Royal Theatre

1529 Polk Street,
San Francisco, CA 94109

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Snooze_King
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.

LouRugani
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.

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?

monika
monika on June 23, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Here is a 1999 photograph I took of the Royal Theatre:
View link

kpdennis
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…
View link

GaryParks
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.

GaryParks
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.

stevie63
stevie63 on October 28, 2007 at 8:49 pm

I have some very old photos of the Royal Theater. If you would like them e-mail me at

DonLewis
DonLewis on October 28, 2007 at 6:27 pm

Hello Simon Overton and a belated thank you for noticing my image of the ROYAL THEATER.

I have photgraphed a lot of theaters and this one of my personal favorites. I have a few more unpublished shots of it that I am working on.

Thanks again!!

Don………

raybradley
raybradley on October 28, 2007 at 1:32 pm

While the exterior and main lobby were nicely decorated, the auditorium had a depressing “stripped down” look. Always wondered what it looked like before all ornamentation was ripped out.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on May 20, 2007 at 6:58 am

Don…Thank you so much for your photograph. This must have been a late evening shot as to the angle of the shaddows. Lovely!

If only the owner, Ted Nasser, had the brains to have leased the Royal to me some 7 or so years ago, the old lady would be still open today and looking a lot prettier.
My plans, along with over 3,000 signatures of support, not including every surrounding merchant, were to have turned this lovely place into an all British cinema.

Further in mind was the installation of a second procenium arch with curtains for moderate size stage ready for “live” performances by visiting Brits… Plus, added to the programme would have been openings of new films from Britain including Film Festivals and a British themed gift & food shop.

And the name ROYAL was perfect for my dreams but Ted was “blind” to the fact of allowing such a venture to come true!
Simon Overton, Long Beach, Ca.

DonLewis
DonLewis on May 19, 2007 at 6:33 am

The ROYAL has vanished….hope someone saved the sign……see my photo here.

www.flickr.com/photos/lastpictureshow/504592897

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on May 10, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Gary… I was in my favourite “city by the bay” in April ‘07 and was shocked to see a pile of boxy looking apartments being constructed on the site of the Royal.
I cannot recall seeing anything left of the Royal’s classic facade.
Perhaps a photographic update is possible from a local fan?
Pretty please?

GaryParks
GaryParks on March 8, 2007 at 2:17 pm

The reconstruction of the facade of the Royal is well underway, which seems to be the final touch to the apartment tower which has stood completed on the Royal’s footprint for some months now.

For a good year or so, a basic steel facade frame and marquee frame have been standing on the site, clearly indicating that some sort of aesthetic nod to the High Deco metal fascia designed by the Pfleuger office for the remodel of Reid Bros. original structure was forthcoming, but for months and months—nothing. Today’s observation revealed a different story entirely.

At this writing, a web of scaffolding and safety netting shrouds the facade, but through gaps in the netting, I could see men working on the installation of an EXACT REPLICA of the openwork metal scrollwork portion of the facade which featured cathedral glass, backlit at night. Structures for the octagonal pylons flanking the lacework metal and glass grille are in place. It is my presumption that the original sheetmetal Deco “fountain” structures which were carefully saved by crane before the Royal’s demolition will be set upon these pylons. Not much has been added to the rectangular marquee frame at this point, but several conduits snaking into it indicate an ample future use of lighting. One can hope for a touch of neon, can’t one? Stay tuned.

George75
George75 on July 12, 2006 at 4:08 pm

Who managed the Royal at the end? Was it still a Blumenfeld property? I knew Eddie, Russell and all those folks. What became of them?

GSenda
GSenda on May 12, 2006 at 4:42 am

The Royal had one interesting note.

Somehow it managed to have the opening of every James Bond picture. My cousin and I saw every Bond picture there on opening day for years.

The theatre had a small snack bar and the theatre manager had a small scruffy poodle which he used to walk each night. On the other side of the theatre the dollar store was a Nationwide Bank at one time.

The inside of the theatre had permanently sticky floors from all the soda spilled there over the years and kids and adults used to buy Dots and Jujubes and chew them and threw them at the ceiling. There must have been thousands of the damned things up there !

George Senda
Concord Ca

basykes
basykes on August 15, 2005 at 3:26 am

I remember going to the Royal with my grandmother in the 1950s. We would stop in at See’s next door and get some candy and then go into the theatre to watch a double feature. We drove by there yesterday and I had a little pang to see that there didn’t seem to be any vestiges of it that were recognizable.

gardengayboy
gardengayboy on June 29, 2005 at 3:20 pm

I moved into Polk Gulch in 1981 and I use to go to the Royal Theatre. We had a friend who worked there in the mid 1980’s who would open the balcony for us and a few other friends so we could watch the movie from up there. It was a special treat!! The last thing I remember about the Royal before it was torn down was a guy who had an easel and paints. He was painting a picture of the sign and facade. I regret the fact I did not get his name. Polk Gulch has lost all four of it’s single screen theatres. The Alhambra is now a Gorilla Gym, the Royal was torn down, and the Regency’s One and Two have been turned back into Ballrooms. ARG

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on December 4, 2004 at 3:00 pm

The Royal Theatre was re-modelled in an Art Deco style both externally and internally in 1935/36 by architect Timothy Pflueger.

gorkipk
gorkipk on December 4, 2004 at 1:53 pm

I would go to the Royal on regular basis in the 70’s when Polk Street was a rival to the Castro.

Some of the titles of the movies I saw there: “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Live and Let Die”

The manager during the 70’s/80’s was a real s**t and didn’t know anything about customer service. I remember him telling me that the saying of “The Customer Is Always Right” was a lie.

Needless to say with an attitude like that it is no wonder the place closed.

BabyJaneHudson
BabyJaneHudson on November 14, 2004 at 11:37 am

Used to enjoy waiting in line @ The Royal for the opening of Bette Midler’s movies in the ‘80s. The lines would stretch around the block to the car dealership. It became a tradition to see her movies there on opening day to a full house.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on August 21, 2004 at 7:18 pm

I lived in San Francisco in the 1970’s and attended all the single screen first run theatres in the area. I loved the marquee but the auditorium wasn’t in great shape. It always looked like very little maintenance was done on the auditorium and they had painted the lobby a purple.It was a nice size theatre but I never sat in the balcony. The last film I saw at the Royal was “Death on the Nile”. The Alhambra down the street on the other hand was and is a beautiful theatre that is now a fitness gym. The building of the AMC Megaplex on Van Ness caused the closing of the Regency 1,Regency 2,Royal and Alhambra theatres. The City of San Francisco was one of the last cities in the US to have multi screen theatres, due to land values,cost,zoning,and lack of parking.brucec

whitehall
whitehall on August 21, 2004 at 6:06 pm

As a recent transplant to San Francisco in 1997, I was delighted to find the Royal a few blocks away from my new apartment on Pine Street. I saw one movie there, “Face/Off” with John Travolta. Of course, I was much more interested in the theater than the film. But my access to the theater was short-lived as it closed very soon after that. Within a year, the homeless were camping out in its terrazzo entryway. In fact, I was convinced to leave the neighborhood when I passed a heroin addict sitting in front of the former ticket booth with a needle hanging out of his arm. I was terribly upset when I saw it had been torn down. What a senseless loss!