ThursdayDoors: Matchless Orinda


These are the doors to the Orinda Theatre, the symbol of my small town.


Over the years, the citizens of the town have fought many battles to protect this fine example of “streamlined moderne” architecture. As a movie theatre it’s never been particularly profitable and so in order to keep it going the town has begun holding many different events in the large auditorium including a short lived film festival and a talent contest for kids called the “Orinda Idol.”


The murals inside the main auditorium depict the Four Elements of Man, a popular motif of the time (1941). I can’t show you the inside for two reasons – it’s too dark to get good pictures and I’ve been advised not to trespass by Norm Frampton, the creator of the #ThursdayDoor event  (he won’t bail me out if I get caught) but here’s a description of what you would see:

As you enter the spacious auditorium, Anthony Heinsbergen’s lavish murals of The Four Elements of Man greet you.  They are an eclectic combination of references to classical mythology and modern technology. Fruits and flowers represent Earth, an Aqua God depicts Water, wings and a stylistic airplane portray Air and workers forging steel symbolize Water.  The hand painted murals stretch from floor to ceiling.  In recognition of Heinsbergen’s contribution to American mural design, the Smithsonian curated a special traveling exhibition, “Movie Palace Moderne” in 1972-1974 highlighting 43 examples of his monumental achievement which included 3 of the original water color drawings of the murals.  Said to be some of Heinsberger’s favorites, the originals are still in the office  Sweeping curves of wood and iron rail work, warm neon tucked behind oval coves, nudes floating among stars and a red and gold butterfly with the body of a boy complete the embellishments.  This was the rich architecture of fantasy that is missing in today’s theatres.  From the Lamorinda Film and Entertainment Foundation website.


A familiar site in Orinda – fog rolling in from the bay.

Fun fact: Orinda, which was originally part of four different Spanish land grants, was named after the poem Matchless Orinda by a 17th century poetess named Katherine Philips. Philips wrote primarily about the platonic love women have for each other -because they lack the equipment to consummate their love sexually.

What’s your town famous or infamous for?

42 thoughts on “ThursdayDoors: Matchless Orinda

  1. That is a beautiful building. I just love those doors in the first shot.
    And for the record I have never ‘forbidden’ anyone from doing anything – I have ‘suggested’ though.
    Alls I’m sayin’ is just don’t call me to bail you out if yer trespassin’ gets you in trouble 😉

  2. Besutiful doors. This is the second theater I’ve seen in today’s doors. That’s cool. I really appreciate the descriptions and the history, too.

      1. I can almost imagine that. I’ve been in some old buildings that have the original bathrooms and they are like a work of art compared to what we get today.

    1. Yes, I’m proud of my town. Unfortunately most Americans like things modern and many of the old theaters have been torn down to make room for hideous but technologically up-to-date multi-plexes. Ugh.

  3. Gorgeous doors and architecture! I would promise to bail you out if you got nabbed for trespassing, but I’d be lyin’. I would like to see those murals, though! My home town, Louisville, Kentucky, is famous for The Kentucky Derby. My current town, Corydon, Indiana, was the first state capital and the site of one of the rare Civil War battles fought on Northern soil (we lost to Morgan’s Raiders).

    1. The murals are huge and absolutely cover the walls and ceilings. I’d have to have more than my little Canon to do them justice. That’s an interesting claim to fame Corydon has and something I did not know! Love to learn new little tidbits.

      1. Some yes, others probably went back to school or got different jobs. The Oasis Rooms now offers a tour and a museum. Everything is left just as it was the day the raid happened.

  4. We had both an elegant Fox theater (pronounced thee-A-tr) with blinking tiny stars in the ceiling and a fun, streamlined moderne. Neither begins to compare with the Orinda.Theatre and its riches. Thanks for the photos and the (as always) interesting history, Jan.

  5. Really nice doors and overall architecture. Indianapolis is famous for the Indy 500. I think the rest of what we think we’re famous for is probably just to us. Basketball, corn, the Colts. Meh.

    1. Hey, I’ve stayed in Indianapolis – a big city that in many ways feels like a town. I remember great food! I’m not into cars but corn – well, nothing beats a good corn dish!

    1. It’s a cool little town which has a rep for being a wealthy enclave but it’s really not. Lots of old neighborhoods and growing more diverse by the day.

  6. Jan, the poet Katherine Philips (that you mentioned) who wrote mostly about the platonic love women have for each other – because “they lack the equipment to consummate their love sexually” – clearly wasn’t around when I spent some exciting times listening to the lovemaking between the two lesbians who lived next door to me when I was fifteen. .

    1. Sounds like an educational experience Colm! Who knows if Philips and her girlfriends had wild times together – it’s probably something they wouldn’t have written about back then.

  7. I love the doors! I would love to see those murals, all of the interior, and see the marquee lit up at night.

    You could shoot vertorama’s and panoramas then stitch the frames in editing software to get all the mural in a photograph.

  8. I was so taken with the beauty of this theater in your photographs, Jan, that I googled “orinda theater california.” There I found photos of the inside of the theater, including one of Rick Steves in the front row. The murals and colors and design of this theater are astounding. Thanks so much for sharing this theater.

    1. Thanks Jet. Rick Steves, hey? Interesting. Orinda isn’t really a tourist destination. The local kids call it Borinda. ; )

  9. Like a giant tail fin on a 1950s Cadillac cutting through the afternoon sky.

    Maybe have a poetry slam evening to generate funds. If a non-profit organization was formed, there would be some grant money out there to help preserve the architecture, but also a unique social gathering setting.

    1. Me too. We actually have a couple of other theaters in the Bay Area designed by the same architect and designer but they’ve never been in danger like the O Theater has.

    1. In nice weather they leave the doors wide open and you buy your tickets from the refreshment counter. I think it’s because the lobby has never been remodeled so it’s rather musty!

  10. Beautiful theater. Thank you for sharing it.
    As you may know, our town of Fort Bragg is most recently famous for your illustrious state representative Steve Glazer introducing a bill to “suggest” we change our name because it has connections to the Civil War.
    Big sigh. Eye roll. We won’t change our name until he changes his. 🙂

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