Coronet Theatre

3575 Geary Boulevard,
San Francisco, CA 94118

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garyrc on May 14, 2008 at 12:04 am

Believe it or not, the Coronet had an EVEN BIGGER screen at the time of the FIRST THREE 70 mm Todd-AO films, The Miracle of Todd-AO, Oklahoma!, and Around the World in 80 Days. I saw them all at the Coronet, 80 Days Repeatedly. For those three films, the deeply curved screen filled the ENTIRE AREA behind the curved curtains, with no masks on the sides, top, or bottom (the usual black masks, when fully open, were hidden behind the very small trimmer curtains). The image on the film running through the projector was 2.2:1, but it became more like 2:1 on the screen, when viewed from head-on, because the curve took up some of the width, as intended. It was only for these three films that the film ran at 30 frames per second (instead of the usual 24 fps), to smooth out the action, and allow for extraordinarily bright (“Sparkling,” one critic said) image without the flicker that bright projection sometimes causes (the Critical Flicker Frequency —the frequency in frames per second at which persistence of vision fails — is a function of brightness). They actually used two Todd-AO cameras simultaneously to shoot these films, one running at 30 fps and one at 24 fps for the inevitably disappointing 35 mm print downs for lesser theaters. In the 70 mm versions, all of the factors that increase arousal in the cerebral cortex were maximized — brightness, largeness, loudness and complexity of the sound (6 channel stereo, with great dynamics, and, in the case of 80 Days, a 114 piece orchestra). Consequently, the audience was “up.” It was near hypnotic! 80 Days ran well into its second year at the Coronet, forcing the chain to equip the inferior Alexandria down the street for 70 mm for South Pacific. At the Coronet, 80 Days began with a small 35 mm image of Edward R. Murrow introducing the film then the curtains, black masks, and image dramatically widened out to the full Todd-AO size, with the black masks disappearing behind the trimmer curtains.

When other 70 mm processes that didn’t use Todd-AO’s optical correction for the deeply curved screen started to be used, the Coronet tore down its big curved screen, and installed a more nearly flat, and smaller, one behind the same large curved curtains. Although it was still larger than most screens (at least from the front set of rows that extended right down to the screen, because there was no orchestra pit, and no stage to get in the way, it lacked the sense of total, engulfing involvement that the earlier screen provided. Had the owners of the newly arriving 70 mm processes (Super Technirama 70, Panavision 70, Camera 65, etc.) been able to get together on sharing an optical correction, the Coronet might have been able to hang on to the big screen, making everything from Ben-Hur to Star Wars more spectacular but this was a competition as misguided as HDDVD vs. BlueRay. or Beta vs VHS, or SACD vs. DVD-A …. everyone lost.

Now the Coronet is rubble. When we heard this, my friends and I sank momentarily into misanthropy.

JimC on December 11, 2007 at 3:25 pm

Gary P: Actually, “The King” looks a bit worse in the photo than it did in person. We were able to save it and I gave it to a good friend of mine who also was the Coronet’s former projectionst. He ran most of the big 70mm and STAR WARS shows in the 70’s that many people here have written about and was still working there when the theater closed. And yes, the other figures and many other items were totally smashed or damaged beyond repair by the asbestos abatement crews. I don’t fault them too much, they were just doing their job.

Getting permission and access to go on my “Coronet Scavenger Hunt” took several months to arrange. I tried to get in there before the asbestos crews, but by the time I got permission and keys to the theater it was too late.

The good news is that I was able to recycle a number of items left behind by UA/Regal for re-use at the nearby Balboa Theater. These include two working ice cream freezers, a large mirror from the lobby which is now in one of The Balboa’s rest rooms, a number of large trash bins and other assorted theater-stuff. I was also able to salvage some parts from what was left of the concession stand and projection room, etc and they are now in storage for use as spare parts at The Balboa.

The saddest part to me were the seats. I don’t know why they were abandoned by UA/Regal. They were good (expensive) seats and most of them were in excellent-to-very good condition when the theater closed. But after being in the damp, dark theater for over two years they’d become totally destroyed by mold & pigeon droppings. The pigeons got in through holes in the ceiling left behind after some air conditioning units and ventilation fans had been removed from the roof shortly after the theater closed. There were also some rats in there, but I didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother me! :)

br91975 on December 11, 2007 at 2:30 pm

Thanks for taking – and posting – those photos, Jim; devastating but representative of a necessary document…

Steve2 on December 11, 2007 at 8:56 am

Will never forget all the grand movie memories of that palace. Especially the big 70mm movie events of the 70’s.

GaryParks on December 11, 2007 at 5:48 am

I was saddened to see in one of the preceeding slideshows, one of the kingly figures from the auditorium walls still in the theatre, damaged. This would indicate to me that these figures were not cared for, and during the oh-so-necessary-nowadays process of asbestos removal before demolition of the Coronet’s shell, they were probably all peeled of and discarded, except for this one battered figure. I hope I am wrong. I have a hunch the asbestos people cared as much for these figures as the guys gutting the Coliseum Theatre did about the eight huge chandeliers in that theatre. My friend offered them good money for them, but they were allowed to crash to the floor anyway, except one, which my friend got because he was on the site that instant. It wound-up in an antique gallery on Melrose in L.A., selling for beaucoup bucks.

JimC on December 9, 2007 at 2:47 pm

Ta Da! – Here’s the long ago promised set of Coronet demolition pictures, taken between July-Aug Y2k7:

ALSO> I’ve added a couple of extra pictures to the previous “pre-demolition” photo page, including two frame blow-ups from a 35mm trailer announing the start of Coronet’s run of “FUNNY GIRL” in 1968.
(Found in the basement of another old theater, and now in my personal 35mm film collection)

JimC on December 8, 2007 at 3:58 pm

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back here & post some pictures. The link below will take you to a series of pictures of what was left of the interior of The Coronet in April 2007, just before major interior demolition began. I had 2 day access to the theater to take pictures & salvage what I could for use at another location. There was NO electricity so we had to go around wearing LED “miner’s head-lamps” and carrying big flashights. These are probably the last pictures of the inerior before the building came down. I’ll try & post demolition pictures later this week.

Here’s the link:

gsmurph on October 8, 2007 at 9:21 pm

Alas, Coronet’s status should be changed to “Closed/Demolished.” Went by there on the way to an event and there was a big hole where it once stood.

Steve2 on August 20, 2007 at 11:33 pm

To JimC, Thanks again for your detailed response my wanting to scavenge a few seats. Such as tragic waste to a great building.

Btw, looks like The Castro Theater will be the only surviving large vintage single screen movie “palace” in SF. Does anyone else notice that theater has an odoriferous smell?

terrywade on August 18, 2007 at 4:13 pm

If you had seen the big large curved Todd-Ao screen this theatre had in the mid 50’s with 6 track mag sound I will never forget the day my parents took me to see Around The World In 80 Days. The flashback is so vivid I can remember our seats on the right side of the theatre. The UA Coronet is now just a pile of dirt but the memories will be with me. UA/Regal must be proud of all the theatres they have sold for the land money and destroyed. They are even selling off many of their cheap tiny multiplex cinemas to get the most money they can. They are not in the movie business but quick money land people.

Steve2 on July 31, 2007 at 6:08 pm

Tough month for losing great San Francisco iconic memories, Pete Wilson, Bill Walsh and The Coronet Theater.

I’ll just be thankful for the experiences of sold out great motion picture events in that palace. I’ll never forget the original Star Wars, Close Encounters, Love Story and The Godfather I&II opening Saturday nights!!!!

jyoung on July 27, 2007 at 3:28 am

Thanks JimC – will look forward to your post.

Thanks Life’s too short for the laugh.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on July 27, 2007 at 2:29 am

**** the Institute on Aging.

JimC on July 27, 2007 at 2:15 am

jyoung- I have not yet posted photos. I’ve been taking pix almost every day. Not many more days left. There was only 1 ½ walls left standing when I went by Tuesday of this week. I will post photo info here once I have them all organized and posted somewhere. -JimC-

jyoung on July 25, 2007 at 8:54 am

JimC – Did you ever post those photos anywhere? The last time I was at the theater I noticed all the “Buy war bonds” messages embedded in the stonework at the entrance and thought I should come back and take photos. But then I thought oh someone will have all this documented but now I can find very few photos. :–( I’ll miss this gentle giant where I saw THE GODFATHER, STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and many other big spectacle films. I remember it was one of the last theaters that allowed smoking in the balcony but you had to pay an extra dollar.

Michael on July 15, 2007 at 3:10 am

The Coronet is no more. Went buy the other day and they have started punching holes in the walls, to make way for the senior center. Also the sign is allmost all the way down just the “Cor” is still up. Bummer, I guess that this theatre was to new for the moratorium.

Patrick Petitclerc
Patrick Petitclerc on July 9, 2007 at 8:33 pm

nice story John T , but you didn’t arrive until ‘75 . Do you know if any thing has been salvaged from inside the building . i ’m especially interested in the small chimes that were found in the room behind the marquee.

JimC on July 4, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Steve 2: When I was inside the CORONET back in May almost all of the seats were still there. However, after being inside the dark, damp, closed-up building with no electricity or ventilation for over two years they appeared to have become hoplessley covered with a thick grey mold.(I have pictures of this) I’m not sure even steam cleaning could remove mold this bad, and the fabric underneath is probably ruined anyway. What a shame, because the CORONET had good seats. I’m not sure why they couldn’t find anyone to buy or just take them away before they’d become so deteriorated. What I observed yesterday (Jul 3) was a small front-loader pushing piles of seats and other debris out of one of the holes in the side of the building and then dumping everything into a big debris box. I’m not sure the workmen would let you near enough to retreive anything since it’s inside an active ‘hard-hat’ work area. But it might not hurt to ask if you went by there. They’ve been pretty tolerant of me & my camera. Back in MAY we were able to find a couple of rows of seats way up in the back of the balcony that weren’t too badly molded-up. Those were removed and divided up among a couple of former CORONET employees who asked me to salvage them. I haven’t spoken to them since so I don’t know if they were able to remove all the mold or what they looked like when they were finished ‘restoring’ them.

Steve2 on July 3, 2007 at 5:53 am

Hello JC or anyone else:

Did you notice whether anyone can take a theater chair/seat which would otherwise be dumped and destroyed?

This is historically sad, and would love to salvage and refurbish a Coronet Theater seat, and pass on the movie experiences to my kids.

Would appreciate an answer/solution very much!

tarantex on July 3, 2007 at 4:21 am

I cant believe the theatre is gone!, I was the Asst. Manager there in 1971, my first management job, I was being groomed by Al Levin, I thought many of days I would never make it the Man was tough, But he was a good Manager. The Theatre was kept up in great shape. i remember, I was starting at the Tale end og Funny Lady. The theatre was still grossing 15,000 a week when it moved tho The Alexandria
I was on and off there for over 15 years. I was promoted to Manager and moved to San Bruno UA TANFORAN 4, but i always was Al’s Favorite when a block buster came Like STAR WARS they would have me run the Theatre with Al Levin, I would never forget the 24 opening night with lines doubling around the corner, who would have thought
it was going to be that big,,George Lucas liked the Coronet but he mixed all of his sound and did his print test at the Northpoint were I ended up after Larry Levin came in the picture,this man knew nothing about theatre operations, big dissapointment when Jim Gallagher retired, Bob Naify, Marshall Naify. and Arnold Childhouse made a mistake by hiring this idiot. But I watched this man distroy and empire of Gallager’s hard work, It was sad no monies were spent to maintain the theatres, and the started to show the wear under his management. But the Coronet was the flagship and was booked well even if there any product out there. I remember we Played Singing in the Rain for 4 weeks to FULL HOUSES, I remember when the janitors were on strike we had to clean the theatre and mop before we went home I remember when no contract was reached with Henry Meyers and the projectionest Union and we became the booth operators and Managers and Janitors, Working for the Naifys was a pleasure. So you didnt mind doing those jobs.Yes the days of having Claire at the Alexandria answering all the phones for the Alex, Col, Coronet Metro, Vogue, stonestown.Balboa, SHE USED TO SAY GOOD AFTERNOON/EVENING “SAN FRANCISCO THEATRES” which theatre please what an art for that when all of the theatres had a hit she worked 15 hours a day seven days a week in this cubby hole upstairs at the Alexandria with a peg board phone system from the 1930’s, Bud Tapper used to complain he had to pay her out of his budget. Al Bud and I used to meet next to the Coronet at Z’s Buffet and they would get hammered between shows, Those were the days>>!!

JimC on July 3, 2007 at 1:40 am

Demolition began tody on the CORONET. Not much too see yet. Most of the work today was knocking down the gas station next door which is part of the project. But they did knock a huge hole in the side of the theater so they could get fork lift trucks and pnumatic drills inside to begin interior demolition. The big wrecking ball will come any day now. I took some pictures and will continue to document the demolition an hopefully will be able to post them somewhere for all to see.
FYI> I was able to get inside the CORONET about a month ago. (Legally!) I took about 50pictures on that day. The owner also let us “scavenger hunt”, as there was still lots of usable items inside.
We managed to recycle many items from the projection booth and concession area, including two working ice cream freezers, which have all been put to good use at the nearby BALBOA theater in San Francisco. -JC-

Coate on May 7, 2007 at 7:31 am

Has anyone read the new “Making Of Star Wars” book? I think the book overall is fantastic and a must-read for any fan, but contained within is some erroneous information pertaining to the post-production and distribution of the film. In particular, one glaring error appears in regard to the CORONET.

To summarize, there was some controversy surrounding “Star Wars” being pulled by court order to accommodate a booking of “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.” The book’s author, however, erroneously claims that the matter was settled by having “Close Encounters” play at the NORTHPOINT while “Star Wars” stayed at the CORONET. This, of course, is not how the matter was resolved.

“Star Wars” was sent out for re-bid and wound up a week later at the CINEMA 21; “Close Encounters” did in fact play the CORONET; “The Goodbye Girl” played the NORTHPOINT at that time.

I found the error humorous considering the author singled out the CORONET no doubt due to its proximity to the headquarters of the company that produced the movie and for the many historical links between “Star Wars” and the city of San Francisco.

(1) Lucasfilm Ltd. for many years was based in Marin County, just a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, the company is based in San Francisco. (2) San Francisco is the city in which “Star Wars” was test-screened. (3) The CORONET was among the original theatres chosen to play the movie. (4) The CORONET had the highest boxoffice gross of the theatres in the U.S. that played the film during 1977.

You’d think that error would not have slipped through!

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 9, 2007 at 6:57 pm

**** the Institute on Aging.

gunrob on February 17, 2007 at 9:31 pm

I remember seeing Camelot at the Coronet. We four couples drove up from San Jose. We all marveled at the beauty of the theatre which was so different from what we were used to. The experience turned out to be a very special night out for us in the 1960s.