Plans for Berkeley’s California Theatre would preserve facade, add high-rise

Rhode Island-based Gilbane Growth is predicted to submit plans this summer time for a high-rise with “roughly 15 tales” of housing on the web site of the California Theatre. The constructing’s facade and marquee could be preserved. Credit score: Nico Savidge

The potential new proprietor of downtown Berkeley’s California Theatre needs to assemble a high-rise residence constructing catering to scholar renters on the web site — whereas retaining the film palace’s distinctive facade and neon marquee.

Rhode Island-based Gilbane Growth plans to submit a proposal this summer time that requires demolishing many of the present theater at 2115 Kittredge St. and constructing “roughly 15 tales” of recent housing behind the facade, Growth Director Christian Cerria mentioned in an interview. Gilbane can be working with a coalition of native performing arts teams to develop a plan for a brand new 300-seat theater and “inventive arts hub” that will occupy the constructing’s floor ground.

The plans cleared an early hurdle this month, when Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Fee voted to landmark the California Theatre’s Artwork Deco-era facade and mid-century marquee, however elected to not lengthen these protections to the remainder of the 109-year-old constructing.

“It’s an amazing alternative to breathe new life into the California Theatre,” Cerria mentioned, including that the undertaking would “restore its majestic entrance facade and marquee to its former glory by way of considerate development of a brand new dynamic constructing.”

Gilbane, which has constructed student-centric-apartment buildings close to school campuses throughout the nation, has not but decided what number of residences it needs to incorporate within the undertaking a block from UC Berkeley. The corporate and the theater’s longtime homeowners have reached an settlement on a sale that’s set to shut as soon as the undertaking receives metropolis approval, mentioned Cerria, who declined to share the acquisition worth.

Downtown has three buildings which can be not less than 15 tales tall right now, however that quantity may double within the close to future as metropolis leaders look to encourage extra dense housing development in Berkeley’s core. The California Theatre undertaking is one in every of three new downtown high-rises proposed over the previous 9 months, becoming a member of a 17-story constructing pitched for the intersection of Oxford and Heart streets, and one other developer’s plan for a 25-story tower at 2190 Shattuck Ave.

The theater has been shuttered for the reason that early days of the pandemic, a short lived closure that turned everlasting final fall when longtime operator Landmark Theatres mentioned the constructing’s homeowners declined to resume its lease. Mark Rhoades, whose agency Rhoades Planning Group is working with Gilbane, the theater’s present homeowners and performing arts teams to advance the brand new growth, mentioned Landmark canceled its lease.

Preservationists and devotees of the theater had requested the landmarks fee to declare the complete constructing a landmark, and garnered a whole lot of signatures for a web-based petition calling on the Metropolis Council to assist arrange an effort to revive the California in its present kind. The property’s homeowners contended that whereas the facade and marquee are distinctive options worthy of safety, the identical can’t be mentioned for parts just like the constructing’s general top or brick sides.

The fee sided with the property homeowners, agreeing with a metropolis workers suggestion that referred to as for safeguarding the “character-defining options of the property.” Members additionally famous the fee doesn’t have the authority to landmark the inside options of privately owned buildings, which means it couldn’t order parts such because the California’s 500-seat principal auditorium preserved.

Dale Sophiea, a former theater supervisor who helped arrange the preservation marketing campaign, mentioned that whereas he hoped the complete constructing may very well be protected, he was heartened to see that the proposed undertaking consists of area for the performing arts.

“I’m disillusioned, however so far as the frustration goes, there are worse eventualities than the one which was introduced,” Sophiea mentioned.

“A minimum of it will likely be a cultural heart,” he added, although he’s cautious of a situation by which these plans fall by way of and the performing arts area by no means turns into a actuality.

Cerria acknowledged that together with a theater provides “distinctive challenges” to the undertaking, however mentioned Gilbane is “very dedicated” to it.

The developer is working with a newly shaped nonprofit referred to as the California Theater Consortium, led by Youth Musical Theater Firm Director Jennifer Boesing, to develop plans for the area and convey collectively a number of organizations that might profit from it. Boesing mentioned the consortium is in talks with a few dozen native arts teams — together with Berkeley Ballet, Berkeley Symphony, Future Arts and Youth Musical Theater Firm — to find out about their wants. Lots of these teams have been looking for a everlasting dwelling for years, she mentioned.

Boesing and Cerria mentioned they hope the California Theatre undertaking can sooner or later embody area for dance, music and stay theater performances, in addition to movie screenings.

“We really feel actually hopeful that this might serve an unlimited quantity of individuals,” Boesing mentioned.

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