About

The Cerrito Theater is located at 10070 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, CA 94530.

Friends of the Cerrito Theater, as a project of the El Cerrito Community Foundation, began to organize in 2001, when the building came on the market for the first time in 40 years, and residents discovered, to their amazement, that the beautiful Art Deco murals and mirrors inside had survived! Efforts were directed towards saving the building and its interior artwork, with the intention of renovating and resurrecting the movie theater.

The historic Cerrito Theater is one of El Cerrito’s hidden treasures. See the following video for the story.

Friends succeeded in its goal November 1, 2006, when the Cerrito reopened with a showing of “Casablanca.” But rather than disband, Friends continued as a watchdog group to make sure the theater and its historic elements remain protected in perpetuity. We remain willing to advocate for the theater, and raise funds for repairs or further historic restoration, if that becomes necessary.

In June 2009, the operator of the Cerrito announced that it would be closing the theater. It closed shortly thereafter. The city of El Cerrito, which owns the building, set about finding a new operator. An outpouring of community support showed how much people in El Cerrito and nearby communities enjoy the theater.

Rialto Cinemas began showing first-run, independent, art films and special programs on July 15, 2009.

(See “Street Date: San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito,” November 17, 2011. San Francisco Chronicle.)

The renovated theaters have both an elevator and wheelchair seating. Rear Window® Captioning and DVS Theatrical® are available for deaf and blind patrons. Friends of The Cerrito Theater, with over 2000 supporters and 425 donors, provided support and funding to renovate the 1937 movie theater. Historic elements of the art deco interior have been saved and restored.

Among the Friends’ long-term goals are to place the theater on the National Register of Historic Places. The Friends is also exploring the possibility of protecting the murals, Art Deco lighting and glass by establishing a historic preservation easement. Friends also hopes to further one of our original goals, which was to continue building community through this wonderful theater. People who are interested in these activities should contact Friends’ chairman, Dave Weinstein, at davidsweinstein@yahoo.com.

THE STORY

The Cerrito Theater, on San Pablo Avenue between Fairmont and Central, was built in 1937 as neighborhood, art deco movie house. The theater closed in the early 1960’s, and the building was used as a storage facility for Kiefer’s furniture store for several decades, until that business closed, too.

Close to BART, the revitalized El Cerrito Plaza and foot and car traffic on San Pablo, Friends saw that the theater could be an entertainment venue and gathering place for El Cerrito, and that it could play an important role in the revitalization of the city’s “downtown.”

Open House on May 3, 2002

Open House on May 3, 2002

Following an outpouring of community support, including an open house at the theater that attracted about 3,000 people, the City of El Cerrito purchased the building. Speakeasy Theaters, operators of the Parkway Speakeasy Theater in Oakland, agreed to operate the Cerrito. Architects began developing plans to renovate the building, rebuild the marquee and add a second, upstairs theater. The Parkway had prospered in Oakland by catering to the local community with a mix of new films, classics, film noir festivals, a Baby Brigade night for parents with babies, and more. Similarly, programming at the Cerrito would be based on community input and response, including special programs for families and teenagers.

Although most of the funding for restoring the theater came from the El Cerrito Redevelopment Agency (as a loan), and from Speakeasy Theaters, the Friends of the Cerrito Theater and other community groups also raised funds to help. These funds were especially useful in restoring some of the theater’s historic elements. Besides organizing fundraising events, the Friends focused on building community support for the theater by periodically providing updates on the status of the project. The community demonstrated its support for this project by responding at an astonishing level.