Historical Oaks Theatre on market for $4.25M, holds potential for artful Berkeley community

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Justice Delos Santos/Staff

The Oaks Theatre, a Berkeley historical landmark located on Solano Avenue, is now for sale or lease by its owner, John Gordon.

The 1,000 seat-capacity theater, which closed in 2010 because of competition from similar theater venues, is now on the market for $4.25 million.

“Built in 1925 by the Reid Brothers, it was designed in the ‘modified Moorish’ style — much of what can be described as Moroccan ‘Moorish’ design — and in 1935 was remodeled into Art Deco style,” according to the building prospectus from Gordon Commercial Real Estate Services. Oaks Theatre was designated a historical landmark in 2006.

The 21,578-square-foot building contains wood and stylized décor akin to the theater’s rich history and “glorious past,” according to the prospectus. Although the Oaks Theatre has not opened its doors for services since 2010, there are many bright possibilities for what this space could mean for the artful community of Berkeley once reopened, according to Gordon.

The building includes five retail spaces, five office spaces, the potential to convert to four or more screens and is approved to serve beer and wine, according to the prospectus.

Patrick Harrison, a campus film studies doctoral student and self-described cinephile, said Berkeley is “hungry” for a unique curation of film, and the Oaks Theatre would be a perfect venue to bring events such as film festivals and independent programs to the East Bay.

“There is a scene here of young people, almost like nomads, going from theater to theater looking for a great show,” Harrison said.

The Oaks Theatre has the capacity to be a place where cinephiles can meet to see avant-garde films, motion pictures that could appease some of the older demographic in the Albany area, according to Harrison.

Some residents who frequent Solano Avenue, such as 17-year-old Albany resident Owen Cooper, would like to see another theater that shows blockbuster movies.

According to Ky Boyd, proprietor of Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, one thing that is ultimately necessary for Oaks’ success is a supportive community.

Rialto Cinemas Elmwood is the only independently owned theater in Berkeley, according to Boyd, making its competition large chain theaters. “Berkeley is a tough zone to compete in — Berkeley is over-screened,” Boyd said.

Just a few feet from the Oaks Theatre on Solano Avenue is Rosebud Gallery, owned by Ed Forcrum. Forcrum pointed to websites such as Netflix as the main source of theater competition, but hoped his neighboring business would reopen soon. “The Oaks Theatre is an urban blight, (and) it needs to be reopened,” Forcrum said.

Berkeley native Chris Ybarra said the versatile space will prosper with ability to serve alcohol.

“The Oaks is a goldmine waiting to happen. … All you need is the right movie, beer and food. No brainer,” Ybarra said.

Contact Audrey McNamara and Janesse Henke at [email protected].

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