Skip to main content

Walnut Creek Magazine

A LOOK BACK: 100 YEARS

Mar 07, 2020 05:04PM ● By Pam Kessler

THE RAMONA THEATRE

With the seats at Walnut Creek’s Town Hall regularly packed with residents for silent showings of Charlie Chaplin’s latest comedies, the box office business intrigued local entrepreneur Theodore J. Berling.

Movies were fun. They provided a change from the day-to-day troubles of life. In 1919 Berling began construction on Walnut Creek’s first cinema house, the 400-seat Ramona Theatre on Main Street, next to the Contra Costa Courier office. The town’s population at the time was 538. It opened to great fanfare in March 1920 with The Isle of Conquest as its first feature, starring a major box office draw, silent film actress Norma Talmadge. As the decade came to a close, Berling installed new speakers in the Ramona and vowed to show only motion pictures with sound. The days of the silent movie were officially over when the Ramona made history in 1930, and debuted its first sound film Columbia’s Personality, starring Sally Starr and Johnny Arthur.

Berling was appointed Walnut Creek’s first chief of police by the city council in 1928, and in 1934, Elwood Laws took over the Ramona Theatre, redecorating the 14-year old movie house and renaming it as the Walnut Creek Theatre. Its debut film under the new name was Going Hollywood, starring Bing Crosby. By 1951, the once elegant Ramona had become obsolete and was demolished to allow for the Cypress Street expansion and connection to a new city thoroughfare, Broadway.

Source: Walnut Creek An Illustrated History by Brad Rovanpera; Photograph courtesy WC Historical Society