Royal Theatre

1529 Polk Street,
San Francisco, CA 94109

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Royal...San Francisco

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The Royal Theatre was built in 1916, designed by the Reid Brothers. It was completely remodeled by Timothy Plfueger during the mid-1930’s for the Nasser Brothers chain which operated it at the time.

Sitting on a stretch of Polk Street that became run-down as time passed, the theater’s vertical sign was a local landmark. The same decorative motif was gracefully applied to the facade and the organ grilles. The family that owned this theater also owned the Castro Theatre and the nearby Alhambra Theatre.

The Royal Theatre was demolished in June of 2003 except for the facade and certain architectural elements, which was incorporated into housing constructed on the site.

Contributed by Juan-Miguel Gallegos

Recent comments (view all 32 comments)

GaryParks on June 14, 2008 at 5:42 pm

It’s been many months now since a visit to the recreated Royal facade subsequent to the one mentioned in my last post. At this last visit I beheld the facade complete, except for the marquee. All scaffolding was down, and yes indeed, they have made a perfect copy of Pflueger’s metal facade, with a rich bronze finish on all the metal, and red-orange and gold cathedral glass in the false window in the center. It looks so perfectly High Deco and of another time it’s almost hard to believe. They did it right! I only wish they had kept the terrazzo sidewalk that went out to the pavement, even though it had been added later, probably during A.A. Cantin’s remodel of the entrance and marquee. As for the marquee, I have little to report except that at the time of this last viewing, more framework had been added to it, and it hinted at a fine deco design. Sometime soon, I hope to get up there to see the whole thing in its completed state, and will do another post. I’m still hoping they incorporated some neon.

GaryParks on April 6, 2009 at 9:59 pm

I finally saw the completed replicated Royal facade last night. It was a little early in the evening, and the lighting behind the stained glass was not on. A copy of what may have been the original marquee is now attached. There is at least one difference, and that is that it is held up by steel pillars. The marquee has geometric patterns where reader boards would be, backed by what appears to be translucent white glass or plastic. The design copies a marquee which was rendered in a color pastel presentation drawing produced by the offices of Miller and Pflueger. I saw this pastel during an auction preview of the John Pflueger collection at Butterfild and Butterfield in 1990. The marquee had two large metal and cathedral glass laterns at the corners. Not long after, I mentioned having seen the rendering to theatre historian Steve Levin, and he had seen the same illustration years before, and commented that he had never actually seen a photo of that first marquee design, and was unsure whether it had even actually been executed like that. A photo does exist of a rectangular marquee with geometric neon and traditional reader boards, which for a time coexisted with the tall Royal vertical sign added later. The wedge-shaped marquee familiar to all of us over the last several decades was added still later. Regardless of whether the present marquee duplicates something once there, or whether it was inspired by the pastel rendering from the Pflueger office, the result is quite impressive. The steel pillars may seem a jarring note to purists, perhaps, but maybe they were required by modern building codes. The lanterns employ the same vivid orange and gold-veined cathedral glass that was installed in the false window on the facade.

kpdennis on April 26, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Here’s a view of the Royal from March 1996 – too bad there wasn’t a different film playing…
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monika on June 23, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Here is a 1999 photograph I took of the Royal Theatre:
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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 30, 2011 at 11:51 pm

The January 8, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World ran an item in its San Francisco column saying that plans for the Royal Theatre Company’s new house on California Street near Polk had been completed, but the architect the item named was Bernard J. Joseph.

Does anyone know why Joseph’s plans were abandoned for those of the Reid Brothers, or why the theater’s entrance was placed around the corner on Polk Street instead of on California Street?

LouRugani on May 25, 2012 at 11:01 am

SAN FRANCISCO, June 1, 1930 —(A/P)— A blast, believed by police to have been caused by dynamite, early today tore off part of the roof of the Royal theater, residential district motion picture house of the T. & D. circuit on Polk near California street. No one was injured. The explosion aroused the neighborhood for blocks and sent fire apparatus and police to the theater. A hole five feet across was found torn in the roof directly above the projection room. Police said the blast might have resulted from recent labor disputes.

Snooze_King on July 26, 2012 at 8:46 pm

The Royal Theatre became a Blumenfeld property in the mid-1980s. The new operator refurbished the theatre at a cost of about $250K, and the place looked and smelled great, especially its huge lobby. Ed Lowelling (who reportedly died some time ago), who ran the Royal, was one of the best movie theatre managers in the Bay Area; the sad thing was the Royal’s location in the seediest stretch of Polk Street. Blumenfeld was unwilling to book the best movies into the Royal because so many moviegoers avoided that neighborhood due to its abundance of litter, homeless people and prostitutes (the Regency 1 got the Blumenfeld blockbusters). Due its unpopular status, the Royal mostly sat nearly empty and therefore always looked brand new.

terrywade on October 23, 2016 at 9:25 am

It’s such a shame like so many torn down SF theatres they did not leave the giant red Royal neon sign on the front of the building when they turned the cinema into condos.

GeorgeSenda on October 4, 2017 at 2:40 am

For years this theater ran every James Bond film on the first day it opened. The manager had a little white poodle and the floors of the theater were covered in sticky soda residue while the ceiling was covered with hundreds, if not thousands of Mason Dots that people woul chew and through up to the ceiling. I saw every Bond film there hen it opened from 1964-1980.

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