Wednesday, November 18, 2009
San Leandro, California
Billed as "the Bay Area's most modern theater," the local press described the new Bal Theatre as "dazzling" and "lavish" when it opened on July 1, 1946. The theater included a replica of the sidewalk at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, complete with hand and footprints of Hollywood stars. With radio personality Dean Maddox as Master of Ceremonies, movie star Virginia Wiedler christened the theatre's box office with a bottle of champagne as airplanes dropped streamers and confetti on the crowd below. The evening's feature was a double bill of The Bandit of Sherwood Forest and Getting Gertie's Garter.
Construction of the theatre was completed in about six months at a cost of $250,000. World War II had ended less than a year before the theatre opened and the area was undergoing a rapid growth which continued into the 1950s.
Even with the right demographics for a successful theatre, the Bal's owners had a difficult time competing with competition in Oakland and San Francisco. In 1962, Renny LaMarre filed an antitrust lawsuit against the United California Theater Company, who supplied their product to their own theatres before supplying films to the Bal. LaMarre won the case and received an $800,000 settlement and once again began showing first run films at the Bal.
In the 1960s, LaMarre sold the Bal to United Artists Theatres. Attendance remained low, even as many other small theaters in the area were closed and demolished. After the advent of multiplex theaters in the early 1960s, UA sold the Bal to the Republic Theater Company, headed by Ralph Martin. Martin and his son began running the theater in the 1970s.
As attendance continued to slip and as the local demographics changed, the Bal began featuring first-run Spanish language films during the 1970s. The Bal was successful again ... at least until the VCR took a large chunk of the Spanish language market. After trying American films with Spanish subtitles, the Bal closed in August of 1993.
The theatre reopened in May 1997, featuring Hindi films. The interior was cleaned up and new carpeting installed, but the Bal closed again late in 1998 and remained closed for two years. American films returned to San Leandro's only movie theatre in August 2000, but the theatre failed again and closed on June 19, 2001, citing financial woes, competition from the new Century Bayfair Theatre and problems with local authorities.
According to Scott Neff, no captions are necessary for these pictures.