CAFILM Sequoia Theater

25 Throckmorton Avenue,
Mill Valley, CA 94941

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California Film Institute (Official)

Additional Info

Operated by: California Film Institute

Previously operated by: Blumenfeld Theater Circuit, Pacific Theatres

Architects: James Reid, Merritt Reid

Firms: Reid Brothers

Styles: Art Deco

Previous Names: Sequoia Theatre, Sequoia Twin Cinema, CineArts Sequoia

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 415.388.1190

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News About This Theater

Mill Valley Sequoia 2010

The Sequoia Theatre was opened as a single screen theatre on February 21, 1929 with 1,200 seats. Twinned in 1975, the former Sequoia Twin Cinema is part of the Mill Valley Film Festival each year. It was closed in late-summer of 2023 for planned renovations having been taken over by the California Film Institute and renamed the CAFILM Sequoia Theater.

Contributed by frenchjr25

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

GaryParks on August 1, 2002 at 2:16 pm

The architects were Reid Bros. The lobby still has most of its original interior intact. Almost nothing remains in the auditorium, but the modern drapery job and carpeting makes a very nice, almost plush, environment. Since the photo above was taken, the facade has gotten a new paint job in cooler greens and corals, and the 40s-era marquee has been replaced with one reminiscent of the original. Recently the theatre has been taken over by CineArts, the new art house wing of Century Theatres.

DavidG on April 13, 2004 at 1:16 am

To fill in missing info above:
Seats: 345/auditorium (X2)
Address: 25 Throckmorton Av, Mill Valley 94941
The Sequoia was built and operated for almost 50 years by the Blumenfeld Theatres circuit of San Francisco, from its opening in Feb., 1929. The theatre was arguably the most beautiful one in operation in Marin County, north of San Francisco, during this period. In its early days, in addition to silent, and later, sound films, it featured vaudeville-style acts on its full stage and live musical entertainment between shows on a large Wurlitzer theatre organ.
Operation of the theatre was taken over by Pacific Theatres in 1976, one year after it was “twinned”.
The lobby has actually undergone a few remodels over the years. First was the addition of its original snack bar, tucked under the stadium balcony – one of the first in Northern California – on the side of the lobby. When the theatre was first twinned in 1975, a new snack bar was installed in the center of the lobby running its length, and effectively cutting it in half, with a box office at its “nose” by the front entry.
In 1999, Pacific Theatres remodeled the theatre once again, replacing the original auditorium seats with plush, high-back loge style ones, improved the notoriously bad between-auditorium soundproofing, installed digital sound capabilities in both theatres and once again, completely changed the lobby layout. At this time some of the original architectural details in the lobby were uncovered and/or restored, and a new snack bar was installed along the left side of the lobby, opening it back up to better flow. The facade of the building was given a cosmetic facelift and the marquee was replaced with one fashioned after the theatre’s original 1929 marquee.
In 2001, Pacific sold its Marin Division to Century Theatres, who now operate the Sequoia as a “CineArts” theatre, specializing in art, independent and foreign films. The building is still owned by the Blumenfeld family and The Sequoia remains host to the annual Mill Valley Film Festival, held the first two weeks each October.

bballas on September 4, 2004 at 4:18 pm

In 1999 Plath & Company General Contractors of San Francisco, noted for its restoration of historic buildings and upscale residences completed the $1 million remodeling of downtown Mill Valley’s historic Sequoia Theatre, home to the Mill Valley Film Festival.

The 650-seat twin theater was owned by Pacific Theatres Corp. of Los Angeles. Architect for the project is Lerner + Associates Architects of San Francisco, which specializes in historic preservation and accessibility projects.

The 70-year-old theater, which originally opened its doors in February 1929, will host the 22nd Annual Mill Valley Film Festival Oct. 7-17. Renovations to the theater included a new marquee and digital sound systems, new auditorium seating, improvements to the lobby and box office, and the addition of a wheelchair lift and other ADA amenities. New colors were selected for the exterior of the theater, which was repainted.

“The Sequoia Theatre has played an important role in the cultural and artistic life of Marin County,” said Steve Plath, president of Plath Construction. “Renovation of historic buildings such as this one offers unique challenges that call for a special set of skills and sensitivity to historic architecture. We are proud to have participated in the theater’s latest incarnation.”

During the remodeling the existing marquee on the front of the building, which had replaced the 1929 original, was removed and a new 22-foot marquee consistent with the historic design was installed. It features column details on either end as well as a medallion in the center.

Improvements within the lobby include the relocation of the box office; the installation of a ‘gourmetâ€\ snack bar; restoration of many of the original architectural finishes, including the barrel vault ceilings, plaster moldings, and grilled lighting; and improved bathroom access for people with disabilities. Other accessibility upgrades include a wheelchair lift, improved egress and ingress, two new bathrooms, and accessible seating.

In the auditoriums, there are new high-back seats with cup holders and retractable armrests, new draperies, and new Dolby and DTS digital sound systems.

Reid Brothers of San Francisco designed the 1929 building in the classic style as a theater palace on a small scale. The original construction cost was $100,000 plus $25,000 for the furnishings. The Sequoia was originally built by Blumenfeld Theaters, Inc. An official capacity crowd of 1,200 attended the opening on Feb. 21, 1929. The opening night feature was ‘The Kids Clever,â€\ accompanied by a newsreel.

A Mill Valley schoolboy named Ralph Kliewe, who won a contest to name the theater for a historic or other feature distinctly typical of Marin County, gave the theater the title ‘Sequoia.â€\ His prize was a year of free movie-watching at the theater. In its first several decades, the theater had three changes a week, and in addition to movies, travelogues, and cartoons, hosted the Marin Light Opera Company, live shows, beauty contests, and amateur theatricals.

Any questions regarding this project mat contact Bill Ballas at Plath & Company. Email or call (415) 460-1575.

kencmcintyre on February 8, 2006 at 5:17 pm

The roof collapsed in September 2004 during a show:

The show must go on
Roof collapse forces film festival into different digs
Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

If town pride could be measured, the meter dipped recently in Mill Valley.

This normally carefree hamlet at the base of Mount Tamalpais was jolted last month when the ceiling of the classic Sequoia Theatre collapsed during a bargain matinee.

It was a rude awakening for the 40 or so people watching “Garden State” – – especially the three patrons who were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. But it was the town itself that really took it on the noggin. As workers sifted through the tons of plaster and lath that cascaded onto the seats, it quickly became clear that the leafy suburb’s signature event, the Mill Valley Film Festival, would have to pack up and move — to San Rafael, no less.

Sure, there will be some receptions in Mill Valley, and a movie or two at the newly revitalized 142 Throckmorton Theatre, known locally by its former moniker, the Odd Fellows Hall. But the majority of the glitterati of filmdom will be congregating elsewhere during the festival Oct. 7-17.

Since this is a town that sees itself as the cultural capital and the unofficial arbiter of good taste in Marin County, it was hard to take.

“It’s a blow that the film festival won’t be here,” said Don Hunter, Mill Valley’s city manager. “It’s only (a short) event, so it’s not a big financial blow, but from the perspective of what it does to the wholeness of the community, it hurts. The film festival is part of the life of the community. We look forward to it like we look forward to the Dipsea (hike and run) race every year.”

In front of the shuttered theater, Mill Valley residents echoed Hunter’s sentiments.

“It’s absolutely, totally an essential part of the community,” said Liz Levy, 58. “It’s devastating for Mill Valley folks that the film festival won’t be here this year.”

“The film festival is a very unusual thing in this town — it resonates in the community. It is a special thing for Mill Valley, and to not have it this year is a loss,” said Steve Coleman, a theater set designer, as he looked over a sign announcing the festival’s departure to San Rafael. Mill Valley, as much as any suburb of San Francisco, has tried, with debatable success, to hold on to its small-town roots. The 13,800 residents have fought against development with intensity, even as the median price of a home soared into the stratosphere and boutique shops pushed out many resident-serving businesses.

Once an oasis for artists, writers and bohemians, little Mill Valley may not be so homey anymore, but the townsfolk managed at least to preserve its small-town feel. Many of the original downtown buildings are still standing, and a European-style town square was built around the old train depot to complement them.

The focal point of it all is, and always has been, the Sequoia Theatre.

Built eight months before the stock market crashed in 1929, the Sequoia was raised in grand style at a cost of $100,000, plus another $25,000 for the plush furnishings.

Opening night drew 1,200 people to each of two showings. It was one of the largest audiences ever assembled in Mill Valley. The town’s population was just under 4,000 at the time.

The show included the films “Uncle Tom” and “The Kid’s Clever” (“a riot of laughs throughout,” stated the program), a sports review by Grantland Rice, plus vaudeville acts and speeches. Gertrude Lynne played the “mammoth” Wurlitzer organ.

In addition to silent, and later, sound films, the Sequoia routinely featured vaudeville-style acts and live musical entertainment on its full stage between shows.

The theater was turned into a twin theater in 1975. Repairs were made in 1991 and the theater, with a capacity of 650 seats, was renovated again in 1999.

Over the years, the pressure mounted to close the theater as more multiplex theaters were built in shopping malls. Unlike many other historic theaters, however, the Sequoia survived.

“A theater is important in a town, and Mill Valley saved its theater,” said Barry Spitz, author of the history book “Mill Valley, The Early Years.” “Despite the rise of VCRs and computer games, people still love to go to the movies. There’s nothing like walking to a grand old neighborhood theater, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

The collapse of a 25-foot-by-25-foot section of the ceiling on Aug. 16 happened because the metal lath and plaster had been weakened by water that had leaked years earlier through the attic, according to two engineering reports.

Century Theatres, which operates the Sequoia, did not give a date when the movie house will reopen, but it is expected to be ready for the 2005 film festival.

Mark Fishkin, who founded the Mill Valley Film Festival in 1978, said the Smith Rafael Film Center and two screens at the Regency Theaters in San Rafael will be used. The old Odd Fellows Hall — which was Mill Valley’s first theater, predating the Sequoia, and was once named the Hub Theatre — will also have screenings, Fishkin said. It was the primary venue for the film festival when it started in 1978.

Nevertheless, Fishkin said, the festival will not be the same this year without Mill Valley and its signature movie house playing a primary role.

“The importance of Mill Valley is extraordinary. It’s the home of the festival,” Fishkin said. “Even the most jaded Hollywood producer, after 12 hours in Mill Valley, lets down his guard. But this year is an anomaly. We’ll be back in Mill Valley in 2005.”

DavidG on July 20, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Sequoia Sold?

Lots of rumors and stories flying around regarding the sale of the Sequoia Theatre to the California Film Institute (CFI), operators of the Mill Valley Film Festival and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA.
Just to set the record straight…
The Sequoia Theatre BUILDING was sold to the CFI – as a presumably future operation for them. The building has three current tenants under lease – a curio gift shop, a make-up parlor and the CineArts Sequoia. At this time, all three tenants will continue to occupy and operate their businesses under CFI’s purchase agreement. This includes Cinemark Theatres, which currently operates the CineArts Theatres, and will continue to run the theatre under the terms of their lease, for at least for 3 more years, with two five-year extensions at their discretion.
The decision to turn over operation of the Sequoia to the CFI, prior to November of 2021, rests for the time being, completely in Cinemark’s hands. They could decide to surrender the lease in 2011, 2016 or not until it runs out in 2021. Only time will tell at this point. But, for the time being, it will remain a CineArts Theatre, and be operated solely by Cinemark Theatres.

Sydney on January 23, 2014 at 9:54 am

My Great Grandmother won a contest to name the theater and got a life time pass. She never ever went to the movies. I took my grandmother to see Fantasia 2000. We walked in and she was standing by the doors waiting for the ushers to seat us. She hadn’t been to the movies in 40 years!

dallasmovietheaters on June 29, 2021 at 7:58 pm

Official name is CinéArts Sequoia

DavidZornig on January 23, 2022 at 10:52 am

Additional history credit Mill Valley Historical Society.


On February 21, 1929, the art-deco style Sequoia Theater on Throckmorton Avenue opened with “talkies,” with a capacity crowd filling the theater’s 1,200 seats for both the 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm shows at a time when Mill Valley’s entire population was barely 4,000.

Elise Smith grew up on Walnut Avenue in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and remembers,

“Before the war, the Sequoia Theater hired only boys to work as ushers. During the war they hired usherettes, and a lot of girls applied. You had to be able to work weekends, matinees and evenings, and ‘close up’ every third night… that meant that you worked until the theater closed for the night. You took turns working the matinees and you got to leave school early to work on Tuesdays. They hired three girls, and I was thrilled when they picked me as one of the three. I worked there during my Junior and Senior years at Tamalpais High School. My paycheck for the last week that I worked there was dated January 18, 1944. I had worked a total of 26-½ hours. I took home the grand total of $14.18 for the week. The teenage boys who worked there as marquee letter-changers and ticket takers were part of a group of friends which we socialized with. In a way it seemed like a small family group. Although we all came from different family situations and backgrounds, we all were brought closer together by our association at the Sequoia Theater.”

MontyMac on June 12, 2022 at 5:27 pm

The owner, the California Film Institute, which produces the Mill Valley Film Festival, has proposed to remodel the building to turn the theater into a quad-screen, expand the lobby into the current tenant spaces, excavate a full basement, and replace the roof so that it can be used as a pavilion for events. The project is currently in planning review.

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