Monday, January 7, 2013

Rheem Theatre, 350 Park Street, Moraga, CA


Photo by anomalesA (cinema treasures)
Capacity 1000
Built and opened in June, 1957, the Rheem Theatre was originally one screen, but during its remodeling in the 1990's was split into four. The renovation did not ruin its original look.
The architect was Cantin and Cantin. It was a 1000-seat house with a large stadium section. The auditorium walls featured extensive murals, and the house had what was then the largest installation of rocking chairs in the United States, being the only theater west of the Rockies that was entirely seated with them.
The Rheem was also unusually spacious for its time, with row spacing of 42 to 44 inches, and the seats had extra-wide arm rests. Despite its late construction date the Rheem had the style of the luxurious Art Moderne theaters of the 1940s; but it also had the spaciousness which has only become standard in recent years, so it was both a throwback and well ahead of its time. The owner of the theater, Donald Rheem, could clearly afford the best of everything, and Cantin & Cantin certainly provided it.(3)
Lobby photo by Scott Neff, 1997
Photo by Scott Neff, 1997

Photo by Scott Neff, 1997
This theater was built by the Rheem family, of the famous Rheem Water Heater Company.  Every home back then had one. They made a fortune and they are still in business. Their father, William Rheem, was President of Standard Oil Company.(5)
Attached onto the back of the Orinda Theater was a big neon sign in green. It said “Rheem Theater – 5 miles” and had a green arrow showing you the way, you couldn’t miss it you could see it from the freeway.(2)
Though it was built as part of a shopping center, the Rheem looks fully like a theatre that would have been built ten years earlier. One could say that it was the last movie theatre of the classic era to be built in the Bay Area. There is abundant neon on the exterior, plenty of etched glass and terrazzo in the entryway, and murals depicting the Zodiac in the auditorium.(4)
The main theatre has couches in the back! It's like kicking back in your own living room.
The Rheem Theatre was closed on April 15, 2010, but it was taken over by the California Independent Film Festival Association and re-opened in September 2010 as the New Rheem Theatre.(1)

Jerry performed here on
2/9/74 Merl Saunders




1.)^Mr. Lopez, Cinema Treasures, http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4587
2.)^celaniasdawn, cinema treasures, http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4587/comments
3.)^Vogel, Joe, Cinema Treasures, http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4587/comments
4.)^Parks, Gary, Cinema Treasures, http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4587/comments
5.)^Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Quill Driver Books. p. 689

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