The historic Cerrito Theater is one of El Cerrito’s hidden treasures. It’s known for offering beer, wine, and a full dining menu.

The Cerrito Theater, located at 10070 San Pablo, re-opened in 2006 after being shuttered for decades. Since then, it has been resurrected as a community institution and epicenter of El Cerrito entertainment.

Friends of the Cerrito Theater, as a project of the El Cerrito Community Foundation, began to organize in 2001, when the building came on the market for the first time in 40 years. To their amazement, the El Cerrito activists discovered that the beautiful Art Deco murals and mirrors inside had survived! Efforts were directed towards saving the building and its interior artwork, while renovating the theater and restoring it to health.

           BEFORE  <  SLIDE  >  AFTER

 
 

For over 40 years the Cerrito Theater remained in darkness, all but gone from public memory.

Much fanfare and celebration surrounded the Gala opening of the Cerrito Theater on Christmas Day, 1937. “Thin Ice” with Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power was the first movie shown. General admission was 30 cents, and a child’s ticket sold for a dime. Patrons looked forward to “Dish Night” when pottery was given away. During World War II, GIs were admitted free.

In 1937, newspapers featured pages of ads by local merchants welcoming the new enterprise. The Berkeley Gazette claimed it to be “…of luminous beauty with the finest appointments and most modern mechanical equipment. It will be the last word in comfort and luxury.”

William B. David was selected as the architect. He had designed a number of other theaters in California. He did not design a grand motion picture palace such as the Paramount in Oakland. Instead, he designed a small movie venue that would be a good fit for the El Cerrito community. According to a 1944 survey done by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Cerrito held 644 seats. A loge in the rear main floor area was considered a luxury for its elevation and exclusivity.

The oval jewel box lobby was embellished with Art Deco architectural elements. A blue mirror etched with the goddess Diana, hunting bow in hand, was prominent in the foyer. Deco chandeliers and sconces graced the ceiling and walls. Several doors had round portholes with blue etched glass windows. Some of these features can still be seen today.

DARKNESS INTO SUNLIGHT

In 1963, movie ads for the Cerrito Theater disappeared from local newspaper listings. Two years later, owner Naomi Goldenberg died. In 1966 Henry Goldenberg sold the Cerrito to the Keifer family and the lights went dim on a movie house that many had called “home”.

In 2001, the movie house came on the market again, and public interest in seeing it restored reached a feverish peak. In February 2002 the Friends of the Cerrito Theater, a project of the El Cerrito Community Foundation, was formed. On May 3rd, the City, with the help of the Friends, hosted an open house which drew 3000 people to view the theater and its wonderful murals. In June of that year, the Redevelopment Agency/City Council voted to purchase the Cerrito Theater for future restoration.

History research done by Pam Challinor

The town of El Cerrito has a low-key, homey feel. Less well-known than the more flamboyant neighboring cities of Berkeley and Oakland, the residents of El Cerrito appreciate the close proximity to restaurants, shopping and nightlife in the surrounding towns, but love coming home to their quiet tree-lined streets.

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The playground...is top notch, though geared toward the somewhat older child.  There is a toddler area behind the big playground as well. This park is worth the trip.

— EL CERRITO PARK YELP REVIEW

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SECRETS oF CITY HALL AND DMV COMPLEX

El Cerrito's municipal complex, built in 2008, is one of the best city office facilities in the East Bay. Those in-the-know can pull right up to an EV charger in the parking lot. The adjacent DMV is often selected by many parents throughout the East Bay for their teenagers to take the driving test, because of the pleasant experience and smaller crowds.

OHLONE GREENWAY

The Ohlone Greenway terrain ranges from a bicycle path on city streets, to a dedicated course within an open green space right-of-way through Albany and El Cerrito. Most of this dedicated open space is a rails-to-trails site along what was formerly a railroad right-of-way.

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BART X2, AND BIKE TRAIL TOO

With two BART stations, El Cerrito has plenty of transportation conveniences. The city has done a magnificent job of making use of the elevated track space in building the Ohlone Greenway. The incorporated 5.3-mile bike trail runs the entire length of El Cerrito, linking Berkeley to Richmond and Albany in between.

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GREEN RIBBON TO ALBANY

Below the BART tracks on the Ohlone Greenway, formerly the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe right-of-way. With this connection to Albany, shopping and brunch doesn't always mean dealing with traffic. And, no matter where you live in El Cerrito, you're near a ribbon of park.

El Cerrito was founded by refugees from the 1906 earthquake.

The name means “little hill” or knoll and today enjoys a small town feel, is only 5 miles from the University of California, Berkeley, and has two BART stations— Del Norte and El Cerrito Plaza.

 
 

Home to an historic source of down home music since 1960. A living museum right in El Cerrito.

The Smithsonian acquired the Arhoolie label from Chris and his partner Tom Diamant in 2016 to assure that his recordings would survive and remain available to future generations.

The Smithsonian acquired the Arhoolie label from Chris and his partner Tom Diamant in 2016 to assure that his recordings would survive and remain available to future generations.

A bit of the Smithsonian MUSEUM right in el cerrito

Smithsonian Folkways label has made more than 300 standout titles from the famed Arhoolie Records catalog.

The Smithsonian Folkways label acquired the Arhoolie catalog on El Cerrito in 2016, from its founder Chris Strachwitz. Digitally available online on major streaming music providers and on CD and vinyl through the Smithsonian Folkways website.

Chris Strachwitz moved to the United States from Germany in 1947 and fell in love with American roots music. His first love was New Orleans jazz, but radio broadcasts from Los Angeles and Baja California introduced him to hillbilly, rhythm & blues, gospel, Mexican norteño music and beyond.

A major collector of 78s, Strachwitz traveled to Texas in 1959 to meet his idol Lightning Hopkins, and was lucky enough to hear him perform live in a small beer joint. Struck by the exchange between Lightning and his audience, and by the poetry of his improvised lyrics, Chris decided right then and there that someone had to capture this man's music live in one of those joints and put it on a record. The following year, Chris returned to Houston only to find Hopkins leaving for California, so he and Mack McCormick (his local guide to all things Texas), ventured north out of the city to Navasota, where they encountered and recorded outstanding local songster Mance Lipscomb.

A few months later, in November 1960, Arhoolie LP 1001 introduced Chris' new label and that small town Texas songster to the world. (BTW: an arhoolie is a field holler; the name was suggested by McCormick.) Over the next 55 years, Chris and Arhoolie Records put out over 350 albums. A passionate seeker of just the right music, Chris’s many recordings included regional forms like zydeco may have never had national exposure without Arhoolie.

The Smithsonian acquired the Arhoolie label from Chris and his partner Tom Diamant in 2016 to assure that his recordings would survive and remain available to future generations.

TRAILER for ”this ain't no mouse music” - about chris Strachwitz