Varsity Theatre

2064 San Pablo Avenue,
Berkeley, CA 94702

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gsmurph on October 22, 2021 at 7:39 am

The Priya Indian restaurant, located in the former Varsity, has since closed; the site is currently vacant.

EduardoPineda on May 31, 2018 at 3:29 pm

The Varsity Theatre opened on Saturday night, September 28, 1912 according to an article in the Berkeley Daily Gazette published that day. Donnamehrten: the 1917 Berkeley telephone directory listed manager Chas L. Mahrten as living very close to the theater at 2128 8th Street.

walterk on March 1, 2018 at 5:30 am

The Varsity opened in the summer of 1912 (late July-early August) according to Motography (August 3 issue) and Moving Picture World (July 20). It was operated by Messrs. Turner and Dahnken, their eleventh theatre in a circuit that covered most of the Bay Area and extended as far east as Stockton and Fresno. This was their third theatre in Berkeley, the previous summer they opened the Berkeley Theatre. Their original house in Berkeley was a nickelodeon also named Varsity, which they took over operation of in 1909 and closed the previous year after opening the Berkeley.

In 1912, for a 10 cent admission, patrons were given four reels of Licensed pictures. The Varsity initially seated about 480 and according to a 1914 article referenced below, featured a modern heating system and full basement, including dressing rooms located under the stage. A piano supplied musical accompaniment.

Donnamerhten, that most likely is your grandfather in the vintage picture on the photo page, it was published in the September 5, 1914 issue of The Moving Picture World. In addition to giving a description of the theatre I mentioned above, it goes on to say the C. L. Mehrten was in the process enlarging the auditorium, increasing the capacity to 700. The Motion Picture News mentioned in its September 12th issue that seating was being increased by “about” 270 seats to “about” 750. Both of these were a little behind the times, the Varsity had reopened August 20th according to the September 12 issue of “Moving Picture World”.

Mehrten was well known in the trade, he spent several years as treasurer of the California Motion Picture Exhibitor’s League and had started in the business around 1903, when he began to operate his own road show. In 1917 he sold the Varsity and this theatre which he had built (but did not operate) and retired from the business.

The Varsity changed hands again before being purchased by Lawrence Borg in the fall of 1920. In late September 1924, he sold a half interest to the newly formed Golden State Theatre and Realty Corporation. Borg kept his position as manager and it was announced plans were in the works to remodel and enlarge the venue. Borg had previously purchased land a block south at San Pablo Avenue and Allston Way with plans to build a larger theatre, he sold that land shortly after the sale

On September 30, 1924 a two manual four rank type B sp Wuriltzer, opus 913, was installed. Its tenure however was short, it was sold in March, 1925.

Late in 1925 it was announced that rather than enlarge the Varsity, work would commence in early 1926 on a new theatre to replace it a block to the north, which was eventually named the Rivoli. The Moving Picture World and Berkeley Daily Gazette both mentioned the Varsity would close with its opening, which took place October 21,1926.

Donnamehrten on February 11, 2017 at 7:03 am

Oh my gosh. That might be my grandfather, Charles L. Mehrten, on the right. He was a tall guy who was bald from a young age. I don’t know exactly which years he owned(?)the Varsity, but I do know that he was the proprietor in its early years. I didn’t know exactly where it was until finding it on this site! So neat to still be able to see architectural features even today.

mlind on January 21, 2013 at 5:57 pm

If you look at the picture, you can see remnants of the theater – an outline of the arch and two round windows.

gsmurph on December 14, 2004 at 6:09 pm

At some point after its closure (this was a single-screen theatre), the building was subdivided into two storefronts (2064 and 2072) and, at least much of the time since then, the two spaces have been occupied by separate and varying businesses over the decades. An Indian restaurant occupies the site today, using both spaces (and lists its address as 2072).

mlind on November 15, 2004 at 7:33 pm

It was located at 2064 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley CA