El Capitan Theatre

2353 Mission Street,
San Francisco, CA 94110

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Mikeyisirish
Mikeyisirish on February 6, 2013 at 1:22 am

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…

volcomsuperhero
volcomsuperhero on February 5, 2013 at 9:35 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.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on August 7, 2012 at 6:39 am

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

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 7, 2012 at 6:07 am

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.

Mikeyisirish
Mikeyisirish on August 6, 2012 at 1:25 am

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

magonza
magonza on September 7, 2011 at 3:21 am

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.

celaniasdawn
celaniasdawn on March 28, 2011 at 9:01 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.

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

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

GaryParks
GaryParks on December 16, 2010 at 9:03 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.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on December 16, 2010 at 8:32 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.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on December 14, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Ken mc… FYI, regarding you notes of Feb 29, 2008;
Apart from the cluster of theaters around that part of Mission Street, there are others several miles out of downtown as this endless road winds its way through the Mission district.

darquil
darquil on July 31, 2010 at 7:36 am

I’ve posted some recent photos here.

GaryParks
GaryParks on June 27, 2009 at 10:30 pm

The 1930s marquee which replaced the original, and which is still on the facade as seen in the photo in the previous post, is exactly the same design as that of the Grand Lake in Oakland, just done in a typical trapezoid shape, as aopposed to the wide sweeping curve which the Grand Lake marquee has partly due to its corner location. I would guess the El Capitan marquee had tubes and color like those of the Grand Lake, and probably animated in a similar or identical fashion.
I have long had the dream that someday the Mission neighborhood will pick itself up to a point where the site of the El Capitan’s auditorium could be built upon with both an underground parking garage and a multistory multiplex. The facade would be restored, the marquee relit and outfitted with digital readerboards, and patrons would walk through the still extant foyer with its plasterwork restored, to the new structure behind. Then, down the street, the New Mission Theatre would be the performing arts center for the area.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 3, 2008 at 1:38 pm

David: I’m relying on the information accompanying the photo at the website of the San Francisco Public Library. The library identifies the photo as follows: “Dan McLean standing in doorway of the El Capitan with an unidentified woman and man.” It gives the date as 1932, which was the year “The Wet Parade” was released.

davidkaye
davidkaye on October 3, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Joe, are you absolutely sure the saloon photo comes from the El Capitan and 1932? I have been told that the exact photo was of Don Maclean (the Ten-O-Win guy) of the Embassy Theater, from very early in his career, and was actually a photo from a downtown theater. Does anybody know the facts for sure about this photo?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 1, 2008 at 2:08 am

In 1932, El Capitan had a lobby card proclaiming “Free Beer”, and they’d apparently switched their regular doors for saloon-style swinging doors. The wall looks to have been covered with some sort of woody paneling to suggest a cheap saloon’s facade, and there are people in Victorian costume.

What event could have brought on such a display? The sign above the doors reveals that it was the 1932 movie The Wet Parade, an anti-alcohol screed which, from the descriptions I’ve read, may have been the “Reefer Madness” of the Prohibition era— albeit a tad more sophistocated, perhaps, due to its having been based on a novel by Upton Sinclair. I’d dearly love to see it.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on February 29, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Thanks to all. I look forward to checking those out on my next trip north.

William
William on February 29, 2008 at 10:06 pm

The El Capitan Theatre was part of the Fox West Coast Theatre chain and the biggest in the Mission District area (It tried to be like the like one of the Market Street houses). There is about 3-4 houses in the general El Capitan area.
Grand Theatre 2655 Mission Street
New Mission Theatre 2550 Mission Street
Rialto Theatre 2555 Mission Street

Granada Theatre 4631 Mission Street

There are two excellent books on the theatres in San Francisco and Oakland by Jack Tillmany. Who has posted many excellent comments about many of the theatres in the Bay Area.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on February 29, 2008 at 9:45 pm

If I’m in San Francisco looking for theaters, are all these old theaters on Mission pretty close to each other? Or is Mission one of those eight mile long streets where the theaters are far apart? Let me know. It seems like there are quite a few relics still surviving on this street, in one form or another.

William
William on February 29, 2008 at 9:27 pm

Up until the late 80’s / early 90’s the vertical sign was still intacted on the front of the building above the marquee.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on February 29, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Here is a photograph I took in February 2005. Looking straight through the former foyer, you can seen the car parking lot:
http://flickr.com/photos/kencta/2300132147/
A couple more photographs I took, showing the entire front of the building. The auditorium was parallel to Mission Street, with the screen end at the far right, behind the theatre’s apartment building:
http://flickr.com/photos/kencta/2300132993/
http://flickr.com/photos/kencta/2300133837/

tomdelay
tomdelay on February 29, 2008 at 8:01 pm

As I stated above, the organ from the El Cap was slated to go into the Indiana Theatre in Terre Haute, IN. The organ is due to be finished and played at this summer’s ATOS convention in Indiana.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on February 29, 2008 at 7:48 pm

You drive under the marquee, through the foyer and…..there you are, on an empty space, used as a parking lot!