Friday, September 23, 2011

Berkeley Community Theater, 1930 Alston Way, Berkeley, CA

Designed in 1938 by architects Henry H. Gutterson and William Corlett, Sr.,
the theater was dedicated on June 5, 1950 after sitting only partially completed for almost nine years, due to delays caused by World War II. Students attending Berkeley High during the war years often called it the "Bird Cage" since the exposed metal framework was a roost for many seagulls waiting for students to finish their lunches.

The theater was designed to house a Theater organ, but one was not installed at the time of construction.
For those with dance experience, the stage is a "sprung" stage.
The Art Deco-style theater has 3,491 seats, including a balcony section. A large stage is extended by an orchestra pit that can be raised or lowered.

Decoration on the Berkeley High buildings includes bas-relief murals, lettering and stripes carved into the concrete-stucco exterior surfaces, stepped setbacks, fluted pilasters and columns, rounded bays and corners, stainless steel lettering, large deeply recessed multi-paned windows and glass block windows, curved overhangs, and concrete- and brick-faced planter boxes.

The bas-relief murals are works of art by the notable sculptors Jacques Schnier and Robert Howard [son of John Galen Howard]. At the corner of Allston Way and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, there is a large T-shaped bas-relief by Jacques Schnier of St. George slaying a dragon. Next to the relief are the words “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

While the theater has held performances of musical acts such as the Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the 'backstage' resources are extremely limited, and large acts tend to have trucks and buses lined up along the road immediately behind the stage.

In the 1980's, an organ was moved from the Paramount Theater in Toledo, Ohio and installed in the Berkeley Community Theater by the Nor-Cal Theater Organ Society.

The theater lighting and sound systems in both the Berkeley Community Theater, and the attached Florence Shwimley Little Theater have been neglected by the district funds, and are in dire need of upgrades.

However, the citizens of Berkeley have directed funds towards the theater on numerous occasions. Berkeley Voters, allocating around $15 million to the theater for renovation, passed measure AA in 2000. These funds were later taken to build the new administration building at Berkeley High School. A few of the funds came back into the building in renovating the fire alarm system. Yet during this process the grand curtain was damaged and torn by the contractors, and has yet to be repaired or replaced.

Jerry performed here on
1/13/67 Grateful Dead
They were brought in as a last-minute replacement for scheduled opener Jose Feliciano. They opened for the Mamas and Papas.(1)
8/14/71 Early and late shows New Riders Of The Purple Sage(3) and Grateful Dead
8/15/71 Early and late shows New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Grateful Dead
8/21/72 Grateful Dead
8/22/72 Grateful Dead
8/24/72 Grateful Dead
8/25/72 Grateful Dead
9/22/72 a United Farmworkers Union benefit for which Garcia flew back from the east coast.
8/23/74 Grateful Dead
4/25/81 Grateful Dead
10/27/84 Grateful Dead
10/28/84 Grateful Dead
10/30/84 Grateful Dead
10/31/84 Grateful Dead
11/2/84 Grateful Dead
11/3/84 Grateful Dead
3/9/85 Grateful Dead
3/10/85 Grateful Dead
3/12/85 Grateful Dead
3/13/85 Grateful Dead
4/18/86 Grateful Dead
4/19/86 Grateful Dead (Rex Benefit)
4/21/86 Grateful Dead(4)
"Brent Mydland stays on stage throughout the entire drumz and goes into a savage, tortured solo rendition of "Maybe You Know" in which he poured out his grief over his collapsing marriage to Lisa, prompting Garcia to come out help him finish the song and lead the band into GDTRFB, abandoning the usual Space altogether."(2)
4/22/86 Grateful Dead
5/15/86 John Kahn (Wavy Gravy's 50th  Birthday Party)(5)
9/24/94 Phil Lesh and Friends (first show)

1.)^Hunt, Evan S., Grateful, Dad, 2004,
2.)^Zack, comments, 2008-04-20,


  1. You are missing 9/22/72, a United Farmworkers Union benefit for which Garcia flew back from the east coast.