The Cerrito Theater, a popular restored 1937 Art Deco theater in the heart of El Cerrito, will be sold to Rialto Cinemas, its current operator, the City Council unanimously decided Tuesday.
The $790,000 purchase and sale agreement with Rialto Cinemas includes significant requirements to ensure the theater keeps operating, an advocate for the theater said.
David Weinstein, a longtime El Cerrito resident and member of Friends of the Cerrito Theater who spearheaded the restoration and re-opening of the theater in 2006, said:
“Rialto has agreed to operate the theater as either a cinema or performance space for 99 years and to preserve the historic elements of the theater for 99 years.”
Since the theater reopened, it has become a popular community center, airing the presidential debate between then-Senators Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, classic movies like Funny Face and first-run films including The Book Club and Incredibles 2.
The city must sell the theater because the State of California put local redevelopment agencies out of business in 2012, and told them to sell their assets. The Cerrito is one such asset.
The unanimous vote virtually guarantees that the deal will take place. However, an oversight committee created by the state to oversee such transfers must give its stamp of approval at an upcoming meeting.
Murals painted in the 1930s tower over the theater’s proscenium and progress down either side of the stage, depicting dancing warriors and maidens, Zeus and his thunderbolts and harlequins skipping to a distant tune.
“We originally had concerns about preserving historic elements like the murals, marquee, the Art Deco glass and original paint jobs inside the theater if some other company bought the theater from Rialto.”
“This is not just part of a shake-hands agreement — it’s part of the deed. … Also, the city has the right to inspect the theater while any work is done.”
The group also worried that renovations and maintenance might not be done properly if another company purchased the theater.
“We no longer have concerns because Rialto has agreed to our suggestion that any changes be done in accord with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards for the treatment of historic properties.”