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Baeza Still Watching Over Larkspur

The community gathers at the historic Magnolia Avenue theater to honor Bernice Baeza, who led the effort to save The Lark before her death last month.

The community is mourning the loss of Bernice Baeza — upset at the years we won't have with her. But Bernice Baeza Day in Larkspur is also a chance for everyone to celebrate the gifts she left behind.

Bernice Arlene Dickstein Capozzi Baeza died Saturday, July 21, 2012 at age 69. Just months earlier, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to her liver, bones and brain. She had been receiving treatment in Los Angeles and reportedly was doing well until she contracted pneumonia. Baeza, as committed as she was to the and her efforts to restore the Novato Theater, continued working until three days before she lost her battle with cancer.

"She loved the Lark, she loved the community and all she was able to do for Larkspur," said Baeza's youngest daughter Jenna Capozzi-Rutgersson.

Going through Baeza's memorabilia, her daughters found completed screenplays and even a novel she had written, but hadn't shared with anyone. Baeza kept her private affairs close, but opened her heart to her community and the Lark Theater.

Baeza, saddened to see the once-glorious theater shuttered, enlisted a group of volunteers to restore the circa-1936 movie house on Magnolia Avenue. 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 through a non-profit organization in 2011. 

As her daughters and friends spoke on the stage, they occasionally looked up and spoke to Baeza. Her spirit is alive and well at the theater, almost as a guardian angel looking over the community and The Lark, according to some.

Larkspur Vice-Mayor Dan Hillmer and  District 5 Supervisor Judy Arnold  joined Baeza's friends and family in a private memorial Saturday morning at the art deco theater she helped rescue. A public memorial was held later in the day.

"She was a terrific person and an inspiration to us all," Hillmer said. "Bernice has made Larkspur a better place to live by her inspired actions and support of our community."

The Larkspur City Council declared August 25, 2012 to be Bernice Baeza Day and will adjourn the next City Council meeting in her memory.

The Lark Theater stands as a monument to the spirit of volunteerism and the passion for the arts that she instilled in her daughters, Alana Capozzi and Jenna Capozzi-Rutgersson, and grandchildren Nicole, Gabriel, Logan, as well as everyone with whom she came into contact.

The memorial included a video tribute to Baeza that left tears in every eye in the theater. The tribute included a video from her sister Judith and brother-in-law Grammy Award-winning musician John Hendricks. It also included photos of Baeza throughout her life, from a smiling baby girl in New York City to a joyous community activist in Larkspur.

Baeza was born May 6, 1943. She was the youngest of three children in a family of Russian immigrants, but also a child of the theater. Her parents met on the Vaudeville stage, according to Rutgersson, and although they were poor, they had love.

Baeza met her first husband, Dominic Capozzi, at age 18 and spent time holding hands on dates at the movie theater. The two married and moved to Southern California in the '60s. Following his death in an accident, she moved to Larkspur with her daughters and threw herself into the arts scene.

Rutgersson remembered her mother always had an arts and crafts project going on the kitchen table. She shared Baeza's love of film and now has a production studio in Los Angeles.

Rutgersson and Baeza went to the Telluride Film Festival once, where they met director Michael Moore. Rutgersson recalled how in awe Moore was of everything Baeza was able to accomplish with the Lark Theater.

"She restored it a a community gathering place and destination in our historic downtown for all those who love film," Hillmer said. "Her work to save the Lark Theater is an inspiration to all our community."

Derek Wilson August 25, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I remember coming to The Lark 30 years ago or so to watch movies. Thanks Bernice for saving a part of my childhood.
GAFlynn August 25, 2012 at 11:52 PM
what a beautiful story--wish I had known her
Tracy August 26, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Bernice left such an imprint on the community. Long live the Lark theater!
Rocky August 26, 2012 at 01:45 AM
How wonderful for Bernice to lend a hand to the Novato theater.
Alex Horvath August 27, 2012 at 03:08 AM
I was here for the opening of the new Lark. It was kind of magical because the movie being shown was "Singing In The Rain", starring Gene Kelly, who had died earlier in the day. Still, everyone was in good cheer and I will always remember that night at The Lark.
Rocky August 27, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Bernice will always be with the people of Larkspur.
Tracy August 27, 2012 at 04:31 AM
Every time I go to Lark theater, I'll always think of Bernice.
Lark Theater August 27, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Derek, thank you for this lovely article! Bernice left us all a great legacy. She saved the Lark for a grateful community; now it is up to us to keep it aloft in her honor!

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