How many times have I driven by, first not knowing but then knowing what was inside, and not stopped?
In late November, 2014, I finally stopped and went inside. It. Blew. My. Mind.
The former Rivoli Theatre, 1941 San Pablo, was built in 1924-1925. It seated 1,402. Big! It closed as a movie theater in the 1950s and since then has been a Long’s Drugs, a Smart and Final Grocery Store, and now – a 99-cent store.
They don’t put the cents symbol on keyboards anymore! When did this happen? Why wasn’t I consulted? It used to be over where we now see single and double quotation marks. This I remember from Mr. Davenport teaching us to type in sixth grade, 1962-1963.
There is a well-known photo of an steel Berkeley sign from early in the 20th century.
The photographer was standing on San Pablo Avenue facing north, standing just south of University Avenue. You can see the Rivoli Theatre, before a marquee was added.
The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association has in its archives some low-resolution but wonderful photos of the theatre:
According to a 1978 Historic Resources Inventory prepared by Betty Marvin in 1978:
The Rivoli boasted a spacious lobby with women’s lounge and men’s smoking room. The “portals of music” for the Hope-Jones Ochestral Organ were “canopied balconies suggestive of pulpits.” The walls were treated too look like pillars and “massive stone blocks”; the cast plaster cornices around the auditorium display lyres, comedy and tragedy masks, and “women trumpeters in pairs.” The Rivoli’s crest topped the red & blue curtain.
At the outset, the Rivoli changed shows four times a week. Wow!
In the early 1950s, it was only open weekends. It closed completely and then in 1956 the Lee Brothers converted it to a supermarket.
There were small shops to the sides of the theater entrance. Today? Well, we can still see the central fountain tower with elaborate Moorish tracery relief detailing.
The interior? A glorious and I do mean glorious combination/juxtaposition/contradiction of hyperactive, sensory-overload bargain basement consumerism and the grandeur of a golden age movie theater, a little worse for the wear but still proud and free from hidden suspended ceilings that once masked the original ceiling.
This photo by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, who since 2005 have documented with photographs the decline and fall of Detroit, is taken from what was the Rivoli’s balcony. These next photos are all by John Storey:
No, of course I don’t assert that the culture of Berkeley created this. This is simply a very quirky / beautiful / odd / wonderful piece of material culture that we find in our midst.
University and San Pablo is on the way-funky end of the Berkeley Funky Scale, as measured by the Funk-O-Meter. It is as urban as Berkeley gets, and a 99-cent Store is about the last place in Berkeley that one would expect to find the fairly-well-preserved remains of a movie palace from the golden age of movie theaters. Don’t pass by the next time you are down there. Stop, park, go in – and marvel at the gaudy and garish consumerism and the grandeur of the ceiling. The prices are right too. One of the people in the Quirky Berkeley entourage that visited the store bought two boxes of baking soda, very cheap.
A Berkeleyside reader who read this story posted a link to photographs of El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, a movie palace converted into a huge bookstore. It is an inspiration, something that the Rivoli might be.
My friend “dug on” these photos. He is a big fan of 99-cent stores and their ilk. All the thoughts of movie theaters made him anxious to watch Shack Out on 101 tonight. For the 20th time – at least. I tire of it, but told him if I wasn’t doing anything else I’d come by his room and watch with him. But what does he think of the movie theater reminders?