El Capitan Theatre

2353 Mission Street,
San Francisco, CA 94110

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El Capitan Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The interior of the El Capitan Theatre was a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture while the outside was built with a splendid Mexican Baroque facade.

Although the auditorium is long gone, the facade and attached hotel still stand, with the moderne marquee standing guard over the entrance to the theater’s new use as a barren parking lot.

The demolition of all but the decorative facade and the gutted foyer of the El Capitan Theatre in 1964, remains one of San Francisco’s major losses.

Contributed by Juan-Miguel Gallegos

Recent comments (view all 39 comments)

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on December 16, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I’m guessing this was in a bad location, or there was oversaturation in the neighborhood. It seems like that was usually the case with the houses that closed in the mid – late 50’s.

GaryParks on December 16, 2010 at 1:03 pm

To comment on the previous post: It was not a bad location at all. El Capitan was, to quote the late SF theatre historian Steve Levin, “A phenomenal moneymaker before television.” From that point, the huge capacity of the house made it a white elephant very quickly, and indeed, competition from smaller, more efficient-to-run theatres in the area would have had an effect. Any need for a big house in the Mission neighborhood was filled by the smaller, but still capaceous, New Mission Theatre, across the street and to the South. The New Mission managed to keep its doors open into the 1990s, but not without having taken a turn as a boxing match venue before reverting back to a regular movie policy in its last years. Add to this the smaller Tower, Grand, and Crown, and a downtown-sized palace like El Capitan was a dinosaur, once people started staying home more to watch the Small Screen.

Brad Smith
Brad Smith on February 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

This photograph of the El Capitan Theatre was taken in 1930 by George Mann of the comedy dance team, Barto and Mann.

celaniasdawn on March 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm

We called it “The Cap” and it was a beautiful theater. The marquee flashed in beautiful colors and the sign would spell out the letters of the theater one by one. A tall big guy named Dan Mcclean ran the place. He was always dressed in a tuxedo and top hat, greeting you as you came in. I remember his huge black handlebar moustache, my mom thought he was a cutie pie and he would flirt with her. There was a powderroom upstairs and my mom had to powder her nose one more time before we left, and she flirted with him on the way out. What I remember about the Cap, were those beautiful curtains on the stage, there were two of them. When the curtains opened there was another one right behind it that started to open and went straight up. The previews would start and on the screen it would say, “Coming Soon…..To YOUR El Capitan” it made you feel like you owned it.

magonza on September 6, 2011 at 7:21 pm

I had my choice on Saturday mornings of the 5 theatres:El Capitan, Grand. Crown, New Mission and Tower. They showed serial adventures. Admission was 5 cents but quite often you got in free for bottle caps. I would spend Friday afternoons down by the library going through drink machines for discarded caps so I had a supply. Unfortunately we left SF around 1953, and I didn’t return until the late 60’s and didn’t have the interest in serials anymore.

Mikeyisirish on August 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm

A few July 2012 photos can be seen here, here and here.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 6, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Obituaries of San Francisco architect William H. Crim, Jr. list the El Capitan Theatre in San Francisco as one of his designs. I think that the current attribution of the house to G. Albert Lansburgh on this page might be the result of a conflation of the San Francisco El Capitan with the Hollywood El Capitan, which Lansburgh did design. I’ve been unable to find any sources showing any connection between Lansburgh and this San Francisco house, though I suppose it’s possible he was architect for a later remodeling job.

CSWalczak on August 6, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Some additional photos of the theater fron the San Francisco Public Library: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

volcomsuperhero on February 5, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Wow. This theater looked beautiful. I wish we could see some more pictures of the interior. It’s a shame that it had to become a parking lot of all things.

Mikeyisirish on February 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm

At least they didn’t COMPLETELY destroy it. I’d rather see it become a drive through parking lot with the facade in tact than see it demolished and becoming a Walmart or something…

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