Orinda Theatre: Look back to when the SF Bay Area’s iconic landmark first opened

The Orinda Theater - Orinda California - at night (2012)

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Millions of people in San Francisco’s East Bay drive by the iconic Orinda Theatre every year, with its neon sign easily visible from the freeway. So what’s its story? Find out more about this California landmark here!

New Orinda Theater under construction (1941)

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) August 17, 1941

Rapid progress is noted in the construction of the impressive new theater of the Orinda Theater Company, which is being built at a cost of more than $100,000. According to A. A. Cantin, architect, the structure will be completed during October.

It occupies a site of 136 by 250 feet fronting on Moraga Road, at the Southwest corner of the Moraga and Orinda crossroads. Ben Randall will manage the theater. Sahli Brothers are the contractors.

Vintage Orinda Theater under construction - August 17 1941

Orinda Theatre: Modernism reigns in house situated at ‘The Crossroads’ (1941)

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) December 26, 1941

Promptly at 7 tomorrow night, the doors of the new Orinda Theatre will swing open for the first time to welcome East Bay theatergoers.

The Orinda is located at the junction of the main Tunnel-Walnut Creek Highway with the Orinda and Moraga lateral highways.

Two complete performances will be given at tomorrow evening’s Gala Opening event. For the first time, all but approximately 200 seats have been sold on advance reservations, but first-nighters will be able to obtain seats in any part of the theater at the box office for the second performance of the evening.

Those who attend tomorrow’s night’s premiere will find the Orinda Theatre unlike any they have visited in the past, the management predicted, both in the type and number of the many features planned for the enjoyment of its patrons.

From the outset, it has been designed and constructed to provide perfect comfort and perfect presentation of the picture plays, so audiences may “live” the stories, totally free from any distraction.

Comfort and beautiful surroundings, however, are secondary to the quality of the pictures presented, it was stated.

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On this all-important point, the new Orinda has completed arrangements to bring the best releases of all the major producers to its screen, soon after they first leave the studios. Pictures of varying types have been booked to provide variety, and in each case, selections have been made with the greatest care to assure only the outstanding features.

Orinda Theatre

Orinda Theatre centrally located

Located conveniently for all residents of the Orinda-Moraga-Lafayette suburban residential areas, the new theater can be reached from Berkeley and all parts of north and central Oakland by a short, rapid drive over the four-lane Tunnel Highway in 15 minutes or less.

Directly adjoining the theater on its own property is a large paved area for quick and easy parking, reserved without charge for patrons. Ample space has been provided for more than 200 cars. This arrangement enables city people actually to be at the box office as soon as they can reach many of the city amusement centers.

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Patrons will discover the Orinda’s atmosphere of warm hospitality as soon as they enter the foyer, the manager said. Here in a pleasant setting are comfortable facilities arranged to provide a quiet resting place, more like a “living room” than a theater lobby.

Oval in form, the room is flanked by four specially-designed sofas in modern baroque style, and the decorative scheme employs American Beauty Rose, Bright Blue and Midnight Blue. Well-appointed restrooms are situated on each side, including a powder room beautifully furnished and finished in soft pastel shades.

The Orinda Theater in 2018
The Orinda Theater in 2018


Ramps lead to the center of the theater proper. This is in two sections, the lower section, or auditorium, comparing with the conventional lower floor and upper section, or stadium rising above. Whichever section is preferred, theatergoers enter at the center of the house and may reach their seats with a minimum of effort.

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Designed and executed by the distinguished mural decorator, Tony Heinsberger of Los Angeles, the great wall paintings in the auditorium and stadium interpret the lands bordering the Pacific, and the great ocean itself, now the scene of America’s growing activity in the determined effort for complete and final victory.

Theater chairs reach a new high in comfort at the Orinda. Every seat is a lounge. Cushions are luxuriously deep, the chairs are wide, and the high supporting backs and armrests are heavily upholstered.

Cushions are made with the new “feather foam” front that eliminates all pressure on the back part of the leg, a common cause of feet that “go to sleep” and nervous discomfort. Patrons will enjoy complete relaxation, permitting full attention to the picture.

Modernism reigns The new Orinda Theatre opens 1941

Space between rows

At the expense of seating capacity, the Orinda Theater management has allowed extra room up to a full 42 inches between rows. This generous spacing does away with the necessity of standing when people pass in and out, and provides extra legroom for tall people.

The air-conditioning system employs both heating and cooling apparatus to maintain temperature and humidity constantly at the correct level. It furnishes more than twice the quantity of fresh conditioned air per minute usual in auditoriums of like size.

There are no drafts at any point in the theater, as the air distribution is controlled by new draftless diffusers. Smoking is permitted in the stadium section, but smoke is instantly removed to the ceiling and out of the house.

‘Black light’ is used

The theater interior is illuminated with “black light,” utilizing the latest advances in the application of fluorescence. People entering from the brightly-lit outside area will find an adequate amount of interior light for clear seating.

Today’s Orinda Theatre: See what’s playing there now!

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