Grand Lake Theater

Grand Lake Theater

The Grand Lake Theater is a historical movie palace located at 3200 Grand Avenue and Lake Park Avenue in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland, California in the United States of America.


The Grand Lake was designed as a single auditorium theater by the Reid Brothers for West Coast Theaters, 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 Theaters chain, and in total, changed ownership five times until 1980. In 1980, the theater was purchased by Allen Michaan of Renaissance Rialto, Inc.

Although the theater has an almost Art Deco exterior dominated by a giant illuminated rooftop sign and a neon marquee, the interior is best described as neo-classical. Faux columns and urns line the main theater space and the ceiling is adorned with a crystal chandelier in the lobby and classical frescos in the auditorium.

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 Theater 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.

The Roof Sign

The sign mounted on top of the Grand Lake Theater 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."


* 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." []
* 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

* Reverend Jesse Jackson
* Congresswoman Barbara Lee
* Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney
* Filmmaker George Lucas
* Filmmaker Steven Spielberg
* Actor Danny Glover
* Actor Sean Penn
* Investigative Journalist Greg Palast
* Comedian Greg Proops


* [ Grand Lake Theater History] . Retrieved May 29, 2005.
* [ Cinema Treasures | Grand Lake Theater] . Retrieved May 29, 2005.
* [ Don Quixote Michaan: Man with a Marquee] . Retrieved May 30, 2005.

External links

* [ Photo log of Grand Lake Theater's political marquee messages]
* [ Grand Lake Theater current schedule]
* [ May 8 KGO News Piece, "Grand Lake Theater Struggles to Stay in Business]

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