We’ve been celebrating our favorite venues in San Francisco for a while now, but there are other venues in the greater Bay Area that need to be recognized as well. The UC Theatre Taube Family Musical Hall in Berkeley, Calif. is high on that list. Tucked into a cozy but prominent spot on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, the UC Theatre (named after, but unaffiliated with, the University of California) has been around for a century now, in different shapes and with different owners. It’s been through renovations, closures, and even a devastating fire, and it’s a unique part of the Bay Area’s rich musical history.
Back when it was opened to the public in 1917, the space was owned by Luther Williamson and Richard Bradshaw, who operated the venue as a first-run movie theater. In 1924, the theater was acquired by Twentieth Century Fox, and a little less than a decade later, in 1933, the ownership was passed on to the National Theaters chain. In the 70’s, the theatre became the home of double- and triple-bill programs of classic films, a cinephile’s dream.
The end of a distribution deal in 1988 meant the start of a decline for the venue, and over the next 12 years, things got pretty sparse. Plans for a jazz club on the site were submitted to the city but didn’t make it through, and the UC Theatre was on the verge of a shutdown until, in 2016, new life was breathed into it.
This time around, the club was renamed as the UC Theatre (note the old-time spelling) Taube Family Music Hall, and even though it has been only a little more than two years, the venue, in its new incarnation, is incredibly popular.
It’s built a reputation as a solid arthouse venue that’s not scared to book acts from a range of genres – the current forthcoming shows list spans bands like legendary folk band Violent Femmes, Norwegian glam-punks Turbonegro, deep south jazz from St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble.
The roster has always been interesting and fresh, and with plush interiors that reflect almost royal extravagance, and a sound system that is to-die-for, the theater is a favorite with audience and artists. Three tiers of seating and a classic u-shaped performance space make the most of the viewing angles, and the ambiance is truly joyous.
Berkeley’s reputation as a creative town is well-established, and you’d think that a century-old venue would lend itself only to creaking classics and the echo of bygone years; but the UC Theatre Taube Family Music Hall is a great example of the kind of thing the Bay Area does so well, combining roots and history with a great space that gives a fresh, exciting home to great musicians; a place for a great scene to celebrate its future, not only its past.
If you haven’t been there yet, the coming lineup is studded with classics: not only Violent Femmes, Turbonegro, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble, but also The Wonder Years, Paranoid Vision, Steel Pulse, and crowd-favorite Mexican pop-rock singer María Natalia Lafourcade Silva. It’s succeeding for a reason: head down there are check it out, and you’ll find one of California’s great, thriving historical venues.
Photos by Sterling Munksgard