Telegraph Ave. Makes History Again

by Steed Dropout
Nov. 8, 2014

The co-leaders of what was billed as a Berkeley Path Wanderers event: “Telegraph then and now,” met at the mosaic bench beside the tennis courts at Willard Park, Sunday. Co-leaders arrived early to greet time-zone-change bunglers.

Homeless man, foreground, told me he prefers Willard to Telegraph.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

The co-leaders said that they were both over-prepared; it was difficult to convey a sense of what Telegraph Avenue was. One of the leaders read aloud from the opening of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, a masterpiece of detail.

The tour never reached that level of detail, but it came close.

The tour paired Berkeley Reporter, a “news blog,” according to Google, with Quirky Berkeley, who is about to have a piece about him in the New York Times.

Quirky Tom Dalzell, Sunday. Photo by Ted Friedman.

The tour got off to a quirky start when Berkeley Reporter was goaded by Quirky to rouse “Traveling Bob,” in his 30 foot yellow school bus, adorned with a mural that quirky admired. Traveling is a banjo busker and proved it when he emerged stool-in-hand and began to busk.

“He’s not that good,” said a path wanderer. Yet he had sabotaged the tour, as people seemed transfixed. Eventually, the tour resumed with the busker fans bringing up the rear.

Berkeley Reporter had titillated he would tour Telegraph’s lost whore-house. He added the recently closed last porn shop in Berkeley, screaming (sound problems) “you wouldn’t call Good Vibrations [extant], a porn shop would you?”

Berkeley Reporter looked into some what-the-hey faces, but soon had a small group of new friends at his elbow for the beginning of the Berkeley’s Cinema Row tour at Telegraph Repertory Cinema,


Telegraph Repertory Cinema, 2533 Telegraph, 1967-86
Cinema Guild-Studio, opened 50s, closed in 60s; a vacant lot, formerly Intermezzo Cafe
Sunset, 2411 Telegraph circa 70-76
Campus, 2510 Durant, 1916-26.
Campus, 2440 Bancroft, 1926-51*

*Cinema row, according to old timers’ memories and Cinema Treasures, which lists all closed U.S. movie houses. Berkeley has 23 closed movie houses.

Berkeley’s lost Cinema row tells many stories. The first story, Sunday, was George Pauley, whose Telegraph Repertory Cinema was the last survivor (closed ’86) of closures on Telegraph’s Cinema Row.

Pauley was hugely popular on the South side; the Telegraph Rep site at Cinema Treasures contains many posts with fond memories, some about Pauley’s popcorn machine and projection disruptions during which audiences would stomp the wooden floors. He seemed to know the name, cast, producer, director–even distributor–of every film ever made. I once asked him, if he’d seen them all.

Telegraph Repertory Cinema, circa, 1967; George Pauley, founder, center, in pony-tail he wore to the end. Photo by Ted Friedman.

“Oh no,” he laughed. “Most of the ones I remember, I have’t seen…distributors wouldn’t let me show.” He got calls from other theaters challenging his right to run some of his films; he was hounded by bill collectors.

Next on the cinema tour was, unfortunately, an empty lot at TeleHaste which once housed the Garden Spot Market, the location of possibly the first art-house Cinema in America, the Cinema Guild and the Studio. Reporter said the Pacific film Archive, Berkeley’s surviving repertory movie house, was related to Cinema Guild through PFA founder Tom Luddy, who was briefly associated with Cinema Guild.

At this tour point, the tour was yelled at from a man, who had gotten into an empty lot through a gaping hole in the fence. Quirky had kept us away from troubles on that side of the street.

Telegraph Now. Photo by Ted Friedman.

After a brief stop, at the Sunset Theater, closed ’76 after a brief run, the tour headed a few feet East on Durant to the Campus Theater, 1916. The complete facade stood before us like one big quirk, with newly painted green touches. Treasures says the theater was lime green when it opened in 1916.

1916 movie-house, being readied to open as Earth Bizarre.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

Reporter hipped the tour to what–if it ever opens (after a year of delays)–will be a curio shop like nothing ever seen on Telegraph.


Reporter was puzzled. Why didn’t 2440 Bancroft look anything like the movie house that had, reportedly closed in the 50s. The student store, nearby, seemed more like a theater, with balcony windows that might have been a projection booth.

More investigation at 2440, turned up perhaps the oldest movie house fly-rig (to raise curtain) in the USA. If you stood in the right spot and knew where to look (“Reporter” demonstrated)….

Possibly USAs oldest extant fly-rig (for Campus Theater site on Bancroft). Photo by Ted Friedman.

Opened when the Campus theater closed, 1926, the [new] Campus seated 1,195! (the seating of the Castro AND Great Lake. By comparison the (closed) U.C. Theater, a cavernous auditorium, seated a mere 1,300.

Tour Ends on happy note. Photo by Ted Friedman.

All this and no ghosts.

These views do not represent those of publications in which my work appears.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.