The Rheem Theatre
In 2015, when the Rheem Theatre operators first announced closure due to the high cost of rent, a group of Moraga residents got together and formed the Moraga Community Foundation- a non-profit organization with a mission to build a vibrant future for Moraga. Community ownership and preservation of the Rheem Theatre became one of the foundation’s driving goals. Over the ensuing years, the MCF has been supportive of the Theatre operators while looking for a path to achieve a long-term solution.
The current owner of the Theatre owns the entire building as well as the open lot next to the Theatre. The properties have been for sale for many years. There is a desire to develop the open lot and over the years multiple design studies have been presented to the town.
Late last year the owner presented a new design to the town which would allow him to build a higher number of residential units. In a negotiation with town officials, the owner agreed to sell the Rheem Theatre and other parts of the building to the Moraga Community Foundation for $150,000 if the residential development passes all necessary town approvals. This Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) was signed by both parties in March 2018.
It was also agreed that the owner would reduced the rent to $5,000 a month in the interim.
How did the Theatre’s re-opening happen?
The Town Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mahesh Puri, the owner of the Rheem Theatre building. The goal of the MOU included establishing a path for the preservation of the historic Rheem Theatre in recognition of its significance to the community. The MOU included the re-leasing of the theatre at a lower cost, submission of an application for development of 48 residential units adjacent to the theatre and an expedited review of the project by the Town. The Town was not required to approve the project. However, if the project was approved by the Town, Mr. Puri agreed to sell the Rheem Theatre to the Moraga Community Foundation for not more than $150,000 in a private transaction. With the reduced rent established by the M.O.U., the MCF signed a lease agreement with the building owner and a management agreement with the operators Derek Zemrak and Leonard Pirkle.
What is MCF doing now?
MCF has been informed that the Theatre building was sold to a different entity in April 2019. The Rheem Theatre is currently still in the hands of the operators and MCF still holds the lease. Over the last 10 months, we brought many professionals to the theatre for inspection, evaluation, estimates and work. This includes: floors, doors, roof, heating and AC, cleaning and structural integrity. We also have had a fantastic group of local citizens volunteering each week to cover a shift at the ticket box office.
Across the country, old movie theatres have become community assets - often owned by nonprofit organizations with the goal of serving the community, much like the MCF. Join us in thanking all our volunteers, donors, and professionals in our community who have supported the Foundation’s work on the Theatre.
How can you help?
Go to the movies!
Chose the Rheem Theatre when going out for a movie with friends or family – check www.lamorindatheatres.com to see what is playing.
History of the Rheem Theatre:
Architects Cantin & Cantin designed the Rheem Theatre, and it opened in June, 1957. Photos of it were published in the October 19, 1957, issue of Boxoffice Magazine. It was a 1000-seat house with a large stadium section. The auditorium walls featured extensive murals, and the house had what was then the largest installation of rocking chairs in the United States, being the only theater west of the Rockies that was entirely seated with them.
The Rheem was also unusually spacious for its time, with row spacing of 42 to 44 inches, and the seats had extra-wide arm rests. As Gary Parks commented above, despite its late construction date the Rheem had the style of the luxurious Art Moderne theaters of the 1940s; but it also had the spaciousness which has only become standard in recent years, so it was both a throwback and well ahead of its time. The owner of the theater, Donald Rheem, could clearly afford the best of everything, and Cantin & Cantin certainly provided it.
The Moraga Community Foundation is supporting community efforts towards protecting this historic property. In August 2015, the Moraga Community Foundation Board of Directors appointed an ad hoc theater task force to work with others in the community on a plan to preserve the theater’s role in ourcommunity.