The Oaks Theater has been painted recently. Photo: Mary Flaherty
The Oaks Theatre in North Berkeley has been painted recently, but its reopening remains uncertain. Photo: Mary Flaherty

We’ve heard from some curious readers asking about the new paint job underway in North Berkeley on the façade of the Oaks Theatre, as well as the building it is part of, so Berkeleyside checked in with property owner John Gordon to find out what was happening.

Gordon said the building is being repainted to spruce it up, which could make it more attractive to potential tenants.

The pink and green striping on display earlier this week was simply primer — paint left over from other projects — which will be covered over as the job continues.

Gordon said his company, Gordon Commercial Real Estate, takes painting seriously and has a “very good track record” of making sure the work looks good when it’s done.

The Oaks on Thursday. Photo: Mary Flaherty
The Oaks on Thursday. Photo: Mary Flaherty

He declined to provide an estimate for when the job might be complete, saying he did not want to raise expectations that could lead to disappointment if delays occur.

He also declined to say what color the building will ultimately be, and said that would depend on repairs that need to be done and how the work proceeds. Gordon did say that the plan is to treat the theater marquee as separate from the rest of the building in terms of its final hue.

The original building was constructed in the 1920s, but it was altered 10 years later. The front of the building was “ripped off” and replaced with the art deco-style marquee that remains, Gordon added. He said the new paint job will feature that architectural element as a highlight.

“We’re looking for the marquee to stand out,” he said. “It has a wonderful deco look and we’re trying to enhance the visibility of that.”

Before the paint job (circa 2010). Photo: Jane Tierney
Before the paint job (circa 2010). Photo: Jane Tierney

Gordon says he still hopes to find an operator who will come in and do something with the venue, respecting its original use as an assembly space of some kind, whether that’s for live performances or film screenings, or some other use.

The Oaks Theatre was, for many years, an anchor site on Solano Avenue. It was built as a single-screen theater in 1925 and upgraded to two screens in 1973. Renaissance Rialto Theaters operated the Oaks between 1994 and 2005, and the Metropolitan Theaters Corporation ran it until 2010. Merriment Media used the theater to show Bollywood flicks for several months in 2010, but the company lost its lease after it failed to pay rent for three months.

Last year, Berkeley City Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he was trying to drum up support, along with several local performance groups, to raise enough money to take over the space. But that plan, so far, has been unsuccessful.

Gordon said Thursday that his company, which is primarily a commercial brokerage firm, has “done as much as we can as a landlord” to market the vacant theater property at 1875 Solano Ave.

“We’re fixing the building up so it looks nice when someone comes in,” he said of the theater, adding that he has also secured a beer and wine license to allow alcohol sales.

Visions of how Solano Avenue's Oaks Theater could one day look. Illustration: Miguel Lievano
Visions of how Solano Avenue’s Oaks Theater could one day look as a performance space. Illustration: Miguel Lievano
Visions of how Solano Avenue’s Oaks Theater could one day look as a performance space. Illustration: Miguel Lievano

According to a notice posted on Gordon’s website as of last October, the Oaks was designed by the Reid Brothers in 1925 in the “modified Moorish” style, was remodeled in the Art Deco style in 1935, and has seating for 1,000 people. The property, which has “historical landmark” status, spans 16,000 square feet and had an asking lease rate at that time of $10,400 per month. (See the notice, dated July 2012.)

Equipment outside the Oaks Theatre recently. Photo: Ira Serkes
Equipment outside the Oaks Theatre. Photo: Ira Serkes

He said he had been “as proactive as possible” to try to find an appropriate tenant.

“We do what we can to polish it and make it look good,” he said. “We haven’t found anybody.”

He said his company has pursued architectural drawings for different ideas, looking at the space as a single theater or investigating what it might take to put in a stage.

“We’ve hired consultants on a variety of things,” Gordon said. “What we really need is an operator who understands there’s a market there.”

Overall, he said, Berkeley commercial real estate prospects have been looking up in recent times. He noted that his company completed 70 transactions in Berkeley last year.

“Berkeley’s a really active market right now,” Gordon said. “We’re getting a lot of tenants interested.”

Update, Sept. 16 And here’s what the building looked like as of September.

The Oaks on Solano, as of September 2014. Photo: Mary Flaherty
The Oaks on Solano, as of September 2014. Photo: Mary Flaherty

Berkeley Oaks Theatre efforts stall in negotiations (01.17.14)
Last chance: Oaks Theatre survey; sketches revealed (10.23.13)
The Oaks Theatre may be reborn as performance space (09.16.13)
Oaks Theatre on Solano closes, future uncertain (01.03.11)
International flavor on the cards for Oaks Theatre (04.29.10)
Thousand Oaks Theatre to reopen with new focus (04.01.10)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...