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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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Richmond: Parks group seeks protection for Field Station shoreline

Richmond’s City Council agenda on Tuesday includes discussion of the electronic billboard at Pacific East Mall next to Interstate 80, which could provide interesting discussion over its legality, which has been questioned by Councilman Tom Butt.
The group Citizens for East Shore Parks, meanwhile, is more interested in the item after the billboard, which is titled “Resolution to Protect the Coastal Prairie at the Richmond Field Station,” submitted by Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles.
CESP issued the following email call to it members:

Please come to the City Council and support a resolution directing staff to remove any consideration in the South Richmond Plan for vehicle traffic through the coastal prairie at the Richmond Field Station- and to prepare alternatives for the Plan that only show vehicle being routed around the coastal prairie.

Why is it important to protect the coastal prairie?
Today, less than one percent of California’s original native grassland ecosystems remain intact! The Richmond Field Station is recognized by the California Native Plant Society for priority protection because it contains the last undisturbed native coastal prairie grassland adjacent to the San Francisco Bay Shoreline. This native grassland is an intact remnant stand that functions as a reference assemblage – invaluable for the study of how this threatened ecosystem functions and as an example of its community type for restoration ecologists. A great goal for the scientists at UC Berkeley.

Click here to view the resolution.

The City of Richmond will post the Council agenda online. Check the website here: http://ci.richmond.ca.us/index.aspx?nid=151.

It is item # I-2– which won’t be until 7:15 pm or later. But, you must sign in to speak prior to the item being called.

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It’s a Beautiful Day plays Point Richmond; another concert coming up

David and Linda LaFlamme and It’s a Beautiful Day (Acoustic) perform their 1969 hit “White Bird” at First United Methodist Church in Point Richmond on March 28.
The next show in the Point Richmond Acoustic concert series will be songwriter Craig Carothers and Bay Area’s own Grammy-nominated duo Quiles and Cloud on April 11. Tickets and details: www.pointacoustic.org.

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El Cerrito shop’s Little Free Library is recovered

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The Little Free Library that was stolen from in front of The Glenn Custom Framing shop on Stockton Avenue on Monday night or Tuesday morning has been recovered.
Shop owner Kathleen Glenn, who received the take-a-book, leave-a-book library last year as a birthday gift from her daughter, plans to have it back on the sidewalk as soon as weather permits and possibly with some modifications to make it harder to take.
The library had been secured to its post with long screws, but the perpetrator was able to pry it off.

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Richmond and its industrial neighbors in 1939

Above, is an early 1939 promotional aerial view/map of Richmond and its surrounding area. Much of the Richmond shoreline in the foreground has yet to be reshaped for the Kaiser shipyards, including leveling a large hill.
In the background (below) are the West County towns past Richmond on two-lane Highway 40 and San Pablo Avenue, including the forgotten heavy industry company settlements, such as Giant (dynamite manufacturing), Oleum (oil refinery) and Selby (metal smelting).
Click on each photo for a larger view.

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Historic Pinole school bell will be celebrated Saturday

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The bell that summoned generations of students to class at Pinole-Hercules School #1 has been refurbished and will be dedicated at a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at Collins Elementary School, 1224 Pinole Valley Road in Pinole. Light refreshments will be served.
The bell is a remnant of the school that served children in Pinole and Hercules from 1906 to 1966. The school was demolished in 1968.
“The West Contra Costa Unified School District rescued the bell from its outdoor location at Pinole Middle School, where it had been subject to the elements
for several decades,” notes the Pinole Historical Society. “The bell, rusted and pock-marked, was placed in storage in several locations until mid 2013, when the WCCUSD authorized its restoration. The bell was sandblasted, power-coated with a satin black finish, and sealed.”

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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.

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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.

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