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?