Sunday, November 25, 2007

Things I Hella Love About Oakland: The Grand Lake Theater

Oakland has such a terrible reputation, and I think much of it is undeserved.

Of course, like any big city, Oakland has big problems. The politicians downtown are maddeningly inept, the school district has issues, and Oakland just earned the dubious honor of being named the fourth most dangerous city in America.

(That said, I absolutely feel safe here. In fact, I feel safer than I ever did in San Francisco, New York, or London when I lived in those cities, and where I was robbed, burglarized, assaulted, had cars stolen, my mail hijacked, my purse snatched, and a fugitive hide in my backyard while cops surrounded the place. The worst thing that's ever happened to me in Oakland is having my car radio stolen -- because I stupidly left the doors unlocked -- and few UPS boxes swiped from my front steps.)

On the other hand, I've found so much to love here: Beautiful vintage homes in lovely, tree-lined neighborhoods; down-to-earth, creative, friendly, smart, and open-minded people; thriving art, music, and culinary scenes; diversity in just about every way you can define it -- there are more languages (at least 150) spoken in Oakland than in any other place in the U.S., for instance, and more two-mom families than anywhere else, too; the best weather in the country, according to Rand McNally; lots of interesting and unique independently owned shops; incredible natural beauty, with redwood-studded hills all around and views to die for; a handful of excellent public elementary schools; and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of real community.

In short, it's home.

So, to do my bit for Oaktown's ailing PR, I've decided to document some of the things I love best about my adopted hometown.

First up: The Grand Lake Theater.

Nick and I took the kids to see Enchanted at the Grand Lake the other night, and while the movie was only so-so, I was reminded yet again how much I absolutely adore this theater.

The restored 1926 Art Deco movie palace originally served as a vaudeville theater and silent movie house. From the ticket booth in the gorgeous entrance rotunda to the elegant sweep of the dual staircases to the breathtaking tile mosaics to the lobby showcase of antique movie equipment to the ornate original light fixtures and gold-leafed columns and cornices, the Grand Lake is a historic treasure.

In addition to the majestic main and upstairs theaters, there are smaller (but still done-to-the-nines) Egyptian- and Moorish-style screening rooms. And on Friday and Saturday nights in the main theater, a tuxedoed organist rises from the pit in front of the giant screen to play the Grand Lake's mighty Wurlitzer before the show starts.

You want atmosphere and old-school glamour? The Grand Lake's got it in spades. Seriously, once you catch a flick here, it's painful to even entertain the idea of seeing a movie at the local corporate-owned multiplex.

What's more, longtime Grand Lake owner Allen Michaan is a true, died-in-the-wool Northern California pinko. Commercials before movies are forbidden, and, more often than not, the theater marquee (which is clearly visible from the nearby interstate) includes not only the current showings, but Michaan's latest anti-Bush, anti-war diatribes. (A recent example: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.") And we love him for it.

Bonus: Free popcorn on weekdays!

If you're ever in these parts, don't miss a chance to visit the Grand Lake.

(Photos courtesy of the Grand Lake Theater and flickr members David Gans, Stagedoor, and Steve Rhodes.)


corine said...

Fantastic post about your city. It so deserves to be known better.

Cindy Ann Ganaden said...

I love seeing a show at the Grand Lake!! When the Star Wars came out the organist came out and played the theme music. It was pretty fantastic.

Mandy Lou said...

I hella love the Grand Lake too! It's been ages since I've been in (though it is beautiful the seats leave a little something to be desired!).

When I was home for a quicky trip last week I drove by and sighed - it's such a great old building and one of the many things that make Oakland great!

kelly said...

Note to mandy lou (above): They replaced the seats... sometime last year, I think. Yay! They're big comfy modern seats now!

So go back to the Grand Lake! It misses you! (And your butt will thank you... I know mine does...)

The Grand Lake... just keeps getting better and better. :)

MAds said...

Man I miss Oakland. Can't complain about where I am now, but Damn it would be good to be home!

Happy Holidays!

CC said...

Almost every movie I watched growing up was in the Grand Lake. I saw ET there as a child and was traumatized. Jurassic Park with the beginning of THX type stereo sound in that main theater was AWESOME. The organist. The KFC with bullet-proof glass next door. Ah, memories!

Anonymous said...

THE BEST THING ABOUT OAKLAND, right next to Lake Merrrit!

As a matter of fact, I am going to see a movie there tonight!



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