Let's Go Watch! II

While most of the entertainments portrayed in the exhibit are active, much of our lesiure time is spent on more passive pursuits: watching movies, plays, ballet, opera, concerts and visiting museums, aquaria, etc.  We may be actively learning during these visits, but we certainly do not go swimming with the fish!  The first panel in this section is dedicated to the experience of film-going in the heyday of the movie theater from the 1920s-60s.  In their earliest incarnations, movie palaces had orchestra pits or organs for live musical accompaniment.  A design for an organ grille is displayed here.  However, even by 1926, organs were thought to be outmoded; the program for the opening of the Dimond Theater declares:

"gone is the ramshackle old movie house with its dingy front and wheezy organ...Today the motion picture theatre occupies the choice piece of real estate in a thriving community.  The building is a masterpiece of architectural knowledge, it is fitted with furnishings worthy of the mansion of a captain of industry, its exterior is a blaze of electric light, its interior a glow of shaded beauty."


Movie theaters were always conceived as a place of escape.  Towards that end, their decor was meant to evoke fairy tales.  The Warner Brothers Theatre in Hollywood, by G. Albert Lansburgh, featured fairy-tale themed murals and fake rock detailing on the walls to make patrons think they were in a castle.  In the 1930s and early 1940s, movie theaters were ornamented extravagantly in the latest and most fashionable styles; examples are the Orinda Theater, built by Alexander A. Cantin in 1941, and the Tokay Theater drawn by J. Lloyd Conrich in 1937.  By the 1960s, as more and more cities experienced the gutting of their downtown areas, moive palaces were no longer being built, and were being replaced by suburban multiplexes.  The magnificent redecoration design for Oakland's Fox Theater by A. Mackenzie Cantin was never realized, but at least the theater survived to the present day.  San Francisco's counterpart Fox Theater was demolisehd in 1963 and replaced with a mixed-use skyscraper named Fox Plaza.


Theaters, movie or otherwise, were often the grandest public spaces in urban areas.  Some theaters, such as Lansburgh's Loew's Warfield Theater of 1916 in San Francisco, live on today as performing arts venues.  Opera houses often manifest the spelendor of civic pride. Lansburgh lavished attention on his design for the enormous Metropolitan Opera House in New York, but sadly, it was never built.  Even relatively recently, architects have vied for the commission of large civc opera spaces.  Donald Reay submitted an entry to the competition for the Paris Opera House in 1982; a sketch from this project is shown here.


Large environments for entertainment can be quite diverse in the forms they take.  The Civic Pavilion exists in many forms, as it needed to accommodate a wide range of activities and the sizable crowds that could potentially arrive along with them.  Creston H. Jensen designed the Emeryville Pavilion in the 1920s with the detail appropriate for a smaller building on the entrances, while in fact the building was intended to be quite large.  Arts centers and museums reflect the taste and influences of their intended communities.  Joseph Esherick's Crocker Arts Center Gallery Court of 1962 depicts the artistic and architectural tastes of the day, contrasting with Winfield Scott Wellington's design for a court at the M.H. deYoung Museum in San Francisco, just ten years earler.  Not even ten years after Esherick's museum, the concrete fan of Mario Ciampi's University Art Museum in Berkeley offers an entirely different interpretation of appropriate space for collective viewing and preservation of cultural objects.  Perhaps the most aspirational large space for entertainment of a mass audience is the planetarium.  A large space that, ironically, serves to make one seeem very small in relation to the universe, it is nonetheless carefully created to provide the most effective venue for such entertainment.