The marquee of the Elmwood Theatre has been changed after 10 months. Photo: Joey Brite
The marquee of the Elmwood Theatre has been changed after 19 months. Photo: Joey Brite

The Babadook is gone. So are Gone Girl, Boyhood, and Nightcrawler.

Nineteen months after Cal-OSHA informed Rialto Cinemas Elmwood that employees should not change the movie titles on the marquee until a safe way to do it could be found, the letters spelling out film titles on the marquee have finally been switched out.

A contractor removed the old titles on Monday. The Art Deco-style marquee now has a much more generic message: “Berkeley’s Independently Owned Movie Theatre. Great Movies and More,” reads one portion. 

marquee changing
A contractor changes the marquee on July 25. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The response from the Elmwood neighborhood has been fantastic, said Joey Brite, the movie theater’s manager. People coming in have spontaneously started clapping, and one person slipped a note under the door saying how pleased he was, she said.

“People are just thrilled,” said Brite.

“All of Elmwood should celebrate!” Celle Putzer wrote on Berkeleyside’s Facebook page. “Guess we can’t show up on Dec. 17 and ask if ‘Boyhood’ is still playing!”

The marquee issue is obviously a sensitive one for Rialto Cinemas. When Berkeleyside called Ky J. Boyd, a co-owner of the small movie chain, he did not want to talk to the press.

“This is not a story we are interested in pursuing,” he said. “We changed the marquee. Period. Moving on.”

When pressed, Boyd said the company complied with OSHA “100%.” He then hung up.

On Dec. 14, 2014, Cal/OSHA sent a complaint letter stating that an employee of the theater was seen changing the signboard while standing on a very narrow ledge 7½ feet above hard ground without guardrails or approved personal fall protection gear. A Cal/OSHA investigator, who witnessed the scene, asked the employee to stop his work after discussing his concern for the employee’s safety.

The Rialto Cinemas chain did not alert Cal/OSHA until May that it was going to use a ladder to change the signs, said Julia Bernstein, a spokeswoman. Using a ladder complies with safety laws, she said.

Rialto Cinemas Elmwood has not changed their signs for over a month following a safety investigation. Photo: Seung Y. Lee
The marquee that was frozen in time between Dec. 2014 and July 2016 at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood. Photo: Seung Y. Lee

“I don’t know why it took all this time to find out a ladder was fine,” said Bernstein. “They could have gone to Home Depot that same day and gotten one.”

The Elmwood Theatre at 2966 College Ave. is a neighborhood favorite and will soon start getting more first-run movies, said Brite. In recent years, the cinema has been showing filmed performances from National Theatre Live in the United Kingdom, as well as smaller, local favorites such as East Side Sushi, said Brite. The cinema now has three state-of-the-art digital projectors. The movie, Jason Bourne opens on Friday, she said.

Berkeley movie theater under scrutiny for staff safety (02.15.15)
Boy asks girl to the prom using Berkeley movie theater marquee (05.15.14)
Berkeley’s last independent cinema on why ads matter (01.04.11)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...