Oakland Palace Theater Gets New Life
Immersive theater group Lucid Dream Lounge has big plans for the grand-again Spanish Colonial former movie palace in the San Antonio district.
The brains and brawn: Myles Faigin, Breanna Leslie, Kristopher Mandell, and Jakob Valvo.
Photo by Robert Schultze
If you have lived in the East Bay for long, you may have witnessed the rebirth of the Grand Lake Theatre and the Fox Theater in Oakland and Michaan Alameda Point Theater at Alameda Point and the Alameda Theatre & Cineplex in downtown Alameda. Those restoration projects took commitment and deep pockets, and there are a scant few visionaries who can see through the grime on these old buildings to the artistry and heritage underneath.
The Palace Theater, built in 1923 in Oakland's San Antonio neighborhood, is one of the few remaining old-time movie palaces. Many have been turned into churches, like the Palace, until a few years ago. Others have become restaurants and shops, or torn down altogether. Of three Spanish Colonial Revival theaters designed by the Reid Brothers, The Palace Theater Oakland is the only one that wasn't demolished and rebuilt, its supporters say.
When the golden age of vaudeville, silent films, and newsreels passed, buildings like the Palace languished in want of a fairy-godmother, or a young executive board with theater savvy, strong backs, and enough passion and business sense to steer the restoration through a five-year timeline.
Lucky for the battered grand dame, that saving board has arrived. Myles Faigin, executive producer; Breanna Leslie, creative director and curator; Kristopher Mandell, theatrical director; and Jakob Valvo, associate producer, have been partners with the immersive theater group, Lucid Dream Lounge. They knew they wanted a permanent space for their edgy, artful productions; together they possess a pool of resources and the keys to the Palace, where the restoration has already begun.
With excitement dancing in his eyes, Faigin rattles off the storied history of the building, from its "slightly seedy" beginnings as a music hall in a working class neighborhood to its last incarnation as a house of worship, when Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church bought the building in 1953. The building survived the latter years with most of its details intact, if boarded over or neglected. "The original is about 80 percent preserved," according to Faigin.
He showed off the building's architectural bones underneath layers of age, wear, and neglect redwood floors that have lain hidden under ugly carpet, stenciled wooden veneers damp-damaged from rain and steam that can be repaired, and undamaged tilework in two drinking fountains and period restrooms. The Spanish Colonial facades inside need some retiling and a paint job, but their charm is evident. The board plans to restore the Òsky ceiling that once glowed with shining stars while a cloud machine puffed smoke for atmosphere. The original ironwork railings and curving staircases are still safe and functional, and a bank of original seats in the balcony awaits the next movie night.
Faigin has found handbills, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia stashed in hidey-holes around the place, helping to remind the partners of their historic place in the neighborhood and an almost sacred bond with the building. Faigin calls the Palace, Òshe, and says, She's the older, simpler sister to the Grand Lake theater, " both designed by the Reid Brothers.
For now, the renovations go on, sometimes by the sweat of their brows and sometimes with judicious spending; the board is eager for angels and investors, and donations of all sizes are gladly accepted. The building, which holds more than 800 people, is available for everything from parties to concerts, movie nights, theater productions, and town hall meetings. Lucid Dream Lounge continues to produce events, film nights with discussion, and theatricals. All of it is part of the group's dream vision of where they will be in five years.
When he graduated from college, Faigin made a list of 10 things he wanted to do in life. "Number three was run a theater," he said. "That was 12 years ago. Now, with this project, I have hit eight out of the 10."
The Palace Theater is at 1445 23rd Ave., Oakland. You can learn more at www.PalaceTheater.com and www.LucidDreamLounge.com. Call 510-995-6563 or email PalaceTheaterOakland@gmail.com to discuss rentals or events. A fund is open at www.GoFundMe.com/ThePalaceOakland.