Details Look Good in Cerrito Theater Sale


Friends of the Cerrito Theater has supported the proposed agreement for the city of El Cerrito to sell the historic Cerrito Theater to its current occupants, who do business as Rialto Cinemas. We did have some concerns that restrictions on changing the theater’s historic fabric might not be strong enough.

But now that the details have been worked out and described as part of the contract, we have to say it looks very good.

The city needs to sell the theater because the state of California put local redevelopment agencies out of business several years ago and told them to sell their assets, the theater being one.

Rialto, which is buying it through a related company (Great Falls Entertainment) is paying $790,000. That price takes into account both the repair and maintenance costs Rialto must expend.

More significantly, it also takes into account the reduced monetary value of the theater brought about by Rialto’s agreement—which is part of the deed—to:

  • Operate the theater as either a cinema or performance space for 99 years
  • Preserve the historic elements for 99 years

Both are significant restraints. They mean the theater will continue to be an asset to the El Cerrito community for another century.

We originally had concerns that the language about preserving historic elements like the marquee, the Art Deco glass, murals, and original paint jobs inside the theater, might not be strong enough.

We also wanted to make sure that someone would watch over Rialto’s renovations and maintenance to make sure all was done properly.

We no longer have those concerns because Rialto has agreed to our suggestion that any changes be done in accordance with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These standards are used to guide work on historic properties nationwide.

Rialto also agreed that the city will monitor work done on the theater, and can remove historic elements if that becomes necessary. Friends of the Cerrito Theater will of course continue in its watchdog role.

We encourage people to read more about the proposed deal through the staff report for tonight’s meeting and the agreement itself.

The council will discuss the deal at its meeting tonight, Tuesday, June 19, at 7 p.m. The council is expected to agree to it, as it has been discussed with them in a legal closed session – and as members of the council fully understand how important the continued existence of the Cerrito Theater, operating as Rialto Cinemas Cerrito, is to the citizens of El Cerrito and to the economic well being of our town.