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Berkeley Community Theater
The "Bird Cage"
Berkeley Community Theater.jpg
Berkeley Community Theater is located in California
Berkeley Community Theater
Berkeley Community Theater
Location in California
Location Berkeley, California
Coordinates 37°52′06″N 122°16′17″W / 37.86845°N 122.27147°W / 37.86845; -122.27147
Type Theater
Capacity 3491
Opened 5 June 1950 (1950-06-05)

Berkeley Community Theater is a theater located in Berkeley, California, on the campus of Berkeley High School. The theater is used by Berkeley High School and the Berkeley Unified School District.

The theater building also holds the Florence Schwimley Little Theater, a smaller theater that is often used for Berkeley High School music and theater performances.

Theater description

The Art Deco-style theater has 3,491 seats, including a balcony section. A large stage is extended by an orchestra pit that can be raised or lowered.


The theater was dedicated on June 5, 1950 after sitting only partially completed for almost nine years, due to delays caused by World War II. Students attending Berkeley High during the war years often called it the "Bird Cage" since the exposed metal framework was a roost for many seagulls waiting for students to finish their lunches.

The Little Theater was named after Florence Schwimley, who was a beloved drama teacher at Berkeley High School for many years. She had her students dress modestly, and avoided profanity even when the script called for it, using substitute phrases like, "Confound it!"

The theater was designed to house a Theater organ, but one was not installed at the time of construction. In the 1980s, an organ was moved from the Paramount Theater in Toledo, Ohio and installed in the Berkeley Community Theater by the Nor-Cal Theater Organ Society. With 41 ranks (sets of pipes), and two fully functional 4-manual (four keyboards plus pedals) consoles, this Wurlitzer is one of the largest and finest in existence. The organ is maintained solely by the volunteer work of the Society. The "Mighty Wurlitzer" can be heard being played by world-renowned professional theater organists during each concert season.

The theater is also the site where Metallica's S&M live album was recorded with the San Francisco Symphony, in 1999. In 1970, Jimi Hendrix and the Jimi Hendrix Experience played two shows, culminating in a posthumous album released in 2003.

Led Zeppelin, Paul Robeson, Bob Dylan, Tangerine Dream, Stan Getz, The Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Robin Trower, Frank Zappa, James Taylor, Richie Havens, Alice Cooper, Lenny Bruce, Harry Chapin, Elton John, David Bowie, and The Band are among other performers who have played shows at the theater.

In the Spring semester 1970, the Community High School (an alternative school within Berkeley High) commenced, using the foyers of the Community Theater as classrooms before moving in the Fall of 1970 to the upper level of the old administration building. In 2004, the Berkeley Unified School District began to use the theater foyers, green rooms, stage shop, and dressing rooms as classrooms. The stage shop was in the process of being made a computer lab, although that was moved to the green room due to security. The facility is now difficult to use due to the presence of classrooms; before every show, the classroom desks, chairs, and bookshelves must be moved out.

In recent years, the theater has also hosted lectures from noted political activists Arundhati Roy, Al Franken, and Amy Goodman.

The theater is currently maintained by Fernando Robles (General Services Theater Manager) and his student Tech Crew.


The theater lighting and sound systems in both the Berkeley Community Theater and the attached Florence Schwimley Little Theater have been neglected by district funds, and are in dire need of upgrades.

However, the citizens of Berkeley have directed funds towards the theater on numerous occasions. Berkeley voters passed measure AA in 2000, allocating around $15 million to the theater for renovation. These funds were later taken to build the new administration building at Berkeley High School. A few of the funds came back into the building in renovating the fire alarm system. Yet during this process the grand curtain was damaged. It was finally replaced as well as all other soft goods in July 2009.

In Spring 2010, a new sound system was installed in the theater.

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