Showing 26 - 50 of 62 comments
As the Colonial Theatre, construction began in 1905,
but was halted by the devastation of the April 1906 earthquake and fire.
Still named the Colonial, the theatre formally opened on October 6, 1906.
On December 12, 1909 it was renamed the Savoy,
In 1912, Lon Chaney is said to have made his stage debut there.
On September 30, 1913 it was renamed the Oriental,
and on October 14, 1916 it was renamed the Savoy again.
On September 27, 1922, it was renamed the Plaza,
and (finally) on May 14, 1925 it was renamed the President,
and remained so until it closed on September 5, 1963.
During the 1920’s the President was a popular legitimate theatre,
offering the live stage productions of the Henry Duffy company,
but the popularity of talking pictures and the stock market crash of 1929,
followed by the great depression, ended all that, and by
the mid-1930’s the President was offering double feature film programs for fifteen cents.
Burlesque saved the day in 1941 when Eddie Skolak turned it into
the President Follies, and as such it served San Francisco audiences
through the halcyon war years, the 1950’s and into the 1960’s.
After the death of Skolak, his widow sold the theatre, and on
September 5th, 1963 it terminated its lonely distinction as California’s last burlesque house.
It was torn down soon afterwards.
The Powell opened as the Edison in 1911. It was renamed the Powell
in 1933. For forty years it was a popular, comfortable little
theatre that catered to the older, retired citizenry of downtown
San Francisco, who lived in nearby apartments and residence hotels.
“Polite” would be a good word to describe its programming.
Revivals of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy musicals,
Greta Garbo classics and a lot of older films that were to be
seen nowhere else could often be found on the Powell screen.
Later films such as Auntie Mame and There’s No Business Like Show
Business could be seen over and over as long as distributors had
prints available in their inventories.
Many titles seen there were the last circulating prints to be found anywhere in the USA,
which the local San Francisco exchanges kept on hand just so the Powell could play them.
Except for a wider screen, installed in order to meet the demands of 1950’s programming,
once you entered the theatre you really got the feeling nothing much had changed since 1911,
and that included the light fixtures and the tapestries on the walls.
True, their CinemaScope presentation left a lot to be desired, but it was the best they could do handicapped by the physical limitations of the theatre.
When the former manager of the Powell, Min Gordon, finally retired in the early 1970’s,
other operators tried different polices (described above) without success, and the theatre finally closed on August 9, 1977.
It was converted into a Burger King, and, as such, 39 Powell Street still survives today in 2004.
The Point was a small (425 seat) theatre hastily erected amid
the housing projects to accomodate the host of wartime workers
at nearby Hunters Point Shipyards. It operated from 1944-1952,
and was subsequently torn down.
Just for the record: the Opera Plaza Cinemas opened on November 16, 1984, so this year, 2004, marks their twentieth anniversary,
no small achievement considering the multiplexes up the street,
and the competitive state of the market
It was the Alexandria when it opened, and it was the Alexandria when
it closed; for 80 years it was the Alexandria, and by that name
it is still fondly recalled as you can read in the host of comments
above and below. Why can’t Cinema Treasures eliminate the “UA” in front of its name, which is nothing but an artifact of corporate egotism, so it will show up at the top of the San Francisco list,
in the “A” category where it belongs? A lot of people may not look for it down among the “U”’s, and will probably think it’s not listed at all.
Two other contributors have pointed out that the picture that you
have of the “Presidio” theatre is not the one on Chestnut Street,
as described, but the one in the former Presidio Army Base.
One contributor, geofuz, was even so kind as to send in a current
picture of the correct Presidio. That was over a YEAR ago!
But the picture has still not been corrected.
What’s going on???
The film “Destination Murder” was filmed at the World Theatre
(when it was still the Marcal) in December 1949. As Stanley
Clements enters the theatre, the marquee is clearly visible.
They are playing “Corregidor” and “Flight Lieutenant,"
a double revival bill making the rounds of several Los Angeles area
theatres the first week of December to commemorate the anniversary
of Pearl Harbor. The films themselves have nothing to do with
"Destination Murder.” Clements is just using his presence at the
theatre (with his girlfriend) to establish an alibi while he goes
out and kills a guy during intermission! There is also a scene inside the lobby, while he stops at the snack bar for popcorn.
The Festival opened on May 29, 1969; the building it occupied
had originally been a Fuller Paints store and auto glass
installation shop. It closed on August 31, 2001, and was
razed on November 26th; the site is now occuped by
Mc Covey’s 44 Restaurant and a Thomasville Furniture store.
In the 1950 Universal-International feature, Woman on the Run,
the amusement park finale is supposedly taking place
in San Francisco, where the rest of the film was lensed,
but it was actually filmed at Ocean Park, in Santa Monica,
and the Dome Theatre is quite visible in several shots.
You can even read what’s playing: Montgomery Clift in
The Big Lift, a 20th Century-Fox release.
The New Mission Theatre opened on May 4, 1916, with Mary Pickford
in Poor Little Peppina, a second-run attraction.
It was built by Kahn & Greenfield, at a cost of $250,000.
Previously, on the same the site, a much smaller Mission Theatre
had operated for about ten years, and it was the shell of this
theatre that was used as the foyer and lobby of the New Mission.
(For the record, the earlier “Mission” opened around 1907,
was renamed the Premium around 1911,
one of no less than four “Premium” Theatres in SF at that time,
and last operated as the Idle Hour from mid-1913
until it closed in order to be transformed into the
entranceway to the new and larger New Mission.)
So successful was the New Mission from the very beginning,
that it an additional upper balcony was soon added, and it
re-opened on November 15, 1917 with “1000 additional seats”;
although this figure may be a bit of a stretch, its total
capacity did end up as an officially given 2020 or 2050 seats,
(not 2800 as claimed above), surpassed on Mission Street only
by El Capitan (2578 seats) (1928-1957).
When you consider that all these seats may well have been filled,
or at least near filled, not only evenings, but weekend matinees
as well, you can get a vague idea of just how many people did
once go to the movies, and how often.
Add to New Mission and El Capitan, the smaller Cine Latino
(nee Wigwam/New Rialto/Crown), Tower (nee Majestic), and Grand,
and you have about 7500 seats on Mission Street alone,
all within about six blocks of each other.
Unable to cope with a continuing decrease in attendance,
ever increasing overhead due to the size of the building
(imagine the heating bill!), and a serious deterioration
of the surrounding neighborhood (see shooting noted above),
the New Mission finally closed its doors on May 4, 1993.
The Cinema 21 opened on September 6, 1928 as the Marina Theatre,
with Bebe Daniels in Hot News, a second-run attraction;
it was built by Baron & Nathan;
O'Brien & Peugh were the architects.
In 1952 it was extensively modernized, with little of the
original design or architecture remaining, either inside or out.
For well over thirty five years, it was a popular, well attended
second run neighborhood house, the flagship of the small but
respected Gerald Hardy chain, serving its Marina District patrons,
most of whom lived within walking distance of the theatre.
(Hardy also built and operated El Presidio down the street.)
Unfortunately, In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s a trend began which turned the traditional exhibition picture around, and,
though no doubt often providing a quick profit for many theatre owners, eventually resulted in a severe loss of patronage for the theatres in question, and the Marina was one of these.
Gerald Hardy who was getting along in years, began selling off his
theatres, and Marina fell into the hands of the Syufy chain,
who changed the name to Cinema 21, raised the admission prices,
and instituted a policy of exclusive first run attractions.
This meant that anyone in San Francisco who wished to see a film
playing at Cinema 21 had to travel there to do so;
it would be shown nowhere else in the city.
But there was no parking provided, and so visitors to
the neighborhood circled blocks in search of parking places,
much to the chagrin of the locals, who, in turn, deserted the theatre almost entirely because it now showed the same film for weeks, even months at a time, at uncomfortably higher prices, rather than change weekly as it once did.
The new owners argued that Cinema 21 now served all of SF, not just the Marina District, true enough when a popular film landed there,
but at what ultimate cost? Quite simple. One neighborhood theatre.
Eventually, in order to get key films, which, as years went by,
the film distributors wanted to get shown in as many theatres as
possible, as quickly as possible, the Cinema 21’s days of running
films “exclusively” ended, and it had to share first run titles
with other similarly situated theatres all over San Francisco,
thus diluting its returns, often below the profit line.
Under these circumstances, it is surprising it held on as
long as it did; it finally closed on September 20, 2001,
but as a “neighborhood” theatre, it would be more realistic
to say that its life was over back in 1965 when it ceased being
the Marina and reopened as Cinema 21.
As the Excelsior, the Granada was in operation as early as 1922;
its grand re-opening as the Granada took place on October 3, 1931.
It closed in November 1982.
El Capitan opened on June 29, 1928 with Patsy Ruth Miller in
We Americans, a second run attraction. It was built by
Ackerman, Harris and Oppen at a cost of $1,250,000.
Boasting 2578 seats (not 3100 as noted above), it was the
largest and most opulent of the many Mission Street houses,
and the first to bring second run films in wide screen CinemaScope to the Mission Street neighborhood in the late fall of 1953.
Unfortunately, its size and grandeur, with inherent operating costs,
soon became a detriment rather than a benefit, and it soon fell victim to the inroads of television. It closed first on
July 24, 1956; re-opened on May 1, 1957, offering 3 features at
reduced admission prices, and then closed permanently on December 15, 1957.
The opening date of the Coliseum was November 22, 1918.
The official seating capacity was 2047 seats,
not 3000 as posted above. By the late 1980’s
the upstairs portions of the theatre were deemed unusable,
allegedly because the fire escapes therefrom were no longer safe.
The building was severely damaged by the October 17, 1989 earthquake, and closed permanently as a result of the damage.
The shell of the original building remains, with portions of
the facade restored to their original design, while, inside,
the interior has been remodelled and converted to condominium apartments.
The Pix, which opened on April 4, 1946 at 938 Market Street,
on the ground floor of the much older Garfield Building,
was the first post-World War II film theatre to emerge,
and was so small it didn’t even issue tickets. You just walked
through a turnstyle which the cashier activated after you
paid for your admission. There was no lobby to speak of,
and the rest rooms, lounge & snack bar were all located downstairs.
Entering the auditorium, you found yourself on the center aisle,
with six seats on each side to choose from. Amazingly, when
wide screen presentation became a necessity in the mid-1950’s,
the Pix was able to accomodate its own miniature, but properly
proportioned version of CinemaScope in an acceptable manner.
The theatre had been converted from retail space by entrepreneur
Robert L. Lippert and, though small, boasted refrigerated
air conditioning, unique at the time, and rare still now,
in San Francisco, which prides referring to itself as
“The Air Conditioned City” but is often in need of just that
when the occasional hot spell arrives and stays for a few days.
For the humble admission price of fifty cents, a Pix patron could enjoy no less than “3 Action Hits,” 6 Color Cartoons, and actually cool off at the same time that bejewelled patrons of the non-air-conditioned Opera House up on Van Ness Avenue were roasting like ducks on a spit (and still are!)
On August 25, 1950 the Pix was renamed the Newsvue, and adopted
a policy of nothing but newsreels Monday thru Friday, and nothing
but cartoons (25) on Saturdays and Sundays. Apparently the novelty
soon wore off, the former grind policy resumed, and the name was
changed back to the Pix in March 1955. In the building upstairs, local street photographer Joseph Seele maintained his office,
and so passers-by often found themselves snapped by Seele
downstairs on Market Street, with the Pix Theatre in the background.
In the early 1970’s, all buildings in the block East of the Pix
were torn down in order to accomodate the Powell Street BART
(Bay Area Rapid Transit) station and surrounding plaza, as already noted by contributor Scott Favareille; however, in fact,
the Garfield Building and the Pix survived the wrecker’s ball,
and the Pix remained open until December 1972,
(yes, with “adult” films,) when it permanently closed
and was almost immediately converted back into retail space, occupied today by Radio Shack.
The Midtown opened as the Riviera on March 5, 1927,
with Marceline Day and Charles Delaney in “College Days,”
a third run attraction. On April 29, 1935, it reopened as the
Midtown, and closed on January 24, 1952, as the result of a fire.
The Great China opened around 1925 in the heart of San Francisco's
Chinatown; in the early 1960’s, its name was changed to Great Star.
Only Chinese films were ever shown there, it closed around 2000,
and is now vacant.
The Grandview operated from the mid-1930’s until the late 1980's
as a Chinese language theatre theatre in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. During the last ten years of its operation,
it was known as the Chinatown Theatre. The building in which it
operated still stands, and the space it formerly occupied has
since been converted into a retail outlet.
Contributor Dejael seems to have the Gateway confused with some
other theatre, most likely the Northpoint, a large first run
theatre which did, indeed, show Alien in 1979 in 70MM, and
answers his description of the premisis. The Gateway was much
smaller, showed only revival films until 1981, and after that,
primarily foreign and independent releases. It’s name has now
been changed to Eureka Theatre, and is still a live venue,
as noted above.
This theatre was never known as Fox San Francisco,
and its ID should be corrected accordingly.
It was always, quite simply, The Fox Theatre;
you can add San Francisco, California,
as a geographical reference, but that was never part of
its name (as opposed to Fox Oakland, etc.)
Relevant information regarding the Crown Theatre can be found
under the Cine Latino listing, under which name is also operated.
In the mid-1960’s the Avenue was taken over by Edward Millington
Stout III, who installed a Mighty WurliTzer Organ, and began
offering silent films with organ accompaniment with Bob Vaughn
as house organist. This policy proved quite popular among local
film enthusiasts, and the enterprise was later taken over by
Geoff Hansen, who not only continued the silent film offerings
but added early sound films to round out the Friday night
double features, which were attended with almost religious devotion,
as well as occasional three dimensional films, of the 1954-1954
period, presented in dual projector polaroid 3D, another unique
offering much appreciated by Avenue devotees.
Unfortunately, the Avenue succumbed in December 1984, when it
permanently closed, not because of lack of patronage, but because
the neighborhood had deteriorated so badly that such innocent
recreations as going out to a movie on Friday night became a
dangerous, and sometimes even life-threatening excursion, due to
the local so-called “human” elements on whose “turf” it had the misfortune to be situated.
The State opened as the California on 1 November 1917 with “The Woman God Forgot.” It was built at a cost of $1,850,000, Alfred Henry Jacobs architect. With 2135 seats, the State was the first large size motion picture house to open on Market Street, and was a major first run outlet from its inception. Unfortunately, during the next few years, other large theatres, such as the Paramount (nee Granada) (1921), the Warfield (1922), the Golden Gate (1922), the Orpheum (nee Pantages) (1926) and the Fox (1929), opened further up Market Street and the parade passed it by. By the 1930’s double feature second and third run programs were being offered at the desperately low price of 20 cents (matinees) and 30 cents (evenings) with Ten-O-Win on Monday and Bank Nite on Thursday! On 31 December 1941 it reopened as the State, with a modernized marquee and an upgraded policy of moveover attractions from its sister theatres, the Paramount and St. Francis, and/or first run major studio re-releases. Needless to say, this policy was still pretty shaky at best , and not the solution to filling those 2000 empty seats, nor overcoming what was really its basic problem, being two blocks too far East from the First Run Theatre Zone. Television made its impact and by the early 1950’s the end was in sight. It closed on 2 March 1954, but remained standing for many years, occasionally used as a church by various revivalist groups. It was finally torn down around 1960.
The Apollo opened as the Amazon on 14 September 1928 with Ralph Graves in “The Swell Head.” It was built at a cost of $350,000 by Ackerman, Harris, & Oppen. It was renamed the Apollo and reopened on 23 October 1969. After a lengthy period of showing Filipino Films, it closed in 1978.