The last movie theater in downtown Berkeley could become housing

Plans submitted by a developer this week call for the construction of a 17-story, 293-unit apartment complex in what is now the Regal UA Berkeley Cinema. The 90-year-old art deco facade of the theater would be retained in the project. Credit: Ximena Natera for Berkeleyside/CatchLight Local

The days of the last commercial cinema in downtown Berkeley could be numbered.

Panoramic Developer Interests submitted preliminary plans this week to build a 17-story apartment complex in what is now the Regal UA Berkeley Theater at 2274 Shattuck Ave.

The project would preserve the building’s art deco United Artists facade, which has fronted Shattuck Avenue for 90 years. But most of the structure behind that facade would be demolished and replaced with 293 apartments, 24 of which would be affordable to tenants considered to be very low-income.

It is unclear how long the theater will remain open. Representatives for Regal Cinemas, the Tennessee-based chain that operates the theater, did not respond to requests for information about its future.

Panoramic is seeking project approval under an expedited municipal process created as a result of the 2018 state housing law SB 330, which fast-tracks new housing approvals and limits the power of local governments to block or delay projects that comply with existing zoning laws. Panoramic Interests owner Patrick Kennedy could not be reached for further information on the project.

A rendering shows the proposed 17-story, 293-unit apartment project that Panoramic Interests wants to build at 2274 Shattuck Ave. in downtown Berkeley. Credit: Trachtenberg Architects Credit: Architects Trachtenberg

Panoramic’s plans were first reported by The San Jose Mercury News reported the company purchased the theater for $7 million.

Plans for the half-acre site call for units ranging from studios to five-bedroom apartments. What is now the theater lobby would become a commercial space, with plans suggesting a cafe as a possible tenant.

The project, which is near UC Berkeley and BART, has no on-site parking for residents and has storage for 82 bikes.

Known these days as a destination for big blockbusters, “The UA” opened with fanfare in 1932. According to a history article published by the Berkeley Daily Planetthen-mayor Thomas Caldecott and the entire city council were present for the opening of the 1,800-seat theatre.

It was part of the United Artists company, a film studio and theater operator founded by a group of early Hollywood stars, including Charlie Chaplin, who sought better pay and more creative freedom. The original Berkeley theater marquee and “UA” neon tower have both been removed, though the bas-relief on its facade remains, with panels depicting “art” and “unity”, and its interior is filled with art deco light fixtures.

The art deco interior of the Regal UA Berkeley Theatre. Credit: Ximena Natera for Berkeleyside/CatchLight Credit: Ximena Natera for Berkeleyside/CatchLight

If the cinema closes, Rialto Cinemas Elmwood would be the last first-run cinema in Berkeley. (Although the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive holds film screenings, it does not show new releases.)

Downtown once had half a dozen movie theaters, three of which — the Shattuck Cinemas and the California Theater at UA and Landmark Theaters — were still operating as of early 2020.

But with theaters struggling to attract patrons since the pandemic, Landmark announced last fall that it was closing the California permanently, then closing the Shattuck in May.

Regal Cinemas parent company Cineworld has faced similar challenges – its stock tumbled this week after officials reported lower-than-expected ticket sales, according to The Wrap.

Meanwhile, developers have been drawn to the large lots these theaters occupy in prime locations near UC Berkeley in the heart of downtown.

Developer CA Ventures plans to build an eight-story, 189-unit apartment complex that will involve the demolition of the Shattuck Cinemas theater. And Gilbane Development has submitted plans for a 15-story, 214-unit project at the California Theater site that calls for including live theater space on the ground floor and preserving the marquee and art deco facade of the structure, which were declared monuments earlier this year. . The two developers insist that it was Landmark’s financial troubles – not their projects – that caused the cinemas to close.


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