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Good news: According to today’s SF Chronicle, page E3, Frank Lee has signed a deal this week to take over Cinema 21. Lee reopens the Presidio theater tomorrow as a 4-screener. This means that this will be a movie theater again! Thank god this was spared from being a Walgreen’s(which it came close to a few years ago).
Update: The theater reopens tomorrow(Dec 25th) as an independent 4-screener operated by Frank Lee(operator of the 4-Star and som of Frank Lee Sr who operated the now defunct Bella Union theater 40 yrs ago) and will be showing first-run films. The original theater has been divided into 3 screens: orchestra has the original screen, the balcony has been divided into 2 screens with “stadium seating for 100 each”. “A small screening room”(ie theater 4) “has been added to the side”. “The seats, restrooms and concession stand are all new” and the interior face lift “makes use of the Presidio’s original Art Deco design”. (Quotes are from today’s SF Chronicle article on page E3)—The article also mentioned that Lee “has signed a deal this week to take over Cinema 21, just down the street on Chestnut, which has been dormant since 2001.”
What killed movie musicals(and roadshow pictures in general) in the late 1960’s was twofold: the decline of the many urban downtowns and the rise of X-rated pictures. In 1969 & 1970, it was not unusual to see theaters showing films like Vixen, Fanny Hill, Female Animal, Midnight Cowboy, Succubus, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls(all of which were released with an X-rating) simply because they made more profit for theater owners (and in some instances, X-rated films were the only draw to downtown theaters after dark). Some of the theaters would wind up showing XXX product within another 2-3 years due to the popularity of films such as Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones.
The current owner apparently is trying to operate a foreign language television channel here. He also has it on the market(at least back in August, not certain if it is still on the market) for $1.9 million.
The film Emmanuelle first played in the US at this theater in Dec 1974. (The advertising for the film had the line “X was never like this”.) The success of this film here led to a wider release.
Now called CineArts at Empire.
Update on last post—The operators of the Naz 8 in Fremont are running this theater and they are showing Indian films on a seven days a week schedule. One show Mon-Th, 2 shows Friday, and 3 shows on Sat & Sun. Perhaps this time the theater will take off.
Update—WWE subleased it out to the Hard Rock Cafe, so it is going back to being used as a restaurant.
New update—It is now showing Indian movies again(a film called Veer Zamora was advertised on both the marquee and in the Daily Review). Apparently, it now has a Dolby Digital setup as well. (It had always been a mono sound theater in earlier incarnations.)
Does anybody know what drive-ins in Southern CA ran adult movies on a regular(or continuous) basis?
I believe this had been an independent. It may have had a “carload” admission price policy towards the end.
Was this a Pacific operated drive-in?
Thanks for that link above. A good article about a theater raid when they showed “Deep Throat” in 1973 was very helpful.
Interesting article. I always wondered how a video projection system can be seen outdoors over some distance.
Has this drive-in always been an XXX drive-in?
I am curious—Being that this theater was in a shopping center, was it more prone to police raids (a common problem for porn theaters in the 1970’s) than a porn theater located in a less desirable area?
Besides the flat rate rentals for X films, admission prices were usually higher than running first or second-run mainstream films. In the early 1970’s, a porn theater could charge $5 a head versus $2.50 for a first-run or $1(or less) for subrun mainstream fare.
According to the book The Ghastly Ones, this was one of (director) Andy Milligan’s favorite hangouts.
I believe this was part of the Avon circuit when it showed porn.
The Rialto was bought by the Brandts after Arthur Mayer got out of the theater business. By the late 1950’s, it was becoming a “sex house”, showing soft sex pictures. In the mid-1960’s, the Brandts decided to turn it into a “class” house, but the fare was still sex films(largely Radley Metzger/Audibon Films fare), which would pave the way for XXX porn. The book The Ghastly Ones has a good description on how the Brandts wanted payoffs from the sexploitation producers in order to play this theater. (Reportably, playing these films here was quite lucrative.)
The dragstrip scenes in American Graffitti 2 were filmed at the Fremont Dragstrip down the street. Ironically, the drive-in was closed by then.
Update—A new shopping center is now on the drive-in site.
Things I can best remember: I recall seeing all 5 of the Planet of the Apes films here(on one program) in 1973, admission was “All seats 75 cents”, theater was in decline at that time.
In August 1974, they showed “Deep Throat” & “The Devil in Miss Jones” for about a month—Admission was $4 per person. The run ended due to a theater raid. (Behind the Green Door played here several months later, but neighborhood pressure shortened its run.)
During 1986-1988, as the ABC Center, it ran first run Orion films as the other theater in Fremont, the Cinedome 7(now 8) could not show any Orion film due to a dispute between Syufy Enterprises(its owner) and the studio. I recall seeing RoboCop, Platoon, and Bad Influence here as first-run. The GCC Fremont Hub 8 took the first-run Orion films once it opened, and the ABC Center went to an “All Seats $2.50” policy that did not last.
Two notes—Castro Street in Hayward was later renamed and is Mission Blvd in the downtown Hayward area. (Mission Blvd runs all the way from the Warm Springs district of Fremont all the way to about Lewelling in the unincorporated area of Hayward—The street turns into East 14th Street, which continues onward into Oakland and becomes International Blvd.)
The site where this is at now houses a City of Hayward parking structure and a UPS store. The parking structure occupies most of the block. And from the seating capacity, it appears that the State was smaller than the Ritz and the Hayward theaters.
Ironically, the Tower Records in Berkeley is no more, either!
The banning of the film Vixen is still in effect today in Cincinati. This was one of the first acts of Charles Keating, who became a fervent anti-pornography crusader (and later appointed by then-President Richard Nixon in his anti-smut campaign). Keating later went after Larry Flynt and his Hustler club in Cincinnati in the early 1970’s and then focused on the Mitchell Brothers for almost a decade (1975-1985, the Mitchell Brothers took over a former UA theater in an upscale mall in Santa Ana, CA and converted it to a XXX format—Keating had one of his Lincoln Savings and Loan Branches across the street. Keating, along with the city of Santa Ana, filed over 47 lawsuits against the Mtichells for showing obscene films. The Mitchells eventually won and the city of Santa Ana spent over $11 million trying to prosecute them.) Keating was later convicted for fraud in one of the largest savings and loan scandals in US history.
Was this theater part of Louis Sher’s Art Theater Guild empire?
It was a single-screener as well.
This was the first drive-in in the San Francisco Bay Area, opened in 1940. It was gone by the early 1960’s, the El Cerrito Plaza shopping center sits where this drive-in once was.