July 15, 2017

Nina Horn & the Orinda Theater battle

Orinda Theater

In 1989, Nina Horn was one of several people honored with a "Volunteer of the Year" award by the Orinda Association for their work with the preservation of the Orinda Theater.

The theater was designed by Alexander Aimwell Cantin, an associate of San Francisco architect, Timothy Pflueger. Cantin also crafted the Royal, Castro and Alhambra theaters in San Francisco, the Fox for Weeks and Day in Oakland and the Rheem Theater in Moraga.

Alexander Aimwell Cantin (1874-1964)
photographer unknown

The Orinda Theater opened on Dec. 27, 1941, with a double feature of The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart as private investigator Sam Spade and Mary Astor as the femme fatale and Tarzan's Secret Treasure which starred Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.   

Orinda Theater entrance
photographer unknown

Orinda Theater terrazzo floor entrance
photographer unknown

In 1982, Clark Wallace, the area's biggest developer, planned a 116,000-square-foot office and shopping complex that involved tearing down the Art Deco theater. The theater was nominated by the state for the National Register of Historic Places in August 1982, but Wallace's permission was needed. "It's a monolithic mausoleum," he said of the theater during a January 1983 meeting with the chambers of commerce of Orinda, Moraga and Lafayette. "It's ugly and has no aesthetic value whatsoever." Really?    

Orinda Theater lobby
photographer unknown

Wallace removed tenants and, in October, closed the theater with The Big Chill and Moscow on the Hudson. His opponents sued. The Friends of Orinda Theater argued that Wallace hadn't sought alternatives to a plan that would damage the community.  
Also suing was the Orinda Association, a quasi-governmental body that sat under county supervisors, arguing not that the theater was priceless but that the development's height and density violated town ordinances. "If the theater was saved, all the better," said Jim Roethe, a lawyer who was president of the association and lead counsel. Clark Wallace lost millions and nearly ruined his career trying to get rid of the theater.      

Orinda Theater interior
 photo by Carlos Aavila Gonzalez
SF Chronicle Staff Photographer

On March 28 1985, Nina Horn, an artist and art agent, remembers standing on a pedestrian bridge taking memorial pictures of the theater.   

Orinda Theater mural
SF Chronicle Staff Photographer 

Orinda Theater Fire mural
photographer unknown

The Orinda Association honors the citizen or group which has displayed outstanding contributions through volunteer efforts that benefit the community and the citizen or group which has displayed outstanding contributions in the area of education and/or preservation of our environment in celebration of William Penn Mott Jr.     

Orinda Theater ceiling detail
photographer unknown

Orinda Theater
4 Orinda Theater Square,
Orinda, CA 94563
Movieline: (925) 254-9060
Office: (925) 254-9065           
Net links:                   
Alexander Aimwell Cantin ~ Movie Theaters    
SF Gate ~ Showdown over Orinda Theater           

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