Grand Lake Theatre

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The Grand Lake Theatre is a historic movie palace located at 3200 Grand Avenue and Lake Park Avenue in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland, California.

View of the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, California


The Grand Lake was designed as a single auditorium theater by the Reid Brothers for West Coast Theatres, Inc. After it opened on March 6, 1926, it held vaudeville and silent movie showings, but with the arrival of "talkies" it began to exclusively show sound films. In 1928, the Grand Lake became part of the Fox Theatres chain, and in total, changed ownership five times until 1980. In 1980, the theater was purchased by Allen Michaan of Renaissance Rialto, Inc.[1]

The theater's exterior is surmounted by a giant illuminated rooftop sign. Neoclassical faux columns and urns line the main interior space and the ceiling is adorned with a crystal chandelier in the lobby and classical frescos in the auditorium. The theater's interior artwork is considered to be Art Deco.

After purchasing it, Renaissance Rialto, Inc. spent $3.5 million on renovation and expansion. In 1981, the balcony of the auditorium was split into a second auditorium. In 1985, neighboring storefronts were purchased and attached to the theater. These were transformed into a small Egyptian Revival styled auditorium and a small Moorish styled auditorium. After the expansions of the 1980s, the Grand Lake Theatre had a total of four screens and 1619 seats. The main auditorium is also equipped with a Mighty Wurlitzer organ hidden beneath the floor. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the historical organ rises for a brief concert before the movie.[2]

Most recently, Allen Michaan has spent close to $300,000 to install twin 3-D projectors in two of the 84-year-old Oakland movie palace's theaters - similar to the state-of-the-art setup Pixar has in its private screening auditorium, and he also repainted the building at a cost of $170,000.[3]

Michaan has said that "he will not let the Grand Lake Theatre, ... die" in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.[3]

The Roof Sign[edit]

The sign mounted on top of the Grand Lake Theatre is the largest rotary contact sign west of the Mississippi River. It measures 52 feet (15.85m) high by 72 feet (21.95m) wide and consists of 2,800 colored bulbs and was designed by Theodore Wetteland. The firing sequence is controlled by a device much like a music box. The sign is typically lit Friday and Saturday, from dusk until the start of the last show of the night.


Michaan is known to use his liberal politics as a guide in managing the Grand Lake. In 2004, he publicly announced that the theater would not enforce the R rating of the political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. The Grand Lake has also received widespread recognition for Michaan's use of the marquee as a political message board. In outrage at the 2000 presidential election, he posted this message on the high-traffic side of the marquee: "This Is America — Every Vote Should Be Counted" Since then, and with much support from the local community, Michaan has regularly used one side of the theater's marquee to display a timely political message. In addition to films, the theater also occasionally hosts talks and events on progressive political issues.

Between the midterm elections of November 2006 and January 2007, no political messages were displayed on the marquee, instead devoting the space to the names of upcoming films. Messages began to appear again in early January, beginning with "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," a statement derived from Edmund Burke's 1770 speech to Parliament, "Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents."

On September 9 and 10, 2009, the fifth 9/11 Film Festival was presented at the Grand Lake Theatre. The theater premiered Dylan Avery's Loose Change 9/11: An American Coup, narrated by Daniel Sunjata and produced by Korey Rowe and Matthew Brown.

On November 2, 2011, the Grand Lake Theatre closed its doors in support of the Occupy Oakland general strike. The marquee read "We proudly support the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Closed Wed. to support the strike." [4]

The Rachel Maddow Show featured the theater on November 2, 2011, as part of the video segment covering that day's Occupy Oakland protest and general strike. Maddow, a native of nearby Castro Valley, said that the Grand Lake Theatre was one of her favorite landmarks when she was growing up and is still a favorite of hers as an adult today. See the Rachel Maddow Show Nov 2nd transcript for her full statement about the Grand Lake Theatre.


  • The Grand Lake was featured prominently on Michael Moore's website when it announced on its marquee, "We will not enforce the R rating for Fahrenheit 9/11." Photo
  • A picture of the theater marquee was used in a Choice Hotels commercial (to the tune of Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere"). Photo

Notable Customers[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Grand Lake Theatre". Cinema Treasures. Retrieved 29 May 2005. 
  2. ^ "Grand Lake Theatre History". Renaissance Rialto. Retrieved 5 May 2005. 
  3. ^ a b Hartlaub, Peter (13 July 2010). "For Grand Lake Theatre owner, movies must go on". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 July 2010. 
  4. ^ Wollan, Malia (2 November 2011). "Oakland’s Port Shuts Down as Protesters March on Waterfront". NY Times. Retrieved 4 Nov 2011. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°48′41″N 122°14′51″W / 37.81145°N 122.24747°W / 37.81145; -122.24747