For years, Oakland's downtown historic district was a place to walk through fast. Now it's a gathering place noted for its sidewalk restaurants, and merchants and city officials are taking a new step to make the crowds bigger and stay longer: free outdoor movies.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" started the new Old Oakland Outdoor Cinema earlier this month. The theater consists of half a block of pavement on Washington Street between 9th and 10th streets, a space big enough to fit 150 chairs.
Movie-goers are urged to bring their own seating, or take in the show while having dinner at one of the restaurants with a line of sight to the portable outdoor movie screen. Parking is free at 8th and Washington.
"Dining is always a terrific entertainment activity and going out and seeing outdoor movies has become a very big deal," said Jim McIlvaine, the city's special events coordinator.
"We're taking that model and hoping the community, the residents, will come down and dine at a restaurant ahead of time and stay for the movie," he said.
With 11 restaurants and two more in the works, the neighborhood noted for its restored Victorian commercial buildings is on its way to becoming the retail success story city officials have been working on for 30 years. The neighborhood thrived when Oakland was a railroad town but declined after World War II.
Outdoor movies are part of the neighborhood's comeback. The historic facades and outdoor cafes are popular locations for movie and commercial producers, who jet in from Los Angeles and don't have to deal with the crowds and traffic of a bigger city.
Live music, provided by Jesso's Seafood, starts at 5 p.m. Movie shorts begin at 8, followed by the feature film.
MOCHA, the Museum of Children's Art, at 583 9th St. between Washington and Clay, is hosting a drop-in studio during the presentation. It's for kids with short attention spans, but everyone is invited.
The film series will continue monthly. The other films on the schedule are "Field of Dreams", "Tootsie", and "Singin' in the Rain".
Joel Bachar of San Francisco's Microcinema International is producing the event. He says outdoor cinema has been flourishing in Seattle since the '90s and is spreading to other cities in America and in Europe.
"It's happening all over the place," he said.
Many venues are designed to draw shoppers. Others are about showing independent films.
Other outdoor movie spots in the Bay Area include the Pyramid Brewery in Berkeley, Santana Row in San Jose and Gypsy Cinema in downtown San Jose.
Elsewhere in the East Bay, the Oakland Museum's Film al Fresco series will feature a movie in the museum's gardens. More information: www.museumca.org.
Billed as a "free pirate movie theater," Liberation Drive-In shows independent movies in downtown Oakland at a lot on Harrison Street between 15th and 17th streets every last Saturday of the month from May through October. More information: www.oaklandish.org.
The Old Oakland series is a collaboration between the Old Oakland Historic District Business Association and the city's film and marketing offices. City marketing director Samee Roberts said it furthers Mayor Jerry Brown's goal of using arts and entertainment to help turn around neighborhoods.
Source: San Fransisco Chronicle. From "Oakland: Free outdoor movies playing in old town" by Rick DelVecchio, Chronicle Staff Writer. Read full article at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/06/18/EBGAU765KN1.DTL