Orinda’s Most Visible Landmark Celebrates its 80th Anniversary

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(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Derek Zemrak with his new book on his favorite movies flanked by advertisements for current and upcoming movies showing the diversity offered at the Art Deco theater.

    That Grand Old Lady, also known as the Orinda Theatre, celebrates her 80th birthday in style Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. Owner/Operator Derek Zemrak has secured the rights to Cinema Paradiso for the evening, which will include surprise announcements regarding the theater.
    “In celebration of this milestone, the Orinda Theatre is giving a gift to the community that donated to our GoFundMe campaign,” said Zemrak. “The classic film, Cinema Paradiso, will be shown free to all donors and a guest. We want to personally thank our donors who kept the theater alive during this pandemic. If it were not for their generosity, we would not be open today.”
    Winner of Best International Film Feature at the 1990 Academy Awards, Cinema Paradiso tells the story of a filmmaker recalling his childhood when he fell in love with the movies shown in his home village while developing a deep friendship with the theater’s projectionist. Light snacks, popcorn and soft drinks will be provided with beer and wine available for purchase.
    The Orinda Theatre’s GoFundMe campaign was one of the many innovative ways Zemrak and his team kept the theater doors open. He also offered the middle-sized theater as a rental for special events and, for a small fee, put Happy Birthday and other signage on the marquee for local residents. Outdoor music in front of the theater’s ornate entrance also became a popular way to see friends in a COVID-safe atmosphere while supporting the theater.
    Built by Donald Rheem with architect Alexander Aimwell Cantin, the Orinda Theatre originally opened Dec. 27, 1941, with the movie Texas starring William Holden.
    Slated for demolition in 1984, it was saved through the efforts of preservationists and reopened in 1989 with two additional screens added. The original lobby and main theater were left intact, with the murals in the middle-sized theater coming from the Garden Theatre in San Jose when it was demolished. The theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Contra Costa County.

Sally Hogarty can be reached at sally@theorindanews.com.

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