen Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on College Avenue could be the only theater left in Berkeley, aside from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which only shows repertory screenings. 

Two other Regal theaters are still operating in the Bay Area at Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco and Oakland’s Jack London Square.