Castro Theatre

429 Castro Street,
San Francisco, CA 94114

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terrywade on August 15, 2007 at 4:11 pm

Thanks Simon for your great report. I seem to remember the story of the paint junk the Blumenfields put on the front and it flooding the marquee. One of these days I hope someone will come along and paint the front of the Castro and the Marquee. The stale light color it is now doesn’t show off the front like the Castro needs. Bring on the greens, oranges, red, yellow and pink. Make it look like a art deco Miami Theatre in San Francisco. I think they have a law in SF, no flashing neon. Seems the front did flash neon at one time? Now the inside, have you ever been to the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto CA. check out the dark blue lights up in the ceiling during a film showing. This is what the Castro needs. Also on the bottom of the curtain a small border light tray, with a variety of color you can change per movie theme. I remember as a kid going to all the Golden State Theatres in California when they closed the curtain between previews and the main feature they had a dark blue/red light on the curtains as they moved, some of this light went on the bottom of the screen, it was the best in showmanship. Next time I see the Nassers I will talk to them again about adding some color inside. Maybe when no one is watching we can change some bulbs if they don’t!

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on August 14, 2007 at 10:06 pm

Hi Terry… your “lighting” comments are so true in every aspect and YES, blue lamps should be used during screening times. Lighting in theaters is so very important. READ ON…

When I was co-doorman with the infamous Jim Lewallen from 1994-2001, I was part of a crew who replaced ALL of the multi-colored bulbs in the massive chandelier. This was a huge task resulting in a two-hour lowering session. We found various old and dated notes from earlier employees who had performed this exciting task and I added my name!

We often experienced electrical shorting-out problems with the original footlights because of the huge overload of pink/red -mostly 45watt floods. So I was asked to work all night until noon the next day by disconnecting the system and boxing them in to never be used again. I wonder how many stars and curtain calls they had seen?

I also replaced the rotten lower masking (rags) with 24" high black painted plywood and was later asked to (reluctantly) board-over the oh-so beautiful original Parquet tiled stage with ugly black painted plywood.

Another Castro lighting project I personally triumphed, over was the completely forgotten lights framing the interior of the great arched window of the facade;
Entry was gained from the projection booth. I carried a large sack of new 60watt yellow bulbs and literally crawled up and over the 24" clearance between the wall and the towering window. Gingerly removing each burned out lamp they fell to their “death” at the base of the window, joining hundreds from the past years.

I also noticed small screw-in clips with wire and remnants of what looked like broken Neon tubing. These were located up, down and across the wooden square frames of the numerous small glass windows.
Owner, Ted Nasser, exclaimed to me that he had forgotten about this yellow illumination and had not seen it since his youth.

On a “wet” note; I was urgently called to the Castro one rainy night after the theater had been repainted. The drain plug in the marquee was blocked from a slew of trash and old scraped-off paint.
The irreplaceable framed structure had begun to seriously bow under the tremendous weight of the rain water and would nhave collapsed onto the sidewalk.
After “snaking” the badly clogged drain, water shot out of the sidewalk exit pipe like a Geyser gone crazy.

Ah the happy times memories associated with such a fabulous theater!

terrywade on August 14, 2007 at 7:17 pm

What a great time this past weekend at the Castro for the 85th anniversary. I have met with both Nasser brothers many times in the past year and have told them about having some color added to the indoor lights. I even offered to by the blue, green and red bulbs. Didn’t hear a word. The whole place is lit up in the main theatre with gold and yellow lights on the curtains. The bulbs under the balcony lights need to be blue during the movie. Most are not working. The best place for some dark blue/red bulbs is on either side of the stage on the bottom of the organ loft curtains during a film showing. They have speakers blocking the side curtains. I wait for the day when the main big light on the ceiling can be re lit. Blue during the film on low with the intermission setting green, yellow and orange red combo. The same in the lobby, the candy counter is so dark I don’t see how the help can make change. More ceiling lights need to be added above the consession stand. And the two big art deco lights in the lobby in place of boring white lights (always turned way to low) replace with some color lights. In the summer put in Blue on the bottom row Green on the next then Yellow on the top. In the winter put in Red on the bottom Orange on the next row top off with Yellow. These lights need to turned up, they are way to low now. The Nassers told me last year they are about to re do the electric in the theatre. Many times I have gone In and found the main theatre in the dark. Someone had to do something with the fuse box? Let’t bring back some color at the Castro. With the new seats, great projection, Dolby Digital and 70mm this is a first class house. Thanks to Bill Longen for helping get this great San Francisco theatre back on track. When he brought back a 70mm print of It’s A Mad Mad World last year he made special masking for the big screen so it fit. This is real showmanship!

AdoraKiaOra on August 13, 2007 at 3:56 pm

You lucky, lucky people!

spencer911 on July 9, 2007 at 4:17 pm

I was the manager of the Castro Theater when it suddenly closed because of the 1989 earthquake. The theater was only dark for about 30 days, not months as stated on this thread. There was a very hurried “restoration” of the auditorium because it was costing a bundle in lost revenue. Scaffold was raised in the entire interior of the auditorium, and a considerable amount of plaster decoration was taken down. There were plaster tassels and rope swags removed from the tented area around the chandelier. They were stacked in the lobby and taken “to storage” from whence, I doubt, they will ever be returned.
There was also a good deal of damage to the women’s restroom and the manager’s office the walls of both having collapsed onto the grand staircases. While this did not appreciably change the look of the lobby when repairs were finished, it did help delay reopening.
The console of the organ was badly damaged and required restoration, as did the organ pipe lofts on either side of the screen. In the upstairs booth the old carbon-arc projectors were violently moved from their original positions. Later newer projectors were installed (actually they were originally in the French Pavilion at the Seattle World’s Fair) because the picture had to be considerably brightened to show Ted Turner’s restored “Gone With the Wind.”
Behind today’s wide screen there was the original proscenium arch from the 1920s. I’m not certain it’s even still there now. Because the picture in those days was square and quite small, in old movie palaces the screen was framed by elaborate plasterwork. The Castro’s original proscenium was badly damaged in the quake and may have been removed by now. I doubt it would ever be restored.
During that time, with workmen coming and going, trucks and materials being unloaded, people from the community would dash past the “No Entrance” signs convinced the theater was being trashed into a tri-plex by the Blumenfeld organization. In fact, no such plan was ever seriously considered by the Blumenfelds. It was Mel Novikoff who had planned such a change before his death, but I don’t think it ever went beyond the talking stages.

kencmcintyre on May 16, 2007 at 1:17 pm

I’ve heard rumors that the neighborhood is changing to more of a straight/gay mix. This is thirdhand as I don’t spend much time in SF. Unknown if this would change the programming at the theater.

Rodney on March 17, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Photos of the Castro Theatre make it look so much larger than a 1500 seat house. It certainly is beautifully designed.

August on March 17, 2007 at 1:58 pm

Loutheatres said, “…despite the controversy over Monga’s firing, they still do great programming.”

There was no “controversy”; Monga butted heads with the owners of the theater, and they let her go. The rumors that flew in the media came from a case of sour grapes, and other wild claims were unfounded. Monga recently worked with the Castro to present NOIR CITY 5 (she’s the programming director). So, I guess the “controversy” leveled at the theater was all for naught? Anyhow, the Castro Theatre is doing better than ever — and the last couple of times I was there, I wish I hadn’t dressed so warmly (since it was so crowded) it got stuffy.

Besides, lots of really progressive and interesting things are in store this year!

Alto on January 29, 2007 at 9:40 am

The Times write-up spotlights their wildly successful “Noir City” film festival, now in its fifth year and probably their biggest annual event (now playing through February 4th).

Here’s another excellent example of a restored old-time movie palace, serving up great classic cinema, to a large contemporary audience of enthusiastic and appreciative movie-going fans.

cmhendler on October 16, 2006 at 5:17 pm

An amazing theatre, and despite the controversy over Monga’s firing, they still do great programming.

Like a lot of old movie palaces, the central heat/air leaves something to be desired. If its chilly (and in SF it can be chilly any time of the year) dress warmly.

stevenj on October 6, 2006 at 4:58 pm

I was being facetious August, by putting restoration in “ ”. I’m no expert but I would think (as a former painter) that a restoration would include first a good cleaning of the surface before putting on a preservative. As I said, I think they were in a hurry. The Castro is my neighborhood theatre and I feel lucky to be able to walk just a few blocks to see a film there. The multiplexes leave me cold also.

August on October 6, 2006 at 8:39 am

While that may be true, I have no reason to doubt your story, but I do doubt the story of the Blumenfeld’s painter. First, we would need to verify if this “restoration” actually occurred – otherwise, it is simply hearsay. But, with that being said, the Castro still stands head and shoulders above the sea of multiplexes in San Francisco – since all of the other “old time” theaters are rapidly disappearing, and soon, only the Castro will be left standing. We shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But, rest assured, the Nassar family has great plans for maintenance and renovation for the old girl.

Don’t forget the Castro’s Halloween Horror Film Festival, SHOCK IT TO ME!, October 27-29 2006

stevenj on September 20, 2006 at 10:56 am

In 1989 I worked for a local paint store. Blumenfeld Enterprises managed the theatre then and had an account with the paint store. After the 1989 Loma Preita earthquake the Castro closed for several months to patch up the damage. One of the Blumenfeld’s painters came in one day and bought all the shellac we had off the shelf and asked me to order another 10 gallons. When he came in to pick up the rest of his order several days later I asked him what he was doing with the shellac (noting that the Castro was listed as the job site). He said they were “restoring” the tented plaster ceiling. I asked him what they used to clean off the decades of nicotine and grease, he said they were just applying the shellac as ordered by the foreman. I told him that shellac darkens with age, did they think about that? He said they were in a hurry to finish the work so that the theatre could reopen. If anything in the Castro is “tarnished” it’s the tented ceiling. It has gotten much darket than it was before the “restoration” and details that were clearly visible and much lighter are now hidden.

August on September 20, 2006 at 8:55 am

The link to the Castro Theatre is dead, the current and correct link is

August on September 20, 2006 at 8:50 am

I wouldn’t say that the Castro Theatre is at all “tarnished”; I have spent a lot of time in this cinema as a fest producer/organizer, and on the contrary, the Castro is a very clean, well-kept venue. In the 1970s and 1980s I heard that it was becoming run down (I remember seeing SEVEN SAMURAI there in 1981/82 and don’t remember much about the theatre), but after 60 years, what wouldn’t be?

Conversely, in the last several years, having been there both day and night — for several days in a row — I haven’t experienced or seen anything that was falling apart or fraying around the edges. The Castro is a working theater, and to close it for that kind of extensive cleaning of the ceilings would be cost-prohibitive, to say the least. The cost of maintaining the archival projectors, alone, is astronomical. Keeping the films running and the sound system working, are probably the two elements that most patrons take for granted, but are the most important things to insure that any cinema stays open and viable.

With that being said, the Castro has already replaced all of the carpeting and many of the seats (all on the floor, and a majority of the balcony â€" some of the seats in the balcony were kept original to preserve the historic aspect). They are always looking at what needs to be done to improve the presentation of the films â€" which are always changing, sometimes from day to day â€" and how they can better serve their patrons. Expect some more improvements to the Castro over the next year.

Against common sense, I have spent a large portion of my life in San Francisco cinemas, from the industry screening rooms to fleabags like the defunct Strand — I’ve seen them all — and the Castro Theatre is hardly “tarnished”. If people would like to see the theatre make better and more aggressive restoration, the best way they can do this is to patronize the Castro as often as possible. The more the theatre earns at the box office and concession, the more the Nassar family will invest back into their theater.

bobosan on July 27, 2006 at 6:29 pm

Oh, if only the Castro Theater could get the refurbishing it truly deserves. There is so much detail that could be restored – the ceiling alone would be worth cleaning and restoring. Probably decades of cigarette smoke has blackened it. It would probably take several million dollars to properly refurbish the place.

But even in its tarnished state, it remains a marvelous theater, one of the cultural gems of San Francisco. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Wizard of Oz or some other movie loved by gay people there – the audience is just as much fun as the picture sometimes.

philbertgray on July 8, 2006 at 5:34 am

I love the Castro. There 3-D festival was cool. Hoping they might be able to show “Those Redheads from Seattle”, “Charge at Feather River” “Taza, Son of Cochise” in dual strip since they have recently been restored and will be shown at the upcoming 3-D Film Expo in September at the Egyption in Hollywood.

I do wish they had money to invest in a little clean up at the Castro. The spotlights projected into the auditorium during intermission are quite annoying very unflattering to what is a beautiful inerior and the ceiling design is almost unrecognizable at this point. I imagine any restoration work is probably unaffordable, sadly.

August on May 6, 2006 at 6:57 pm

The Castro Theatre is magnificent, and as a SF native, I have gone there many, many times over the years. I will say that current Events Promoter/Producer Bill Longen obsesses over the prints they get, but sometimes distributors send garbage, and it’s too late. I was the programmer for both GODZILLAFEST and SHOCK IT TO ME! at the Castro Theatre, and while I worked with Anita on the former, both of them were easy to work with and very cool. We came to Anita with three days of Godzilla films, and she expanded it to five, then seven — even I thought that was crazy, but it worked and the show was a resounding success.

For SHOCK IT TO ME!, Bill was not only adamant about getting the best prints possible, as he is with everything they book for the theater, but also the best film selection possible. Sony’s print of THE COMEDY OF TERRORS was fading (it’s was all that was available), but the prints of HOUSE OF USHER and DR. PHIBES were STUNNING, as were the prints of VAMPIRE LOVERS, REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, CURSE OF THE DEMON and THE HAUNTING. You can’t expect perfection in 40 year-old Horror Films that the distributors hardly care about, but we got close.

Working together with us, Bill brought some great ideas to the table, and felt as though we were one big family. As a result, SHOCK IT TO ME! also was a success, and it was an absolute pleasure (and a privilege) to work with the staff and management of this great movie palace. I am looking forward to continuing for as long as they’ll have us.

Since he came aboard at the Castro, Bill has booked in some crazy stuff (and let us run amok, too) — was anyone there in the PACKED house for the colorized PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE screening recently? Yes, an Ed Wood film packed the 850-seat floor. Simply amazing what a little solid PR can do for an awful film. LOL. Believe me, it was a night that was hilarious and just felt damned good. I’d rather see programming like this, than anything in French — just kidding.

But, fear not (or maybe you should), there’s more cool programming in the pipeline (Bill is plotting and planning), and we are booking films (and guests) for the triumphant return of SHOCK IT TO ME! for the 2006 Halloween Season. Thanks for all those who attended last year, and those who left kind comments on this page. This year’s show will be bigger (two weekends) and twice as ugly! Thanks again and stay tuned…

¡Viva Castro Theatre!

RobertR on March 29, 2006 at 11:39 am

This is the organist at the Castro. This might have been filmed on someones cell phone :)
View link

frankie on March 20, 2006 at 4:42 am

I’m so happy to say that I, too, was lucky enough to have a Castro experience all the way from Brooklyn ! I was visiting my sister in the ‘80s, and had never seen “Gilda” with Rita Hayworth, believe it or not. I got to see it, complete with organ serenade, and was happily dazzled !

RetroFan on March 8, 2006 at 9:55 am

I must say the Castro has given me the most AWESOME movie-going experiences in this city. Especially this past year! I heard of the programming upset behind the scenes some time ago, but to be honest, I go now more than ever before. I went to almost every film at the GODZILLA FEST. I basically set up house at the Castro even though I live nearby. Such a wonderful, fun experience. I enjoyed the 3-D fest and tried to go every night. The horror fest last year was GREAT as was their Halloween programming!!!!!! Whenever they play Hitchcock – I’m there. Recently they played some fun films like Xanadu and Skatetown USA. Very fun.
More upper-crust foreign fare and such were probably favored before, but I never went to see them (except for the Fellini films…I’m now a fan of his work). The programming now is really fun. I’ll take a Joan Crawford double feature or Vincent Price fest ANY DAY over the usual arthouse programming.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on January 22, 2006 at 2:02 pm

Queer queues at the Castro:
View link

cswa913102 on October 24, 2005 at 9:02 pm

I went to just about every Saturday matinee at the Castro from about 1959-1962 or early ‘63. Why the heck not? It was only 20 cents to get in, and another 20 cents for popcorn AND soda. It was usually a double feature with a cartoon. At that time, it was a little run-down, but still impressive. I remember seeing “The Phantom of The Opera” ('62 version, Herbert Lom in maybe his only starring role?) and being a little nervous about that big chandelier.

tjmayerinsf on October 9, 2005 at 5:15 am

If you haven’t already, go to the Castro Theatre website
and click on the History section which has a few old and new photos.