Bernice Baeza, the driving force behind the restoration effort for the Novato Theater, died Saturday of lung cancer.
The word of Baeza's passing was distributed by volunteers of the nonprofit theater renovation campaign through contacts at the Lark Theater, where Baeza served as executive director.
Baeza, a 69-year-old Larkspur resident, died at 3:34 p.m. Saturday with her family by her side, according to a memo from the Lark Theater board of directors.
With a core group of volunteers, Baeza took on the task of dusting off the Novato Theater on Grant Avenue and with live performances, films, speaking engagements and other events.
She was following a formula that worked for the Lark Theater, a circa-1936 theater on Magnolia Avenue in downtown Larkspur that was abandoned and threatened with demolition. In 2004, Bernice and other volunteers started a campaign to reopen the theater mostly for film and public events.
"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."
In Novato, Baeza started from scratch with her knowledge about the town and in making contacts as she tackled the challenge of creating a nonprofit, purchasing the old movie house from the city and laying out plans for resdesigns and retrofits. She spent two years on the effort and celebrated the success of buying the theater for $50,000 after raising about $800,000 in donated and pledged funds from private residents and other contributors.
Baeza and her group held public and invitation-only events to raise funds and recruit investors for a limited liability corporation as part of a new nonprofit set up called Novato Screen Savers.
Plans are being made for a memorial service. Baeza is survived by her brother and sister, Richard Dickstein and Judith Hendricks; her daughters, Alana Capozzi and Jenna Capozzi-Rutgersson; and her three grandchildren, Nicole Nogueras, Gabriel Nogueras and Logan Rutgersson.