A desperate spate of press releases, video blogs, and pleas for money weren't enough to save Concord's venerable Willows Theater, which will close at the end of this month after thirty years in operation. Director Richard Elliott blames declining ticket sales and scant donor funding -- both symptoms of the economic recession -- for the theater's imminent demise. In a press release e mailed earlier today, he called it a "painful decision." The theater's current production, Barefoot in the Park, will run through November 8 as scheduled. After that, the lights go out.
Thanks to a $350,000 gift from the Jacqueline Hoefer Trust, Berkeley's Crowden Music Center will name its forthcoming state-of-the-art performance and recording space the Jacqueline and Peter Hoefer Auditorium, Crowden's executive director Doris Fukawa announced today.
Digital Rights Crusaders at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have taken issue with the conditions that Burning Man puts on the photos and videos shot by participants in the week long event in the Nevada dessert. According to EFF staff attorney, Corynne McSherry, the Burning Man Organization has imposed terms on its ticket holders that go too far. "They've appropriated your copyright in advance," McSherry said in an interview. "By agreeing to the terms and conditions you've given them the right to control your photos for the next 70 years."
As we reported Friday, the group of midwestern investors known as Motion Picture Heritage is no longer in the picture as a potential new operator of the Parkway Theater. But someone else is: Mark Haskett, former operator of Alameda's Central Cinema. According to former Parkway programmer Will Viharo, who continues to play a role in the theater's transition, Haskett would operate the theater half of the operation and a separate business would operate the restaurant. Viharo reports that Haskett is serious about stepping in and has already conducted a "productive discussion" with Oakland city councilwoman Pat Kernighan. But he's yet to meet with the Parkway's landlords, the Cheng family of San Francisco, who will make the final decision. Evidently it was their veto that ended Motion Picture Heritage's chances here. Time will tell how the Chengs take to Haskett.
On March 22, the Parkway Theater closed its doors. Two months and a week later, we learned that a group of midwestern investors known as Motion Picture Heritage Corporation had designs on the Parkway. The pairing seemed perfect: a run-down theater in need of a new lease on life and a band of vintage theater lovers with money and a record of success. As recently as late July, the solution seemed inevitable -- MPH had engaged in promising talks with Oakland's city council and redevelopment agency as well the theater's landlords.
The Parkway hasn't gone anywhere, but it's sure as heck not showing movies. This leaves an opening in the Park St. film scene. Recognizing as much, tonight at 7:30 p.m., the Oakland Merchants' Leadership Forum will host an outdoor screening of Space Jam (the 1996 animated film starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny) directly across the street from the shuttered theater. The film will be preceded by live music and native dance. All you gotta provide is a blanket or lawn chair. It ain't the Parkway, but it'll have to do -- and the event should provide colorful proof of continued demand for a reopened Parkway.
A group of Midwest investors known collectively as Motion Picture Heritage Corporation -- who are currently in talks with the City of Oakland to resurrect the shuttered Parkway Theater -- proved their mettle last month by helping to reopen a vintage theater in Dormont, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the renovated Hollywood Theater, originally constructed in 1933, opened in 2007 only to close again in 2008. That's when the Franklin, Indiana-based Motion Picture Heritage stepped in. A deal was struck whereby MPH would sublet the theater and develop a broad array of programming including a midnight horror series and Friday night concerts. According to the June 25 story, the Hollywood is set to reopen on Aug. 1. Hopefully this means MPH, which also recently renovated and reopened an old drive-in in Shelbyville, Indiana, can work its magic on the Parkway.
How better to launch the reopening of a family-oriented community theater than with a midnight showing of the latest Harry Potter flick? Newly installed operator Rialto Cinemas -- who signed their lease yesterday afternoon -- had the good fortune of snagging a print of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The film opens nationwide on Wednesday, July 15, and Rialto Cinemas plans to join the fray by officially reopening the Cerrito Theater's doors with a late-night showing shortly after midnight on Tuesday the 14th (see the photo for visual evidence). Tickets will go on sale early next week.
Like its former sibling the Cerrito Theater, Oakland's Parkway Theater is making strides toward reopening in 2009. Potential new operator Motion Picture Heritage and Oakland's Redevelopment Agency are still on board, said past and likely future Parkway programmer Will Viharo, and he'll be meeting directly with the latter next week.
The biggest roadblock to a successful resolution, said Viharo, is the condition of the 85-year-old theater. A preliminary inspection revealed a number of issues that could be costly to repair, such as a roof that's been leaking for years. While the city doesn't typically provide subsidies to private businesses and is admittedly cash-strapped, perhaps the Parkway's growing status as a city landmark and regional destination could help it garner support in that respect.
Either way, Viharo, who has close ties with MPH and has been serving as their local liaison, has high hopes for what they'll bring to the theater should the deal go through. "The plan is to be back better than ever," he said -- and that means retaining much of what so charmed past guests. "If the doors open and we've got a couch and some beer, people will be happy." Programming-wise, he hopes to make the Parkway a "cinephile destination," meaning the movies alone should be good enough to bring people through the doors. A renovated theater with couches, beer, and great flicks: now that's a Parkway we can get behind.
Following approval of a new lease at Monday's El Cerrito City Council meeting, the Cerrito Theater is set for a July 15 reopening under new operator Rialto Cinemas. The lease has a five-year term and allows Rialto Cinemas to run a restaurant in addition to the theater, just as previous operator Speakeasy Theaters did. Sounds like the Redevelopment Agency's ambitious plan to get a new operator in by mid-July is right on track. For more on how they got this far, see our last post. And for more details on how the new Cerrito Theater might look and feel, go here.