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Elmwood Theater Renovations to Last Into New Year By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday December 03, 2004

Problems with renovation work are expected to delay opening of Berkeley’s Elmwood Theater until past the first of the year, but a local engineer involved in seismic retrofit of the theater building says his portion of the project is not to blame. 

Instead, delays in cleanup from a broken sewer line may be the culprit. 

Earlier this fall, the College Avenue theater temporarily shut its doors, with a sign on the marquee announcing “Closed For Remodel.” Announcements taped to the box office window indicated that “the Elmwood will be reopening soon,” and invited patrons to call a recorded information line for more details. 

This week, the line only said that the theater was closed for “major remodeling of our grand auditorium… [to] include a new floor, new high-back chairs, and new drapes,” and told listeners to “check back for updates on opening dates.” 

According to Elmwood Theater Foundation President David Salk, there are actually two separate renovations ongoing, one under the authority of the theater foundation, which owns the building, and another undertaken by San Carlos Cinemas, which rents and operates the theater. 

San Carlos Cinemas reportedly operates 75 screens at six movie theater locations, according to a City of Oxnard press release put out earlier. Salk said that while he was “not at liberty to talk about anything but” the renovations being supervised by the theater foundation, it was his understanding that the San Carlos Cinemas renovation involved “putting in new seats and carpeting and stuff.” 

However, reports from patrons who were present in the theater on the week it shut down indicated that they were informed that the initial problem resulted from a burst sewer line underneath the theater. 

Diana Aikenhead, an inspector in the City of Berkeley Department of Public Works, confirmed that Hand’s On Plumbing & General Contracting of Pacheco is doing what she called “exploratory work” on a sewer line under the theater. She said that while her office has not yet been called in to inspect the work, she added that “I guess it’s probably pretty bad because [the contractor has] been there a while.” 

Hand’s On Plumbing did not respond to telephone calls related to this story, and representatives of San Carlos Cinemas could not be reached for comment. 

Meanwhile, according to Salk, the theater foundation is taking advantage of the temporary closure caused by San Carlos Cinemas’ work to complete a seismic retrofit at the theater. The seismic retrofitting is being coordinated by the international architecture, engineering and construction management firm Integrated Structures, Inc. of Berkeley. That work—to strengthen the ceiling and the front façade—was left undone when the theater reopened after previous renovations ten years ago. A November press release on Integrated Structure’s website says that the renovations were “left incomplete after the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the project Engineer could not reach consensus on a retrofit scheme for the front façade.” 

Integrated Structures was not the project engineer in 1994. 

Integrated Structures owner R. Gary Black said negotiations with city staff on permits for the seismic retrofit began eight months ago, and were complicated by the fact that the theater façade had landmark status, and there “wasn’t an unlimited amount of money available” to fund the project. The seismic construction work itself did not begin until after Thanksgiving. Black said that the ceiling re-strengthening work is proceeding on time, “and as far as our work is concerned, the theater could open in two weeks.” 

He added that work on the building’s exterior can be done even with the theater open, and he expects completion of that portion of the retrofit work by mid-March. Integrated Structure’s website release says that a “low-cost, low-impact retrofit solution” drafted by the company “was unanimously approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in August.”›