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Lorenzo Theater Foundation

Architectural History


Excerpts from a Letter dated October 11, 1999

To Alameda County Community Development Agency Planning Department
From Michael R. Corbett, Architectural Historian and Mary Hardy, Architectural Conservator
Re: Lorenzo Theatre Proposed Tenant Improvement

The following report is based on a review of documents and a site survey performed on October 5, 1999 by Mary Hardy, Architectural Conservator. During the site visit most exterior openings were boarded up and there was no electrical power to the building. The site survey was conducted with hand held flashlights and limited natural light from a few window openings and one entry door.

The Lorenzo Theatre, constructed in 1947, is a good example of theatre architecture in the Moderne Style. In a letter, dated 5/6/99, Michael Crowe, Architectural Historian and President Emeritus of the Art Deco Society wrote to Larry Leal, Lorenzo Theater Association, "The Lorenzo Theatre is an important historic resource in San Lorenzo and should be protected for future generations."

The theatre is located on Hesperian Boulevard, San Lorenzo's major north/south thoroughfare and is situated at the southern edge of the San Lorenzo commercial area, abutting a residential neighborhood on the south. The theatre is a large reinforced concrete structure. Entry is at the northwest, cut-away, corner of the building. A free-standing ticket booth is centered under a large Moderne-style marquee and round tower with "Lorenzo" spelled out in neon. Apart from the decorative entry, the exterior of the Lorenzo Theatre is quite simple. The western elevation and western ends of the north and south elevations are finished with painted stucco with some vertical and horizontal scoring. A portion of the west elevations projects about one foot above the otherwise uniform parapet. Although simple, these details are important parts of the design. The remainder of the building is unpainted board-form concrete.

Multiple aired entry doors lead into an irregularly shaped lobby with curvilinear walls and free-form curved ceiling soffit (This is a shelf-like feature that runs about one foot below the main ceiling). A pair of doors with round portholes leads from the lobby to a short flight of stairs and into the center of the Main Hall. Raked seating slopes down from the projection room on the west toward the screen on the east. Seating located west of the entry is raised a few feet above the entry aisle. A decorative metal guardrail follows the gently curved edge of the "balcony" and bends around to become the handrails on fanned stairways.

Painted murals cover all but the west wall of the Main Hall. The ceiling is painted with a blue field and striped bands. Two wide plaster bands circumscribe the ceiling edge and step down to the top of the walls.

Significant architectural finishes also appear in the Men's and Women's Toilet Rooms and the Women's Powder Room. These finishes are described below.

The San Lorenzo Theatre appears to be a significant architectural and cultural resource for San Lorenzo and may be eligible for the National Register. As such, any proposed rehabilitation and alterations should meet The Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings.

Historic photographs that appear in "Save the Lorenzo" show the main lobby with a patterned wall to wall carpet. At this time, the carpet has been removed and the floor is unfinished concrete. The unfinished concrete floors do not contribute to the character of the original building.

The floors at both the men's and women's toilet rooms are integral to the decorative finish scheme of both toilet rooms. The finishes of these rooms, including the floors, are significant character-defining features of the historic building and should be preserved.

Terrazzo flooring at the Entry exterior is significant.

The ceiling of the Lobby has a free-formed curved soffit, which is a significant character-defining feature. Another significant ceiling feature occurs in the Women'' Powder Room where narrow plaster bands step down at the ceiling edge. Both these ceilings are character-defining features that should be preserved.

Lorenzo Theatre Lobby Ceiling Detail

The original Mechanical Room and Storage Rooms, tucked under the raked seating of the Main Hall, have ceilings that slope down to a height of only about 3-1/2 feet on the east.

Wall Configuration:
The existing Lobby walls are curving plaster walls. The walls and the space they form are significant character-defining features of the Lorenzo Theatre.

Lorenzo Theatre Lobby Ceiling Detail

Wall Finishes:
Most of the interior finishes are smooth, painted plaster with the following notable exceptions. Both the Men's and Women's Toilet Rooms are finished with glazed ceramic tiles on the walls and toilet partitions. These finishes are important character-defining features that should be preserved.

The murals and painted ceiling in the Main Hall are one of the most important features of the Lorenzo Theatre. The murals were painted by Anthony Heinsbergen (1895-1981) during the theatre's construction.

Original plumbing fixtures in both the Men's and Women's Toilet Rooms are intact and are part of the historic character of these rooms.

A drinking fountain situated in the southwest corner of the Lobby has been removed. However, its large, decorative plaster frame remains intact. This is a significant feature that should be protected and retained.

Historical photographs show the original Lobby doors, presently obscured by plywood, to have two large circular windows per door. These doors, if still in place, are significant features of the original building and should be retained in place.

Lorenzo Theatre Brass Speaker Cover

If the Lorenzo Theatre is ever to be used again as a theatre, it must be immediately stabilized to prevent further deterioration before it is restored.

Mary Hardy
Architectural Conservator

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