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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 »

El Cerrito/Richmond then and now: A former drug store building enters the natural food age

Amerio Drugs in its neon sign glory days had an ice cream fountain counter and parking in the back, shared with neighbor El Nido Market.

The neon sign and soda fountain of Amerio Drugs on San Pablo Avenue are long gone, but the building (actually located on the Richmond side of the city limits) is still there.
Amerio succumbed to the fate of most independent pharmacies, eventually being replaced by a paint store and then sitting vacant for a number of years.
After an extensive remodeling it reopened earlier this year as The Annex, the prepared store of the El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company, which established a thriving location next door at the former El Nido Market.
The neon sign on the front of the former drug store has been replaced by a wood facade, with solar panels installed on the roof.

The El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company Annex has opened in the Amerio Drugs building, offering a salad bar instead of ice cream sodas.

Posted on Thursday, April 10th, 2014
Under: business, El Cerrito, History, Richmond | 1 Comment »

Arlington Avenue in Kensington through the years

Arlington and Amherst avenues circa 1914.

The former Arlington Drugs in Kensington has been a familiar sight since it was opened by Louis Stein Jr. (Cal class of 1924) in the 1920s. The store changed hands a couple of times after Stein retired and finally closed its pharmacy window last year, converting to a general store that closed earlier this year.
The location has recently reopened as the second location of longtime Berkeley business Country Cheese Company. Store co-owner Shirley Ng remodeled the interior to accommodate the change to a food business, but also worked with the U.S. Postal Service to retain the postal window established during the drug store days and beloved by Kensingtonians.
She also said this week that the Rexall Drugs sign on the outside of the store is also something of a local landmark and will be retained.
Here are some views of the area over the years.

Arlington at Amherst circa 1950.

Arlington at Amherst today.

The Rexall Drugs sign will be retained at the Country Cheese Company store.


Posted on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Under: business, History, Kensington | No Comments »

Remembering the Berkeley Heliport

An SFO helicopter takes off from the Berkeley Heliport in this Berkeley Chamber of Commerce photo from the early 1960s.

It seems quaint and even hard to imagine in these days of national security and air travel safety restrictions, but Berkeley once had its own heliport where airline passengers could board an SFO 10-passenger Sikorsky helicopter bound for San Francisco or Oakland international airports. Some airlines included the service at low or no cost as part of the airfare.
The heliport was located on the waterfront west of the Eastshore Freeway (Interstate 80) just north of University Avenue and operated from 1961 to 1974, when San Fracncisco Oakland Helicopter Airlines relocated its operation to the roof of the new Holiday Inn in Emeryville.
The Berkeley facility was part of a network of heliports that included downtown Oakland, downtown San Francisco, central Contra Costa and Marin County, and at one time was touted as the most patronized system of its kind in the United States.
The Berkeley Heliport, which the Chamber of Commerce took the lead in attracting and promoting, broke ground in September 1961 and opened later that year. It was touted as a certain economic boon for the city, particularly in attracting conventions.

Dignitaries at the groundbreaking for the Berkeley Heliport in September 1961.

Along with the attraction of avoiding Bay Area freeway traffic and free parking, it offered the novelty of getting to fly over the area in a copter.
A low point for the Berkeley facility came in 1972, when an armed man entered the heliport and demanded to be taken via helicopter to the airport, where he intended to hijack a plane to Cuba. He was eventually talked out of those plans by a Berkeley police sergeant.

Coverage of the attempted 1972 helicopter hijacking in Berkeley.

Dignitaries arrive at the Berkeley Heliport in 1962.

SFO Helicopter Airlines was touted as the world’s busiest in 1962.

Berkeley Chamber of Commerce map of sightseeing destinations includes the heliport (No. 2).

Along with passengers, priority mail was ferried by helicopter to Bay Area airports.

A 1973 ad for SFO Helicopters.

Delta Airlines promoting helicopter service in 1967.

The era of the Berkeley Heliport ended in 1974, when SFO relocated it to Emeryville. SFO ceased operations in 1976.

Posted on Friday, March 14th, 2014
Under: Berkeley, History, transportation | 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 »

Saga of Patty Hearst kidnapping began 40 years ago on this date


Newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst was kidnapped by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army 40 years ago today from her apartment on Benvenue Avenue in Berkeley.
The kidnapping followed the assassination of Oakland schools Superintendent Marcus Foster by the SLA three months earlier and set off a long saga that lasted almost two years.
The site of the kidnapping is commemorated here.

Posted on Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
Under: Berkeley, Contra Costa County, History | No Comments »

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.

Posted on Monday, February 3rd, 2014
Under: community, Crockett, El Sobrante, Hercules, History, Pinole, Port Costa, Richmond, Rodeo, San Pablo | No Comments »

Morrie Turner and “Wee Pals” blazed a new trail in the comic strip world of 1965

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From the Oakland Tribune comics page in April 1965.

Martha Ross has written a nice piece on cartoonist Morrie Turner, who died Saturday at age 90.
The piece notes that Turner “broke racial barriers in the 1960s when he became the first African-American to have a syndicated comic strip — the gently humored, ethnically diverse ‘Wee Pals,’ which still runs daily in the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times.”

It might help to have some perspective on the world of comic strips when “Wee Pals” debuted in the Oakland Tribune in April 1965.
At the time, the only other sign of something on the comics page even remotely resembling diversity outside of Turner’s new creation was the strip “Li’l Abner” by Al Capp, which definitely reflected sensibilities of an earlier era with its world of hillbillies and “Injuns.”
Turner introduced a new sensibility to the comics page, delivering an ongoing message of equality and inclusiveness, and dropping in countless tidbits of otherwise unsung history along the way that educated young and old alike.

Posted on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Under: Art and entertainment, Berkeley, History | No Comments »

El Cerrito: Don’t underestimate the selling power of a scantily clad woman

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Looking for an investment idea for that extra income burning a hole in you pocket? Consider old matchbooks — particularly matchbooks with scantily clad women.
Two 1960s matchbooks from the It Club in El Cerrito were listed for bidding on eBay this month and attracted spirited bidding.
The most recent brought a final price of $20.50 (plus $1.50 shipping and handling) on Jan. 19.
Not a bad return for a free item someone picked up off the bar at a strip joint half a century ago. Two weeks earlier in January, a similar matchbook from the It Club, the longest running of the El Cerrito nightspots from the city’s era as “Little Reno,” did even better, selling for $38.50, plus shipping and handling.

Posted on Friday, January 24th, 2014
Under: El Cerrito, History | No Comments »

Historic Pinole school bell will be celebrated Saturday

bell

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.”

Posted on Friday, January 24th, 2014
Under: community, Hercules, History, Pinole, Schools | No Comments »