The Parkway Theater shuts its doors forever…

March 18, 2009

UPDATE: Want to be part of the effort to try to save the Parkway Theater? Visit iliketheparkway.com or join the Facebook group Save the Parkway Speakeasy Theater in Oakland and add your voice to the dialogue.

This is perhaps the saddest recession news to hit Oakland yet: our beloved Parkway Theater is closing its doors next Sunday, March 22nd. Speakeasy Theaters, one of the Bay Area’s last remaining independent theater operators, took over the ailing Parkway in the mid-1990s. They began to bring the space back to life and reopened it in 1998 as a speakeasy, showing movies accompanied by beer, pizza, sandwiches, and salads. It was one of the first places friends took me when I moved to the Bay Area—a “must-do” for newcomers. In spite of its popularity, though, the theater has always struggled to be profitable, and in recent months has clearly been trying to adjust to the dire economic times, tweaking ticket prices and making schedule changes.

The Parkway in its heyday

The Parkway in its heyday...

In the years since they opened, the Parkway has played host to Superbowl parties, the Oscars, the recent presidential debates and inauguration, countless fundraisers for local organizations, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, African Diaspora specials—the list goes on. The theater shows second-run movies, and (like a lot of Oaklanders) we wait out the showings at the first-run theaters in Oakland and Berkeley so that we can see movies with pizza, beer, and a Greek salad at the Parkway. At a baby shower we attended recently, three expectant Oaklanders talked about how much they hoped Baby Brigade would be back soon, since that was one of the things they’d been looking forward to doing together as new mothers. And only a few weeks ago, as the restored Fox reopened in Uptown, we were celebrating that all of the theaters that ring the lake were finally back and operational, in various forms. The Parkway has been a huge part of this community—they will be sorely missed, and I can’t help hoping that somehow someone can figure out a way to save this amazing place. (Ideas??)

...and today (from Cinema Treasures; photo by Ian Grundy)

...and today (from Cinema Treasures; photo by Ian Grundy)

Leah over at More Ways to Waste Time wrote a beautiful tribute to the Parkway last year, so I’ll defer to her for those of you who aren’t familiar with the theater: Things I Hella Love About Oakland: The Parkway Speakeasy Theater

I imagine the lines will be out the door for the final showings, but really—if you haven’t checked out this Oakland landmark yet, please try to pay them a visit sometime this weekend; it may well be your very last chance.

The Announcement
The Fischers sent the following message this evening:

Dear Loyal Supporters:

This is a sad but true message from Kyle Fischer, CEO of Speakeasy Theaters, and Catherine Fischer, President of Speakeasy Theaters.

After more than twelve years of serving the great cultural crossroad of Oakland, the Parkway Speakeasy Theater will be closing at the end of business day this Sunday, March 22, 2009. From African Diaspora to Thrillville to lesbian fashion shows and educational porn, the Parkway has offered an eclectic array of movies and events.  It was the first theater in California to offer food, beer and wine service in a lounge style movie theater.  With a nudge or a push from the community, there was little programming the Parkway theater would not try in order to better be a community center and a safe haven for diverse ideas.  The Parkway brought Baby Brigade for the shuttered and abandoned parents of newborns, the first international black gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender film festival and Sunday Salon, a free event for cultural and community enhancement.  We, at the Parkway Speakeasy Theater, are deeply proud of the Parkway and will profoundly miss serving its community.  Thank you for your patronage.

Programming at Parkway will remain as scheduled this Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21. Stay tuned for special announcements about this Sunday, the final day of operations.

The Speakeasy Experience lives on at the Cerrito. Most special events booked for Parkway, including regular attractions like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” will be moving there. Stay tuned to our web site and this newsletter for updates.

Please direct all inquiries to Kyle Fischer, kf@speakeasytheaters.com. Messages should be brief and pertinent, out of respect for this difficult reality, but will be appreciated. This is a tough time for all of us.




  1. This was the saddest email I’ve received in a long time. I really hope something can be worked out to save the theater, because it somehow just seemed to perfectly capture Oakland.

  2. Wow, I can’t believe the Parkway is shuttering. Every time I’ve been it’s always packed. What a loss. It’s one of the first things I mention when people ask what there is to do in Oakland…

  3. This news has made me sadder than just about anything I’ve heard recently. It’s a great loss for Oakland.

  4. Sad, sad, sad. Hope to make it there this weekend. Truly a loss for Oakland.

  5. Oh wow – how sad! You never know – maybe someone will come along and pick up where the former owners left off…

  6. That’s the hope…already the neighborhood is organizing to figure out the future of the space. Whether there’s a way to make it economically viable is another challenge altogether, though. (Fortunately for Oakland and unfortunately for the Parkway, there are four other Art Deco theaters within a mile or so of it, all restored and back in operation in some form or another.) But we’ll see—people across the city are certainly rooting for it!

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