All the glitz and glamor of Hollywood was in Alameda on Wednesday night for the opening of the Historic Alameda Theatre and Cineplex on Central Avenue.
Women in sweeping, floor-length gowns walked arm-in-arm with men in white tuxedos and bow ties to the front of the refurbished theater. There, they posed for paparazzilike photos and on-camera interviews before walking the length of a red carpet and into a large party where "oohs" and "ahhs" flowed as freely as glasses of sparkling wine.
For many, the first step into the theater was the first time they've seen the building in all its splendid, gilded grandeur. The Alameda Theatre, built in 1932, hasn't shown movies since 1979.
For others, like lifetime Alameda resident Peg Kofman, stepping into the theater was like stepping into a time machine. She even marveled at the ladies restrooms, wondering aloud if the doors and signs are original because they are just as she remembers them.
"The first thing I had to do is go to the girls room and see if it was the same," she said. "When you're a kid and you are drinking all kinds of soda, you're always in the girls room."
She stopped, looking at the molding on the ceiling, and her eyes widened.
"It's just how I remember it. It is deja vu for me," she said.
The Alameda Theatre is not just this historic, one-screen building people like Kofman remember so well. It is officially an eight-screen cineplex, with seven brand-new screening rooms in a new, connected building that was once a video store and parking lot.
The Wednesday night gala was a fancy affair to celebrate its grand opening. The $100 per person event sold out days before the actual gala, attracting more than 700 people, young and old.
Asena Restaurant provided the nibbles — grilled veggies, stuffed miniature potatoes, smoked salmon on coins of bread and chicken skewers. Jeff Raz, a Cirque du Soleil star, was the master of ceremonies for the night and a friendly staff of bartenders handed out mixed cocktails, sodas and wine.
While the ticket-holding revelers passed the five-piece band, And That's Jazz, under the theater's front awning, those who didn't buy tickets stood around in front of the theater enjoying the music and the spectacle. At one point, actors dressed like characters from "Indiana Jones" drove up to the theater in a vintage Army vehicle. They put on a show for everyone in anticipation of the cinema showing the new Indiana Jones film at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the first film to be screened there in nearly 30 years.
"This is the largest event that Alameda has ever had in attendance," said Dorene Soto, manager of the city's business development division. The Alameda Theatre project was envisioned by the City Council seven years ago and approved in May 2005. It was a controversial project during its development stages, particularly due to its call for a massive parking garage on Oak Street.
With all the controversy behind him now, owner Kyle Conner posed with friends and family in front of the building and looked forward to a long and lovely gala.
"As Mayor (Beverly) Johnson said, the majority speaks again," he said. "This is going to be a fun night."
Back in the darkened historic theater, crowds of people watched the Terrence Brewer Quartet play in front of colorful images being projected on screen. The excitement around the gala was palatable.
"Oh, we're over the moon, over the moon!" said Alameda resident Flicka Gorman, dressed in a black blouse beautifully embellished with silver and gold beads. "This theater gives life to Park Street and I think it will bring people to Alameda."
Festivities will continue at 10 a.m. Saturday when the theater will open for public tours until 1 p.m. At 3 p.m. that day, the theater will open for regular business, screening films in all eight theaters. For times and more information, go to www.alamedatheatres.com
Reach writer Laura Casey at 925-952-2697 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org