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In the 1970s, the Sunset briefly ran the same type of cult and off-Hollywood titles that were popular at the Rialto 4. Unlike the Rialto, the Sunset was done up in the style of a true moviehouse and offered a pleasant viewing experience. I recall that it quickly switched to a porn house.
The Northside was one of those moviehouses that was unique to Berkeley in the 1960s and 1970s. It seemed like an amateur operation in a lot of ways, although it played some excellent offbeat/cult and foreign films. The moviegoing experience was one of the worst even for Berkeley — uncomfortable and claustrophic auditoriums and the place smelled funny. This would be circa 1974-76. It seemed to attract hippies and was perhaps run by hippies.
The Rialto was a unique theatergoing experience. It was located on a stretch of Gilman street that came fairly close to Emeryville and was located on the edge of a slum. If a north wind was blowing, you’d step out of the theater and smell the Emeryville food processing factories. That was pretty bad. Parking was iffy and my car was stolen from the area at one time. Nonetheless, the theatre itself was funky and amusing. The lobby was fairly small for a 4-plex. The concession stand was dinky, as I recall. Three of the auditoriums were uncomfortable to sit in. The largest auditorium was better in all respects, although in terms of comfort it was only a bit better than the others. Those seats were HARD to sit in for more than ten minutes. The large auditorium played 3-D movies and the booth was equipped with Stereovision 3-D, which used the polarized glasses instead of those red-blue things. I saw ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN there and the picture was excellent. This auditorium, though, was very peculiar — a section of seats was positioned off to one side, facing a wall. People seated all the way over to one side could not see the screen! The Rialto was, during the mid-70s, the only place to see cult movies…literally. The UC Theatre was a better experience but the Rialto would keep titles for a whole week. The Rialto would sometimes play the same stuff you would find at the Telegraph Repertory, but the viewing experience was better (which isn’t saying much).
This theater was the first multiscreen in the area, and appeared in the late 1960s I think, long before the Festival Cinemas (Walnut Creek). Sadly, the Sun Valley was chintzy in design, as were many of the early shopping mall multiplexes. During the 1970s, every Disney movie released would play this theater.
The Regency opened as a companion five-plex to the Festival Cinemas in nearby Walnut Creek. The same company operated both theaters and the combined ten screens dominated the Walnut Creek-Pleasant Hill-Concord area during the 1970s, giving Syufy’s Century a run for its money and signalling a decline for formerly high-end houses such as the Capri. The Regency was not as well-built as the Festival but at least it shared a single lobby for all of the screens.
I grew up in Orinda in the late 1960s and 1970s, so this was my primary movie cavern. At the time, the theater was growing a bit “long in the tooth” but the auditorium was very magical. It sounds as though the restoration was successful. The place really was starting to fall apart, but it was an enchanting plan to escape for this youngster and it became an integral part of growing up.
I also remember the flea market. When I saw films at the Solano in the 1970s, it played everything from A-run Hollywood movies to the worst horror dreck imaginable. It operated year-round at that time. Of the latter, a memorable triple bill was Corpse Grinders, Undertaker and His Pals, and The Embalmer. It was easy to watch the 2nd screen if the 1st screen was a bore. Airplanes took off and landed right next door at a regional air field. The concession stand was an enormous circus-tent style arrangement, which was typical of the Syufy driveins of the period.
This drivein and the Coliseum were excellent venues to see the latest B-movies and R-rated triple bills. Finding the entrance was not easy, even though 98th Avenue was an exit off of the freeway. One of the screens was “darker” than the other — less reflective light from the heavily urbanized neighborhood. When I went to this drivein in the 1970s, the neighborhood was pretty dangerous.
Here is a photo of the Capri Theatre marquee and entrance circa 1976, which will do until this site gets its photo service working again. In this shot, you are facing in from the shopping center parking lot.
The Eastmont Mall was not as scary as previously reported, in fact that area of East Oakland was, at the time, fairly quiet and residential. The Eastmont 4 was one of the few places in the Bay Area where you could see drivein movies in a hardtop. Not only blaxpolitation but weird, horror, and “hard R” flicks would play here. The theatre was nicely designed and, when AMC ran it, was clean and well-staffed. The auditoriums were small and sound would bleed from one auditorium to another (not unusual for a 4-plex but the bleed was worse than usual). Many good memories there. No one ever bothered me. The only hardtop I know of that ever played KILLER SNAKES uncut. In fact, the Eastmont 4 would show titles that did not play anywhere else in the Bay Area!
The Fox Concord was twinned in the mid-1970s, not long before it was closed and became an office building. The Fox was located practically underneath the Highway 680 overpass at Willow Pass Rd.; as such, the parking lot access was an awkward affair controlled by street lights. The single-screen auditorium was impressive for its time.
One of those drivein theaters that was constructed adjacent to a well-traveled highway (Route 680) and the screen faced the highway. It was a large drivein that played first run as well as 2nd or 3rd run, and some all-night shows. I saw many triple-bill horror flicks at this drivein. The snack bar was cavernous.
Throughout the 1970s, I went to this theater when it was a twin. It played titles that no one else would play, such as John Waters' early movies and anything by Jodorowsky, documentaries and assorted arthouse fare (including experimental films and Stan Brakhage-type shorts). The TRC was less commercial than the U.C. or the Rialto but also was not above playing something like GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER(!). The entrance was through a nondescript street level door and up a narrow staircase that had the feeling of an apartment house. The TRC was not designed with customer satisfaction in mind. One of the auditoriums was somewhat comfortable; the second one was very uncomfortable, with ricketing wooden seats that did not have any padding. It may have run 35mm but it showed mostly in 16mm. Snack bar? I think there was one but I don’t recall it at all. It smelled of pot in those auditoriums, quite frequently.
I worked at the Capri Theatre from 1973 until 1977. This was just after the theatre’s heyday as a premiere single-screen house. The Festival multi-screen theatre in Walnut Creek had opened and the Fox Theatre down the street on Willow Pass Rd had twinned. When I started working there, ABC Theaters ran the Capri. Bookings were still high-end, with a lot of MGM titles going in first run. A year later, ABC became Plitt Theaters and the San Francisco district changed management, with dramatic results. A lot of four-walling took place in 1976. Plitt had no other houses in Contra Costa County. Most of Plitt’s movie houses were in San Francisco proper or Sacramento. The Capri was operating in a kind of no man’s land where Syufy and the Festival theaters dominated. For example, SOYLENT GREEN would have been a typical booking in 1973. By 1976, the Capri was running FOOD OF THE GODS and HORROR HIGH, and competing with the driveins rather than with the Century or Festival theaters. The theatre was beautifully made, with almost a thousand seats. The booth could run 70mm. The theater occupied the 2nd and 3rd floors of 1653 Willow Pass Rd. A customer would enter the glass doors at the street level, climb two tiers of stairs or ride the escalator to the 2nd floor, and then go up two more (brief) tiers of stairs to the lobby. The lobby was separated by a set of glass doors. As you approached the lobby from the stairs, the box office (with two cashier positions) was on the left and the theatre proper was on the right, through the glass doors. Inside the glass doors, the generous concession stand area was to your right; the auditorium entrance was just beyond that. Manager’s office was straight ahead and bathrooms/storage were to the end of the lobby and hang a right. Three sets of double doors led into the auditorium. Inside the auditorium, there were three sections — the side sections were not as wide as the middle section, and all rows stopped about 10 feet from a raised stage (about four or five feet high); about fifteen feet set back from the edge of the stage was the screen. The third story contained the projection booth and two or three storage rooms. A rear storage room on the 2nd floor housed, in the early 1970s, an enormous popcorn popper. There was also a storage area in the basement. There was a box office on the street level but it was rarely used after a few successful robberies. A large, illuminated marquee was mounted on the 2nd floor exterior, facing Willow Pass Road. Changing the marquee took some doing — the only access to the catwalk underneath the marquee was to climb up a cyclone-fenced trash shed on the west side of the building, next to what was then a branch of Crocker Bank, and pull oneself up onto a ledge that led around the front of the building. Getting down to ground level was treacherous. Marquee letters were lowered from the 3rd floor in a box.