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A look at the Albany Theater through the years, part 1

Albany theater 1920s
This photo of Solano Avenue from the late 1920s shows the original Albany Theater, a small one-story building at the left that dates from 1914 and hosted vaudeville. Behind it is the two-story building that was built as an Italian organization meeting hall. The hall would be renovated and reopened in 1935 as the Albany Cinema. In its original form, the meeting hall had two storefronts at street level and a ballroom and meeting rooms on the second floor. Note the Southern Pacific street car tracks (and overhead wires) on Solano and the Key System tracks on San Pablo Avenue in the foreground.

(Click on the pictures for a larger view.)

The movie house on Solano Avenue known over the years as the Albany Theater (or Theatre), Albany Cinema, and now the Albany Twin, is a survivor in an era when many neighborhood film emporiums have closed. Victims include The Oaks at the Berkeley end of Solano, shuttered for several years.
But the Albany Theater was not the original venue with that name, nor was it originally a theater.
It succeeded a one-story predecessor next door on Solano that was built in 1914 and operated as a vaudeville venue.
The second Albany Theater was originally a two-story meeting hall built in 1926 by an Italian-American organization. It had two storefronts on the ground floor and meeting space and a dance floor above.
The building was purchased in 1934 by a successful theater operator who hired Berkeley architect William Garren to redesign the building to show movies. Plans were announced in November 1934 and the building’s interior was gutted and turned into a movie house that opened in 1935.
Garren took control of the theater when the man who hired him died and the well-known architect would go on to manage it for the next 30 years, becoming a popular figure in town, becoming a leader of the business community and serving on Albany commissions.
One longtime resident recalled that homebuilder C.M. MacGregor would annually treat the local kids to a free matinee and ice cream at the theater and would dance down the center aisle wearing a tam o’shanter and singing a little ditty.

Garren had a good run as the unplanned cinema operator, but finally bowed out in 1965. He did remain active in civic affairs for some years to come.
Jack Tillmany, who managed the Albany Theater after Garren stepped down and provided many of the photos and clippings we will post here. He offered the following reminiscences:

In the early 1960s, I managed the Piedmont Cinema in Oakland for Martin Foster, who also operated the Parkway Cinema on Park Blvd. Both of them were tremendously successful, thanks mostly to a well selected format of popular titles, such as the James Bond and Pink Panther series at the Piedmont, and more international fare at the Parkway, seasoned with hotties like Dr. Strangelove and Romeo and Juliet. It was inevitable that Foster would expand and the Berkeley market beckoned. In October 1965 he took over the Albany from William Garren and I was promoted to general manager for the three enterprises. Garren had operated Albany as a mom and pop venue for the local family trade, with Saturday afternoon matinees for the kids, etc., all of which had, by that time, had become part of a bygone era. Foster wanted to appeal to the Berkeley crowd, with more of an off beat, and European flavor, and the changeover was an immediate success, bringing new life into a dying operation, and a new Berkeley audience who had probably never before ventured that far West on Solano Ave.

The earliest (circa 1941) and only photo I’ve ever seen of Albany, is before its 1950 remodeling, when SP trains still ran on Solano Avenue.You can’t see much of the theatre, except its original vertical, and the “Any Seat Any Time 30 cents” sign on the West wall, but that sort of says it all.

Albany circa 1941
The Albany Theatre (“30 cents cents any seat, any time”) about 1941 with a streetcar of the Southern Pacific line in the foreground. At the left is the S.P. (Southern Pacific) Store, managed by Max Etingoff and now Max’s Liquors. Also note there is a street level billboard on Solano at the left of the streetcar.

Tillmany continues:

I really don’t think Garren every quite understood the 1960s or what was happening to his beloved theatre, but it had suddenly become part of the era and Foster was smiling all the way to the bank. I remember one evening, with a sell out crowd inside and a line around the corner and up the block waiting for the next show, and Garren stopped by and just looked around in amazement! Here it is in June 1967, with another tremendous success that Foster had milked dry at the Parkway and then moved up to the Albany for an even longer, continued run, Georgy Girl.

Albany June 1967
The Albany Cinema as it looked in June of 1967. In addition to its original conversion, the building by this time had undergone three remodeling projects inside or outside.

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Work to convert the meeting hall to a movie house began late in 1934 and it opened in 1935. The interior was gutted and the second floor removed to create an auditorium and the exterior was remodeled and a marquee added. Note that plans included an airplane beacon and a nursery with cribs and toys.

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Plans were filed in 1945 to remodel the theater’s interior.

Albany Newspaper 02 6 Jan 1965
Newspaper coverage of an exterior remodeling in 1950.

COMING UP NEXT: BATMAN COMES TO THE ALBANY THEATER

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The Albany Twin as it looks today.

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Posted on Monday, April 21st, 2014
Under: Albany, Art and entertainment, community, History | No Comments »

Caltrans overnight paving work at maze will cause closures, detours

Caltrans issued the following news release today about paving work planned at the MacArthur Maze that starts April 24:

Caltrans Plans Polyester Overlay at Maze Structure Beginning April 24 with Full Freeway Connector Closure

ALAMEDA COUNTY – On April 24, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will initiate a paving project in the I-580/I-80 maze structure. Construction crews will lay down a fresh coat of durable, long-lasting polyester concrete.

The work schedule will be Tuesday night through Sunday morning every week for the course of the project. During the closure the MacArthur on-ramp will be closed and traffic detoured to Powell Street. The first closure will be westbound I-580 to eastbound I-80 connector (full closure). Changeable Message Signs and detour routes will be clearly visible.

Closure Times

Tuesday – Thursday

· 11:00 P.M – 5:00 A.M

Friday – Saturday

· 11:59 P.M – 7:00 A.M

Detour Routes

· Westbound I-580 traffic will be detoured on I-80 westbound to the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge Toll Plaza parking lot where commuters will be able to return to I-80 eastbound.

· The MacArthur on-ramp to I-80 eastbound will be closed and traffic detoured to Powell Street on-ramp to I-80 eastbound.

Motorists should expect delays in the area and are advised to use alternate routes during the closure period. Drivers are advised to remember that traffic fines are doubled in construction zones.

Please “Slow For The Cone Zone.” For real-time traffic, click-on Caltrans Quick Maps or follow us on Twitter.

Posted on Friday, April 18th, 2014
Under: Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, transportation | 1 Comment »

Richmond harbor used for regional park district oil spill training

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The Shoreline Unit of the East Bay Regional Park District held an oil spill training on Wednesday in the water between the Marina Bay Yacht Harbor and Barbara and Jay Vincent Park in Richmond.
Training sessions are not new, but since 2012 have been increased to twice a year by the EBRPD unit as a result of the Cosco Busan oil spill in 2007 and the Dubai Star oil spill in 2009, both of which had consequences for the district’s shoreline parks, said EBRPD fire Capt. Aileen Thiele.
“When something real happens, there are things you prepare for and things you haven’t prepared for,” she said. “We now have formalized training that the unit puts on.”
Two representatives of the state Department of Fish and Game were also involved in the exercise.
The Dubai Star spill resulted in a damage assessment of $850,000 for natural resource restoration and improvements at Crown Beach and other shoreline areas in Alameda.
The Cosco Busan spill reached district shoreline areas in Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond.

Posted on Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
Under: Albany, Berkeley, Contra Costa County, environment, Richmond | No Comments »

Views and mementoes from the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island 75 years ago


The Oakland Tribune ran this depiction of the Bay in 1936 with Treasure Island added by an artist to the aerial photograph.


In 1938, with the fairgrounds still under construction, a live remote radio broadcast was held featuring a band performing on a plane circling the Bay while their vocalist sang simultaneously from Treasure Island. Art Linkletter emceed for the broadcast originating on KSFO and sent out on the CBS radio network.


The Court of Flowers at night.


Here are the official lyrics to “The Bells of Treasure Isle,” the anthem of the Golden Gate International Exposition that was played a lot in 1939 and probably never heard again for decades.

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Chesterfield, semi-official sponsor of the World’s Fair on San Francisco Bay. Just ask your guide.


A nighttime view of Treasure Island from its Siamese twin, Yerba Buena Island.


San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi went on stage when “King of Swing” Benny Goodman and Goodman and his orchestra wowed a packed house in July 1939.


California Gov. Culbert Olson wanted to shake hands with Mr. Goodman.


Nighttime view of the statue of Pacifica.


A promotional card from the PG&E exhibit.


Postcard of Court of the Hemispheres.


Souvenir stamps.

Bet you’ve never heard the official theme of the GGIE.

The Tower of the Sun.

Posted on Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
Under:
Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, History, Richmond | No Comments »

El Cerrito: Ohlone Greenway reopens

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BART has completed seismic work on its elevated tracks in El Cerrito and sections of the Ohlone Greenway have reopened to pedestrians abd bicyclists. The transit agency is holding an informal celebration of the reopening from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday on the Greenway at Fairmount Avenue next to the El Cerrito Plaza station.

Posted on Thursday, January 23rd, 2014
Under: Albany, Cities, community, El Cerrito, transportation | No Comments »

A look at the history of the Albany Library

Albany Library Manager Deborah Sica compiled a timeline of the history of the branch and other related details, along with sharing some historic images.The branch will celebrate its 100th anniversary at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 26 and the community is invited.

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Circa 1913 – The library is the second window on the right. The city offices were on the left.

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The second home of the Albany Library opened on Solano Avenue in 1952.

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Interior of the Solano Avenue location, that became cramped as the branch grew in popularity.

Historical Timeline:

· On April 12, 1909, the legislature of the State of California passed a law permitting the Board of Supervisors of a county to establish a county library system.

· The Alameda County Library system was established in 1910 and is governed by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

· The Albany Library started as a takeout branch in a small room located on the south side of Solano Avenue.

· On December 4, 1913, under the librarianship of Mrs. Edith S. Hamilton, Albany Library opened in a one story store front building shared with Albany City Hall.

· On March 21, 1934, a second story was added to the building and the city offices remained on the first floor and the library occupied the second floor.

· On December 8, 1952, the Library relocated to 1216 Solano Avenue largely due to the dedication of Albany Citizen, Rosemary Paine, Vice President of the Albany Library Board.

· In 1969, the Friends of the Albany Library was founded and flourished due to the commitment of Mary and Bill Hartung and other dedicated community members. The first book sale was held on the patio of the library and raised $200 for the library. The Friends of the Albany Library continue to thrive and support the library with an annual operating budget of over $70,000.

· On January 24, 1994, the Library was relocated to 1247 Marin Avenue on the former site of the Albany Hospital.

· On January 26, 2014, the Albany Historical Society, in partnership with the Friends of the Albany Library, the City of Albany and the Alameda County Library, honored and celebrate the Albany Library’s Centennial.

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Clean Hands campaign – 1914

Librarian Lineage:

Mrs. Edith S. Hamilton (1913-1928)
Mrs. Kathleen Watkinson (1920-1928)
Mrs. Martha Woodworth (1923-1953)
Mrs. Mildred Hein (1928-1931)
Miss Shirley Preston (1931-1948)
Mrs. Kathleen Watkinson (1948-1962)
Miss Marian Blackie (1952-1954)
Mrs. Harriet V. Lee (1953-1954)
Mrs. Mary Popper (1954-1957)
Mrs. Elizabeth Anger (1962-1969)
Ms. Maria Jay (1969-1975)
Ms. Elaine Laessle (1975-1976)
Ms. Joan Ariel (1976-1981)
Ms. Ronnie Davis (1981-2013)
Ms. Deborah Sica (2013-current)

About the Alameda County Library: The Alameda County Library system provides and protects access to books, information and services that promote learning and enjoyment for everyone.

About the City of Albany: The City of Albany is dedicated to maintaining its small town ambience, responding to the needs of a diverse community, and providing a safe, healthy and sustainable environment.

About the Friends of the Albany Library: Friends of the Albany Library will act as a liaison between the community and the library; will help to extend and improve local library services; and will stimulate public support of the Library and other charitable organizations in the community.

About the Albany Historical Society: The purpose of the Albany Historical Society is to discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge about the history of the Albany CA area. We encourage local residents to share their memories and knowledge of the past through story telling events and have begun to create a historical walking path in Albany using plaques commemorating important places and people. We hope to see you at one of our events soon.

Posted on Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
Under: Albany, community | No Comments »

Police offer tips on how to avoid being “skimmed”

Police are circulating this flier explaining “skimming” and how to avoid falling victim to a thief when using a debit card at an ATM or a store checkout counter.
An incident involving a “shoulder surfer” was reported in Hercules last week.

skimming

Posted on Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Under: Albany, community, Contra Costa County, Crime, Crockett, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington, Pinole, Port Costa, Richmond, Rodeo, San Pablo | No Comments »

1940s El Cerrito home movies offer glimpse of life during wartime and after

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Fairmount School crossing guard in front of Amerio Drugs on San Pablo Avenue.

Posted here are excerpts of home movies of El Cerrito in the 1940s and 1950s that the family of Arthur Lorenzo Hopkins shared with the El Cerrito Historical Society that show slices of life in a city was still early in its development and in many ways still rural. Living just a few doors north of El Cerrito High School, the Hopkins family raised crops and livestock in the double-deep back yard of their home on Pomona Avenue, including cows, chickens and turkeys.
A team of horses is seen plowing a vacant lot across the street (still there) to plant a World War II victory garden and student crossing guards from Fairmount Elementary School stop traffic on San Pablo Avenue (look for Amerio Drug Store and the old Bank of America location).
Home movies that seem to be of little interest to anyone outside the family that took them can be an invaluable to historical societies trying to record what life was like in different eras. They add a dimension different that complements still photographs and written records.
Maybe you have a reel of film or an old VHS or Beta tape tucked away somewhere that could be digitized and shared with future generations (the original returned, of course). Historical societies would love to find out.
Contact the El Cerrito Historical Society at elcerritohistoricalsociety@yahoo.com, the El Sobrante Historical Society at eshistory@gmail.com, the Pinole Historical Society at info@pinolehistoricalsociety.org, or the Richmond Museum of History at 510-235-7387 or info@richmondmuseumofhistory.org.

Posted on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
Under: Albany, community, Contra Costa County, Crockett, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hercules, History, Kensington, Pinole, Port Costa, Richmond, Rodeo, San Pablo | No Comments »

Writing coach program puts out call for volunteers

WriterCoach Connection is seeking volunteers for its upcoming training:

Volunteer Writing Coaches Needed for Teens: Free Trainings Start January 14

WriterCoach Connection volunteers help teens develop confidence and gain
competence in their thinking and writing skills. Our volunteers work with students
on their classroom writing assignments providing one-on-one support for every
student in a participating class.

No prior experience is necessary; you bring the commitment and we’ll provide the
training and ongoing support that you need to work effectively with students,
including your own.

If you can commit to a regular 1-2 hour time slot, 2-4 times per month during the
school day–we especially need coaches for 8:00 and 9:00 am class periods in some
locations– we invite you to join over 600 volunteers, many of whom feel this is
”the highlight of my week!”

We currently need coaches at: Albany Middle School; Life Academy and Fremont High
in Oakland; El Cerrito High and Portola Middle School in El Cerrito; Berkeley High
and King and Longfellow Middle Schools in Berkeley.

New coach trainings begin January 14. Join us now for the best opportunity you’ve
ever had to learn to help teens think critically and find their voice.

For more information about our program, and to register online, please go to
www.writercoachconnection.org.

Posted on Friday, January 10th, 2014
Under: Albany, Berkeley, community, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington, Pinole, Richmond, Rodeo, San Pablo, Schools | No Comments »

Group reports of December sea lion rescue from Cerrito Creek

From the December e-newsletter of Friends of 5 Creeks:

(Sick) Sea Lion on tidal Cerrito Creek

On Saturday, Dec. 21, the Marine Mammal Center rescued a disoriented sea lion that had swum up tidal Cerrito Creek to Pacific East Mall, at the foot of Albany Hill. Most wildlife sightings are exciting: River otters are making their way into cities; F5C members recently enjoyed watching a great horned owl on the edge of Codornices Creek.

This sighting, however, was not good news. The young male sea lion was sick from domoic acid. This deadly toxin is produced by so-called “red tide” algae, and accumulates in shellfish and other prey that birds and mammals eat. Blooms of these toxic algae seem to be becoming more common in San Francisco Bay.

The likely reason seems surprising: The Bay is becoming clearer. Our cities discharge massive amounts of nutrients to the Bay in treated sewage. But a muddy bay kept sunlight from stimulating growth. Today, though, dams trap mountain erosion that formerly washed downstream. Mud washed down by hydraulic mining over a century ago is dwindling. The Bay’s hardened shorelines can’t erode. And recent lack of rain and storms means little new erosion or disturbance.

Our Cerrito Creek sea lion — still being cared for at the Marine Mammal Center as this is written — is not proof of anything. But life really is a web. Even lowly mud, or lack of it, has far-reaching effects. Our Feb. 3 Bay Currents talk, Mud Matters, will explore these fascinating interconnections, as well as some hopeful ways that mud may help us protect and revitalize the Bay. Please join us!

Posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
Under: Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, environment | No Comments »