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Davis, California

Monday, April 22, 2024

Varsity Theater upgrades to 3-D, second screen

Davis’s Varsity Theater is holding an open house today to showcase the technological improvements and additions that make the movie experience all the more thrilling.

The theater is celebrating a second screen and further renovations on Thursday, Mar. 11 at noon at the theater on 616 2nd St.

The Varsity was originally a single-screen theater in 1950 and became two screens in 1976. In 1992 it was reopened as a center for performing arts. It reverted to a single screen in 2006 when it began showing mainly independent and art house films.

In October 2009, the success of the theater prompted construction of a second auditorium, which was built behind the current screen where the theater stage was used. The new theater holds 100 stadium seats and features Dolby surround sound. The main auditorium upgraded to a digital projector with a Dolby 3-D system, considered the best of available systems.

“The 3-D quality is phenomenal; it made me duck every time something was flying at me,” said property management coordinator Anne Brunette, referring to her experience watching Alice in Wonderland.

Additionally, the theater uses high-quality, non-disposable glasses that cost 20 times the disposable glasses.

“This provides for a superior movie experience and does not fill the landfill with plastic,” said Varsity general manager Sinisa Novakovic in an e-mail interview.

The Varsity Theater hosted 3,000 customers in three days during Alice in Wonderland’s opening.

“That is fantastic for Davis,” Novakovic said. “People loved the movie and the current attendance points toward a long, successful run.”

The open house will give anyone who has not visited the theater before an opportunity to see how much has gone into bringing back to life some of the character of the old movie theater – including comfy seats and historic architecture.

The renovation showcases four wall murals that were destroyed during a remodel in the 1990s. The city attempted to seal the murals because they contained asbestos, but when they fell apart they released asbestos into the air and had to be removed. The murals are reproductions of the original murals from 1950. They reflect the area’s agriculture and reproduce the style and colors.

“They are great agriculture mural scenes you can tell the artist was trying to capture the entire UC Davis campus’ science and agriculture,” Brunette said.

The Varsity plans to expand their offerings of independent and art house movies and offer more special events, such as film festivals, speakers and rentals.

By next month, the Varsity will collaborate with the Emerging Cinemas of New York to show pre-recorded and live opera in the second room. Live events lined up to be digitally streamed are live performances of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (La Scalla) and Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio (Gran Teatre del Liceu).

Funds for the project came from a combination of Redevelopment Agency funds for downtown and money contributed by the tenant. The Redevelopment Agency has invested approximately $800,000 in the construction, theatrical specialty work and hazardous materials abatement. The Davis City Council and the Redevelopment Agency, along with contractor JDS Builders Group, INC from Winters, believe the theater will attract more downtown business.

“Studies have been done that show people will spend more money at adjacent business downtown if they are coming to movies,” Brunette said.

Novakovic said a functional, successful movie theater in the heart of Davis brings people downtown, increases foot traffic and helps surrounding businesses.

“It has been estimated that an average movie-goer that patronizes an Indie movie house spends about $5 in ‘peripheral’ sales,” he said. “Add to that the fact that more people in the downtown we have, the more people get attracted to it, as in: people love to be around other people.”

City Council’s main goal was to bring more people downtown.

“The impact to downtown has been immediate,” said Davis downtown business association director, Joy Cohan in a press release. “The success of the Varsity has allowed them to attract movies like ‘Alice’ in 3-D that will be a regional draw to downtown with movie goers lingering, shopping and eating in local businesses.”

POOJA KUMAR can be reached at city@theaggie.org.


  1. Great article! I grew up with the Varsity and I’m glad that it is still a viable downtown entity. Imagine if that building had been razed for offices… Terrible idea!!


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