Oaks Theater may be converted to performance venue

Sureya Melkonian/Staff

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After almost two years of vacancy, the Oaks Theater may be brought back to life as a multipurpose performance venue.

City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, who represents the district in which the theater is located, and the Youth Musical Theater Company have teamed up to renovate the facility.

“I want it to work for a whole bunch of purposes,” Capitelli said. “For theater, for dance, for symphony.”

Jennifer Boesing, artistic director of the YMTC, said she hopes to organize a nonprofit group to manage the Oaks Theater. The group would consist of members from the community and tenants of the building.

“I created a survey, (and) we had close to 1,200 responses,” Capitelli said. “Ninety-eight percent were favorable toward the Oaks Center becoming a theater.”

Allen Cain, director of the Solano Avenue Association, said many families live in the neighborhood surrounding the Oaks Theater.

“We want to appeal to a youthful market,” Cain said. “We need something for the youth to do on the street.”

The Oaks Theater, located on Solano Avenue in North Berkeley, opened in 1925 and was used as a movie theater until 2005. It reopened briefly in 2010 when Merriment Media used the theater to show Bollywood films for several months. The space has remained unused since.

John Gordon, a commercial realtor and the owner of the Oaks Theater, said he is supportive of the theater being a multiuse venue. Capitelli and the YMTC have worked out an agreement with Gordon so he will not rent the theater to any other operator for the next four months, giving the task force time to finish renovation plans and find organizations that want to use the theater.

The task force is working on a plan for renovation it can present to the city. Donn Logan, the lead architect for the renovation, said his team will be building a stage, redistributing the seating and taking down the wall that divides the building’s two theaters.

“We’re just at the beginning,” Logan said.

Capitelli estimated costs will amount to anywhere between $300,000 to $500,000, but an official cost analysis has not been completed. He added that more than $100,000 has already been pledged.

“We’ll need help from the neighborhood, the core tenants,” he said. “We’ll need to do some fundraising.”

Capitelli said he plans to get started on the plans by mid-October and submit them by the end of the year. He hopes to start the renovation sometime next spring for an opening in September of next year.

Tara Hurley covers city news. Contact her at [email protected].