The exterior of the Regal UA Theatre at 2274 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.
The closure of the last movie theater in downtown Berkeley has been confirmed, leaving just one cinema left within city limits after the recent losses of the 10-screen Shattuck Cinemas and the 107-year-old California Theatre, which is reportedly slated to become a 15-story mixed-use apartment building.
The shuttering of the 90-year-old Regal UA Berkeley on 2274 Shattuck Ave. is part of 39 planned theater closures nationwide that are expected to roll out starting Feb. 15 after Cineworld, the parent company of Regal Cinemas, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last September. Business Insider was first to report Cineworld’s plan to reject the leases of the Regal theaters beginning next month.
Legal filings obtained by Variety cited that the monthly rent per theater had increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2022 and that the closures would save the company $22 million per year as it struggles to claw back to its pre-pandemic box office earnings.
However, plans to close the theater were already underway. Last August, SFGATE reported that an application submitted by San Francisco-based developer Panoramic Interests proposed plans for a “partial removal of the existing commercial structure” that would allow for the construction of a 17-story mixed-use apartment building in place of the theater. Two-hundred thirty-nine residential units, 24 of which would be considered affordable housing, as well as a lobby and possible cafe on the ground level were part of that plan, which would preserve the theater’s ornate facade, though it’s not certain how much of its art deco interior will remain intact. The firm purchased the property for $7 million.
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The Regal UA Berkeley (then called the United Artists Theater) debuted as a single-screen cinema on Sept. 16, 1932, with a showing of David Butler’s Depression-era comedy “Down to Earth” starring Will Rogers, Irene Rich and Dorothy Jordan. Admission was 45 cents, a Mickey Mouse cartoon and Metrotone newsreel were also shown, and among those in attendance were Berkeley Mayor Thomas Caldecott and Bing Crosby, who reportedly rushed over from a performance at the Fox in Oakland so he could make it.
At the time, the Berkeley Daily Gazette called the opening “the greatest theatrical event in the history of Berkeley.”
Now, the three-screen Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on College Avenue is the only theater left in the city, aside from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which only shows repertory screenings.
Regal Cinemas, the second-largest movie theater chain in the U.S. behind AMC, has just two other theaters still in operation in the Bay Area: Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco and Oakland’s Jack London Square. Throughout California, planned nationwide closures will also affect Regal theaters in Costa Mesa, El Cajon, Escondido, Hemet, Los Angeles and Yorba Linda.
SFGATE reached out to a spokesperson for Regal for more information but did not hear back by the time of publication.
Amanda Bartlett is a culture reporter for SFGATE. Prior to joining the newsroom in 2019, she worked for the Roxie Theater, Noise Pop and Frameline Film Festival. She lives in San Francisco with her rabbit, Cheeto. Send her an email at [email protected]