Extracted from the Cinema Treasures website
On Sept. 16, 1932, Berkeley's new United Artists theater opened on Shattuck Avenue, just south of the Berkeley Public Library.
The new building with its fluid sculptural facade, enormous marquee with hundreds of lights, and towering sign that proclaimed United Artists in neon up and down Shattuck Avenue, changed the commercial and physical landscape. Southern California had several similarly designed UA theaters. Berkeley, though, has the only one where the allegorical figure of Artistry is on the left on the facade, Unity on the right.
United Artists was founded by powerhouse stars Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith to make films and, as was typical of the time, show them in its own corporate theaters.
The Berkeley UA was the work of Clifford Balch, with Walker & Eisen while the interior painted decoration were done by the Heinsbergen Decorating Company of Los Angeles.
When the $300,000 UA Berkeley opened, it had a single screen and the filmgoer was offered a spectacle extending from curb to commode.
The brilliantly illumined marquee and the lobby give no idea of the beauty and space within, the Gazette reported at the opening.
The theater originally had a tile-floored atrium open to the street, with a four-sided dome; it's now enclosed and carpeted.
Once through the outside doors patrons will be delighted with the artistic outer foyer with its high, richly toned ceilings, the great French plate glass mirrors on either side, the delicate warmth of color and the great black and gold illustrated panels, depicting above, on and below the earth, the Gazette wrote.
There was no concession counter. Theatres in the 1930s in some cases did experiment with things like candy machines, but it wasn't until the 1940s that concessions became common.
From the lobby, straight ahead the artistic mezzanine looms up with its polished aluminum railings like glistening silver the Gazette wrote. Then further ahead is the inner foyer with its wonderful murals depicting the drama. To the right is the main lounging room, replete with comfortable and handsome furniture, a gigantic solid mahogany table on which is mounted a beautiful silver statuette. Here there are roomy Chesterfields in Spanish and modernistic design sufficient to seat comfortably nearly 100 persons.
Within the theater one found, the Gazette said, the massive stage, the artistic contours and decorations of the proscenium arch, the golden console and generously large orchestra pit which extends outward so far that it makes the front row of seats desirable ones at a distance sufficient from the silver screen.
The stage, 25 feet deep, had a dozen adjacent dressing rooms, and was equipped âto present all kinds of stage attractions at any time there is demand to offer vaudeville here.
In the 1970s the main auditorium and balcony were partitioned to provide four separate screens, although liniments of the original spaces can still be seen.
Further renovations in the early 1980s caused worries that the lobby would be compromised, and heartfelt appeals were made to the management. As a result, the original glass and wood entrance doors, set back from the street, were preserved, a matching new mural was added, and the lobby stayed intact.
The theater now has now seven screens serving about 1,400 seats, according to Regal Entertainment representatives.
Outside, the original marquee is gone along with the neon tower. In the 1960s and 70s civic and architectural distaste for neon brought about the demise of numerous theater signs, including Berkeley's.
The facade retains its original flowing Art Deco character but has been painted. It's one of the more prominent and important architectural compositions from its era in Berkeley, complementary to the Deco-style Berkeley Public Library, just up the block.
The theater can be seen in Google Street View.
United Artists Berkeley 7
2274 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704