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Memorial Saturday For Lark's Rescuer

Bernice Baeza is credited as the driving force behind the restoration and revival of the Lark Theater.

 

The Lark Theater was dying, but the blue neon sign that lights up downtown Larkspur is proof that there is life in the old building and shines as a monument to the life and passion of the woman who helped save the theater.

Bernice Baeza died Saturday afternoon on July 21, the end of her battle with cancer. She was 69.

The Lark Theater Board of Directors has scheduled a public memorial at the theater for Baeza on Saturday, August 25, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. There will be a short film about Bernice Baeza's life and a guestbook for visitors to sign and pay their respects.

Baeza rallied a group of volunteers to save the art deco movie house that was abandoned and threatened with demolition. In 2004, Baeza and other volunteers started a campaign to reopen the theater mostly for film and public events. She also helped secure donations from more than 800 people to ultimately buy the building.  

"Working day and night, Bernice put the Lark on the cultural map as an innovator, and under her inspired direction, the theater went beyond popular cinema," the Lark board said in a statement. "Her vision was that the Lark should be a "community cultural center" providing entertainment for all ages."

Baeza accomplished her vision for te Lark Theater and the community. She was one of Larkspur's leading citizens, but her influence was felt far beyond the city limits through the annual Youth Film Festival and programming such as the Met Opera Live and the National Theater broadcasts.

Baeza was taking on a new challenge over the past two years, despite her health problems, as she focused on restoring the Novato Theater on Grant Avenue.

Larkspur-Corte Madera Patch has been soliciting thoughts and memories of Bernice Baeza from those who knew her. Following is a sample. If you'd like to add your thoughts, memories, or photos of Bernice, please add them here or on our Facebook page.

"There are a few people one meets in life that make a true difference and Bernice was one of those rare individuals. Saving the Lark Theater represents far more than a movie theater staying open — it represents a catalyst for reinvigorating culture and community so sorely needed in Larkspur and throughout our society. Everyone, not just Larkspur residents, but throughout Marin (and beyond through the Annual Youth Film Festival) owes a huge debt of gratitude for Bernice’s very successful efforts. Proving she had the magic touch, the City of Novato wanted to jump on the bandwagon with their own theater rehabilitation project and my colleagues on the Novato City Council echo my comments here.

"For myself personally, she educated me on the need for the City to partner with the Lark Theater and was definitely one of the go to people to learn what was needed in downtown Larkspur. I can only imagine your loss. Throughout our community she will be sorely missed and was a powerhouse for good in Larkspur." — Larkspur Mayor Len Rifkind, in a letter to Bernice Baeza's family, on behalf of the Larkspur City Council

"Bernice was a genuinely nice person and a true sense of community.  Her tireless efforts in restoring and the operating the Lark Theater is her gift and legacy to the City and all who visit Larkspur." — Larry Chu, Larkspur City Council

"She was a tenacious advocate for the Lark and the arts, in general.  She will be missed." — Dan Schwarz, Larkspur City Manager

"She wasn't involved in the government, but she was involved in the community. And you look back at what she was able to accomplish, getting the funding for the theater. When she started that, nobody thought that could happen, nobody thought the community would come up with that kind of money to get that done. And she did it. Her vision and her drive was amazing. ... It's made the community more vibrant. We'll miss her." — Corte Madera Mayor Bob Ravasio

"Bernice was the spark plug that got so many good things happening in Larkspur!!! I find it hard to believe she is gone! She was always so strong, and so concerned about what projects were next. She never even mentioned her illness to me. I saw her often. Our office is right next door to the theatre that she re-created from the ground up! There she always was, greeting people, making sure everything was just right for her movie goers. This is such sad news for our little town! I loved this amazing woman. She will be missed." — Pat Ravasio, Corte Madera

"She always made my preteen and my teen feel so welcome at the Met HD Live opera productions at the Lark Theater. Bernice impressed us with her love of films and her generosity in giving time to make the Lark such a hit. We will always remember her warm smile, her tips on films and fun, her cool outfits and of course the wonderful treats she made sure to have ready for her guests. Bernice and her family are in our prayers." —  Karen, Lorin & Elena Wagner, Novato

***

With a core group of volunteers, Baeza took on the task of dusting off the Lark Theater, a circa-1936 movie house on Magnolia Avenue in downtown Larkspur that was abandoned and threatened with demolition. In 2004, Baeza and other volunteers started a campaign to reopen the theater mostly for film and public events. She also helped secure donations from more than 800 people to ultimately buy the building.  

"Working day and night, Bernice put the Lark on the cultural map as an innovator, and under her inspired direction, the theater went beyond popular cinema," the Lark board said in a statement. "Her vision was that the Lark should be a "community cultural center" providing entertainment for all ages."

The board called "Bernice's tenacity for saving the Lark from demolition to what it is today" a "work of genius," vowing to keep the theater alive and thriving now that she's passed.

"Although Bernice will no longer be standing at the door greeting the public, nor announcing from the stage the many upcoming events while encouraging all to become members, it would have been her wish that THE SHOW MUST GO ON!" the board said.

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Tracy August 23, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Support the Lark the theater and keep Bernice's dream alive.
PK August 24, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I think it is great when we save old buildings instead of building new.

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