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In about 1969 my wife (then girlfriend) Cathy and I were on a camping trip and the Drain Theatre in Drain, Oregon was showing 2001 with MA AND PA KETTLE GO TO WAIKIKI. Now that is a trip!
Yes Eric was a godsend for the Coronet. As dedicated as they get.
I booked the Coronet and the other UATC Theaters in Northern California from !972-1977. Good ole Albert Levin—-a fixture and a character. We had a lot of sneak previews there as filmmakers loved the place——except maybe the night Stanley Donen, Liza Minnelli and Burt Reynolds sneaked LUCKY LADY and there were constant projection problems. They came up front and told stories, just as Coppola did at the GODFATHER 2 sneak with a break down. Those were the days of changeover and for sneaks, double system which is where the problem usually was. The studio would bring in their own sound and projection team to screw it up in a booth they did not know.
Booking STAR WARS was my job. UATC and Fox had a strong relationship. 20th wanted THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT in the best venues and luckily they also liked the Alexandria so I put that drama there, saving the Coronet for STAR WARS. Nobody at Fox nor practically anybody in the movie business believed in the Lucas space western, just as they had no faith in AMERICAN GRAFFITI before it.
So a lot of theaters got a new life by proving they could gross when they fell into STAR WARS as a last choice.
I had friends at Lucas and knew about their own unique grass roots marketing efforts that even Fox wasn’t aware of dedicated to generating massive turnout of science fiction fans to camp overnight and be the first to see it. (The head of distribution told me in Feb.that the Board has slept through it and were going to shelve it—-until I told him that the comic book and paperback novel were huge hits and about the science fiction convention slide shows Charles Lippincott was doing).
All went according to plan and in San Francisco and around the country the Lucas folks posing as regular folks called broadcast news directors and print editors to say, “Hey…what is going on at the Coronet? I just drove by and there are hundreds of people with their sleeping bags wrapped around the corner.”
Those camera crews arrived in plenty of time for the 11:00 o'clock newscast. The morning papers had front page photos. And the rest of the world was suddenly curious about this social phenomenon they hadn’t previously heard about and didn’t want their friends to find out they weren’t hip enough to have seen STAR WARS. They had to go asap. And thus the inverted word-of-mouth pyramid scheme was launched.
And science fiction suddenly came out of the geek closet.
How is your book on SF Theatres coming. I have been involved with SF theaters for many years starting with the Times in the late 1960s. I wrote a chapter in LEFT IN THE DARK. http://julielindow.com/?p=1
The Balboa was taken over by Adam Bergeron and Jaimi Holker on Jan. 13, 2012. The master lease was turned over to the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation in late 2011. The enthusiastic new operators, Cinema SF, also are running the sister theater, the Vogue.
I had obtained a city grant to redo the facade and we are proud of the results…need to get a photo up here soon. New heaters were installed and there are many other projects planed for both theaters.
I will still consult on special events and whatever they need help on but the plans are going to really bring back the theaters with contiued special events too.
And if you live nearby and want to experience a night at the movies, circa 1926, check this out.
BALBOA BIRTHDAY BASH
Sunday, March 4, 2012 Doors open at 6:45pm
Show starts at 7:00
The Balboa Theatre will celebrate its 86th Birthday on Sunday, March 4. A night at the movies circa 1926 will be the order of the day.
Inspired by Martin Scorsese and Brian Selznick’s HUGO, the evening’s feature film will be Harold Lloyd’s silent classic SAFETY LAST with a 35mm print directly from his granddaughter Suzanne.
It will be accompanied with an original score by pianist extraordinaire Frederick Hodges www.frederickhodges.com , preceded by a program of short subjects including films by George Melies http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2004/great-directors/melies/ (HUGO again).
There will also be a live vaudeville show featuring Melies himself performing some of his famous magic effects. Songstress Linda Kosut www.lindakosut.com/ will sing songs her mother sang.
Author John Bengsten will offer an illustrated lecture exploring the locations Harold Lloyd used to make his movie. Bengston will sign copies of his newest book, Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York through the Films of Harold Lloyd,
Everybody will get birthday prizes and the evening will conclude with a special birthday cake created by the Cake Lady, Diane Boate served with liquid libations.
Audience members are encouraged to dress in their best jazz age clothing as we recreate a night at the movies in 1926. Vintage cars will be in front of the Balboa.
Advance tickets are on sale at the Balboa and online at www.BalboaMovies.com
The Balboa Theatre is located at 3630 Balboa Street (Fox Performing Arts Centerth Avenue) in San Francisco’s Richmond District.
I grew up at the Uptown and someday will get around to writing some stories. The recent restoration is gorgeous but sadly the wonderful ceiling mural of topless ladies riding chariots has only been recreated quite small and is hidden by lighting bars unless you are in the front rows. At a recent high school reunion several people confirmed the original mural…we remembered if the movie was boring the ceiling was not! The first manager claimed there was no such mural so my guess is it was done n the late 1940s when a painter came through Northern California creating similar works in small town theaters.
This recent article in the Napa Register has some mistakes (like claiming the Fox becoming a bowling alley when it was actually the State per above and my own memory). But there are theaters mentioned here I never knew about.
I do hope the Uptown operators will consider dong some films programs. Art films, classics and shows presented by the Napa Valley Film Festival. Wouldn’t it be grand to offer these on nights between live shows.
What happened to the historic picture that was here? I don’t know if this is the correct corner as I think McCalou’s Department Store is where the Fox was.
The Tower was triplexed long before Landmark took it over…in fact before they existed. Multiplexing in the 70s always was terrible.
The big upstairs theater had great 70mm presentation and yes downstairs was lousy though Landmark did spend money making it better. But there is just somethig creepy about some divided up theaters.
There is no economic sense in going back to a single screen unless the theater wants to do live shows like the Crest. When you book a movie you are stuck playing it for a certain amount of time. If the reviews are less than raves or even 4 stars but buried in the paper, the film will possibly bomb. With multiple screens you at least have the economy of scale and collective box office to help with overhead. I don’t think most cusomters have even the slightest idea how much it costs to run a movie theater. And if you don’t have many customers then you aren’t selling much concessions. And you can’t survive resulting in less choice for the audiences.
Landmark did explore building additional theaters on the Tower site but the Landlord refused to discuss it, an adjacent restaurant was part of the appeal of the location and there were city restrictions and neighborhood opponents.
Reading promised many things when they closed for remodeling. Since I haven’t been to Sacramento since they took over I don’t know if they did upgrades or not.
I am disappointed to hear from Mr. Smithee that he will be at the Cinearts rather than attending the Crest where they need his support right now. And incompetent staffs are part of what come with the megaplex circuits. At the Crest they care about you, the experience you have and the quality of the show they present.
Who are you, Mr. Smithee. That is a pseudonym for someone who doesn’t want their name attached to a project they created. Come out from behind your wall. How generous of you to offer to work at a restored Tower. You must be somebody special to make such an offer even though you are an unknown commodity.
Landmark didn;t abandon the Tower. Reading/Angelika, a partner elsewhere with the circuit that holds the master lease, insisted that that Landmark’s lease not be renewed because they wanted to expand their Angelika brand and Landmarkwas forced out. Interestingly it was about the same time that specialized film business in Sacramento took a dive. Now the circuits force any specizlied film with potential crossover business into a multiple. The Crest is in many way the most threatend by this new multiplex, especially since Century is moving into their Cine Arts program in many places.
You are right…I shouldn’t maker knee-jerk responses. But, as a founder of Landmark Theatre back in 1975 (I left left a few years ago to do other things), we learned a lot about audiences and locations for foreign and independent films. People “tell” you one thing but their actions are what keep theaters alive.
The Gateway/Copernicus is a special situation. Being a Polish Cultural Center it is supported by a wide range of community related events including films. Some outside groups also rent it for programs like the Silent Film Festival which are destination events.
Being a beautiful palace helps in the appeal.
But obtaining the rights to show foreign films that don;t have US distribution isn’t easy. Copernicus hooks up with other Polish cultural groups and they share the costs of bringing the prints in. They have a minimal cost way of letting the core audience know what is showing. They may also be screening films on video/DVD below the radar of the actual rights owners. This happens a lot but a more public facility can’t do it.
But even ethnic communities can be hard to bring out. I operate a 1926 neighborhood theater in San Francisco, the Balboa. We are in the heart of the Russian and Chinese communities. Attempts to show films to these audiences, with help from within the community, have been mixed at best. We have been trying to arrange something with Russian contacts to show Soviet films but they can;t get a committment from the suppliers to give them a steady flow of product. Another neighborhood theater, the 4 Star, is owned by a Chinese American whose family has been showing Chinese and Hong Kong films for decades. But the theater now survives by playing a mix of first run commercial movies and second runs with some Asian special series and fests. There aren’t enough films to fill it year around and the audiences will appear for the high profile titles and highly publicized festivals but not as a steady diet.
The Balboa wins “Best of” awards and people are talking about how we have turned it around in the past 3 years but people constantly tell me, “I love what you are doing but I just don;t want to drive the 20 minutes to get there.” Those megaplexes are closer and usually have parking, a tight commodity in neighborhoods.
Meanwhile San Francisco is losing some of its oldest theaters as Regal sells them off. The Alexandria just closed and the Coronet goes next. Both the Voge and Metro are for sale and the asking prices can’t be justified for running them as theaters. More housing and retail to come, leaving neighborhoods with fewer (if any. Our Neighborhood Theatre Foundation keeps close tabs and we try to figure out ways to save or reuse old theaters. I have done several feasibility studies on creative reuse not unlike the Gateway.
Now I hope I am proved wrong. I haven’t paid close attention to the Chicago art market in years. I know Landmark and Century have built new art complexes and the heroic Music Box and Facets do their things. Someone closer to the marketplace knows better than me. Contact the Music Box team.
Why do you think art and foreign films would work. Middle and working class families are not traditionally the right audience.
What kind of neighborhood is this in?
The Alex property was purchased by a group of Chinese businessmen who speak no English. Discussions with their realtor have gone nowhere but we do hope to save the fixtures and murals and find a home for them.
Some kind of retial and residential development is certain to be planned. They are rumored to have paid between 6-7 million dollars for the real estate. Saving the theater can’t be economically justified.
I have been watching the weekly box office receipts for several years and first runs films were not doing well most of the time, grossing maybe 1/10 of the Metreon on opening weekend and falling fast from their.
Sadly, the Richmond district is not a big supporter of its own theaters. The Balboa and 4 Star will presumably see some increase in attendance though the Balboa plays arty product as did the 4 Star which has decided to cash in on the loss of the Alex by going first run.
The etched glass light fixtures and the bas relief mural mentioned in the first posting have just been lovingly restored. Wow. We are really proud of them.
As the Balboa approaches its 78th Anniversary, a big birthday bash is planned for Thursday, Feb. 26. WINGS will be screened with an original score performed by Nik Phelps of Sprocket Ensemble. It will be preceded by Melies A TRIP TO THE MOON, Felix the Cat in ASTRONOMEOWS, silent trailers, a vaudeville show with classic magician James Hamilton and San Francisco’s own “It” girl, Suzanne Ramsey as Kitten on the Keys plus prizes and birthday cake.
ADA upogrades are apace and the stunning paint job in the lobby higlights the interior deco detail. The broken etched glass lamp shades are being replicated and little by little the Balboa will become a deserving gem.
Audiences already love the theater for its good movie selection, low prices and friendly staff. It publishes a weekly email newsletter (subscribe at wenbsite: http://www>BalboaMovies.com .
I programmed the Nuart from 1976 until I left Landmark (a company I co-founded)in 1993. I also did the Fox Venice, Rialto (Pasadena), Vista and Sherman, all at the same time (and many others around the country including the late lamented UC Theatre in Berkeley). Imagine what it was like to keep them all showing different kinds of programming, hopefully doing decent business and not overlapping. The festivals were my favorites, especially at the Sherman. Also bringing in filmmakers for tributes and discussions with audiences was memorable as was having John Waters join us for the 10th anniversary of PINK FLAMINGOS and create the “No Smoking” trailer.
Though I co-founded Landmark with Steve Gilula and Kim Jorgensen, Kim has been part of group that first ran the Fox Venice based on a policy created by Mike Thomas and myself at the Times Theater in San Francisco…a film lovers' grind house changing daily double and triple features for 99 cents in the late 1960s.
Mr. Van Bibber’s comments can also be found on Landmark’s website where they provide a history for each theater.
PINK FLAMINGOES was far from the first midnight movie. Mike Getz ran them at the Presidio from the early 1960s. That had been a leading art film theater until the success of I AM CURIOUS YELLOW moved the owners, Art Theater Guild, in the direction of more films of a sexual nature (from Belle de Jour to Radley Metzger to hardcore). Mr. Getz (who still operates cinemas in Grass Valley) programmed a mix of underground shorts, cult features and camp classics each weekend. He expanded his clever programs into a national circuit, providing audiences and film rental for independent and experimental filmmakers.
Soon the North Beach Movie was also showing weekly midnight programs as was the Gate Theatre in Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge. And of course the Cockettes were accompanied by movies at midnight at the Palace from 1969 (when John Waters lived in San Francisco and was inspired by those events).
Now midnight movies go back much further. I don’t know how far but in the 40s-60s there were always horror films screened at the witching hour in both drive-ins and walk-ins. Often a traveling magician would accompany with a magic, hypnotism and spook show. They played at many neighborhood houses.