Garden Theatre

914 Third Street,
San Rafael, CA 94901

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Originally opened in 1907 as a skating rink. It was converted to a movie theatre in 1910. The Garden Theatre closed in 1911 and the property was converted to a military armory. The space is now occupied by a parking garage.

Contributed by Ken McIntyre

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 26, 2014 at 2:19 pm

The August 14, 1907, issue of The San Francisco Call reported that W. F. Powning intended to convert his skating rink at suburban San Rafael into a theater. An item in the February 10, 1910, issue of the Sausalito News identified W. F. Powning as the proprietor the the Garden Theatre in San Rafael.

The Garden Theatre was still in existence at least as late as 1920, but does not appear to have operated primarily as a movie house. In its later years it hosted a number of balls and dances, so it might never have had a sloped floor. Other events mentioned at the Garden Theatre included concerts, lectures, prize fights, and school graduation ceremonies, as well as plays, both professional and amateur.

The end of the Garden’s life as a movie house might have been hastened by the opening in 1912 of the second Lyric Theatre, the first theater in San Rafael built specifically for showing movies.

One movie at the Garden was abruptly canceled on July 30, 1912, when the owner of the picture company presenting the show absconded with the company’s funds. The nearly-dire consequences of his deed were recounted in the following day’s edition of The San Francisco Call:


“Owner of Outfit Leaves for Other Scenes and Employes Extinguish Light

“[Special Dispatch to The Call] SAN RAFAEL. July 30.—In lieu of the moving picture show of ‘Dante’s Inferno’ scheduled for the Garden theater tonight, the drama was enacted by the audience in a realistic fashion for a short time, the crowd of 300 persons in the hall jamming the exits in a mad effort to escape, and throwing chairs about after a cry of ‘fire,’ when the lights went out.

“Three women fainted and a number of others were bruised by flying chairs before the police arrived and got the audience out in safety. It was then found that the continued reminder of the life to come had so affected the mind of R. Moorhead, the owner of the picture company, that he found a change of atmosphere necessary, incidentally taking all the funds of the show with him.

“When the audience, which included prominent residents of San Rafael, assembled for the performance the remaining members of the picture outfit decided that they would not give a show, and soon afterward the lights went out.

“The operator of the moving picture machine was arrested. He refused to give his name.”

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