Cityscape: A Berkeley theater that’s a show unto itself

BHS Community Theater. Photo John King
The Berkeley Community Theater as seen from inside the campus of Berkeley High School. Inside are the 575-seat Florence Schwimley Little Theater and the 3,500 seat main hall. Photo: John King

By John King

Strict planning dogma says this pair of theaters serving Berkeley High School should be deadly, since they turn their back to downtown Berkeley’s only park and the only doors along the sidewalk are fire exits and a loading dock. Instead, the complex radiates an assurance that blends clean architectural lines with a mass of almost geological force. Most arresting of all, the windowless walls hold enormous bas-relief sculptures that depict the spirit of performing arts as an almost orgiastic cacophony. It’s a high-drama welding of public architecture and art, one worth the trade-off at the street.

BHS Theater Photo John King
Photo: John King

Continue reading…and click through for more images of the Berkeley Community Theater. (Reprinted by permission of the San Francisco Chronicle.)

John King, the San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic and a Berkeley resident, is taking his regular Cityscape series to Berkeley this month. King’s new book, “Cityscapes 2: Reading the Architecture of San Francisco” published by Berkeley’s Heyday, is being published on Sept. 1, though copies are already available at Builders Booksource on Fourth Street.


Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing. And make sure to bookmark Berkeleyside’s pages on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t need an account on those sites to view important information.