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Monday, March 4, 2024

The legacy of the Davis Varsity Theatre

The Varsity Theatre has been a staple of the City of Davis for over 100 years

By SOFIA BIREN — city@theaggie.org

The Davis Varsity Theatre is over a century old; it opened in 1921, 38 years before UC Davis officially became its own campus. Throughout the decades, the movie theater was sold, remodeled, unoccupied for brief periods of time and through it all served the population of Davis.

The Varsity Theater is a staple of student life at Davis. Shkula Amadi, a second-year biology major, said that the Varsity Theater was the building that stood out the most to her when she first visited downtown Davis. 

“I remember going into downtown when I was visiting Davis for the first time and I just fell in love with the architecture of the building,” Amadi said. “It looked like something that would be in ‘Grease’ or ‘Leave it to Beaver.’”

The architecture of the building was intentional and meant to be futuristic when it was remodeled in 1949. According to the Varsity Theater website, the theater “is a late example of what is known as Streamline Moderne, a style related to Art Deco, which was influenced by 20th century manufacturing techniques.” 

         Despite its almost landmark status among the student body, the Varsity has experienced instances of turmoil. The Varsity Theatre website states that “By 1990, [it] was no longer able to keep up with the demands of mainstream film distribution.”

During this time, the two theaters in the Varsity were not nearly enough to keep up with the prominent presence of the film industry in the nineties, thus it was proposed that larger theaters be constructed. 

         Between 1990 and 2005 the Varsity ceased its operation as a movie theater and the building was proposed to be converted into a variety of different functions. Some of these included office buildings and a building dedicated to the performing arts.

         In 2006 the Varsity opened its doors again as a movie theater. It currently shows a mix of blockbuster and indie films. Its most recent showings included the Oscar nominated director name film, Licorice Pizza. Its foreign titles include the Norwegian film The Worst Person in the World, which was a critic and fan favorite at the Cannes Film Festival.  

         The theater caters to both the movie aficionado and the casual viewer. It has two theaters, which is a product of the 1976 remodel. The theater originally only had one screen, however, to increase the variety of movies shown the single screening room was split into two.

In the current film market where streaming has increasingly become a medium of choice, the Varsity Theatre is far from becoming obsolete.

Merly Maldonado-Puac, a second-year mechanical engineering major, said that she loves the environment that the Varsity Theatre provides. 

“The Varsity is my go to theater,” Maldonado-Puac said. “I find it super charming and love how they show mainstream and indie movies, which has really broadened my taste in movies”

Today the architecture of the Varsity is no longer considered modern by some, and the theater is by no means large, but it is still attracting a new generation of moviegoers. The small box office in the front reminds Amadi of her favorite episode of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and the letterboard arched over the building itself reminds Maldonado-Puac of the simpler times that she never lived through. 

Written by: Sofia Biren — city@theaggie.org

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