Cento Cedar Cinema

38 Cedar Alley,
San Francisco, CA 94109

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Cento Cedar Cinema

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The building was originally built in 1919 as a grocery store. In 1938, it was still a Safeway store. A Chinese family operated a family grocery store in the building until January 1955 when it was taken over by Hans H. Hammann & his brother Detlef K. Hammann. It was gutted and converted into a movie theatre.

The entrance was switched from 1031 Post Street to a new entrance on 38 Cedar Alley. During the Summer of 1955, the Cedar Alley Cinema was opened. Later, for legal reasons, the name was changed to Cento Cedar Cinema. Mr Hammann states that the cinema had normal projection, and not a rear projection system, as had been thought.

The Cento Cedar Cinema was leased to Marge & John Buckley in 1972, and was sold to them in 1974. They later relocated to another site in San Francisco and the building was sold to an architect, who converted it into his home.

Contributed by Juan-Miguel Gallegos, Hans H. Hammann

Recent comments (view all 27 comments)

klosso on November 30, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I’m so glad to read about this theater. For years I’ve wondered if it was a figment of my imagination. In 1965 or early 1966, my high school French teacher brought a bunch of us 15 year old French students, in a school bus, at night, on a field trip to this theater. We saw two French films— “Sundays and Cybelle” and “Shoot the Piano Player” (or is it “Don’t Shoot the Piano Player”). There was just one person working there and he stood behind a desk made out of a plank of wood (or something similar) to take our money. There was no snack bar—nothing to eat or drink. During the break between films, our teacher told us to go next door to a coffeehouse to get something to eat and drink. There was a huge block of inscense burning in the doorway before you walked in. When we went inside, there was a strange odor that none of us could identify. We assumed it was something that they were cooking so we decided that we were not going to order any food. The people inside looked at us like we dropped in from another planet and tried to get us out of there asap—-probably had something to do with that odor which I later identified the first time I went to a party where a joint was being passed around. The menue was really wierd- at least for a 15 year old—and the only thing they had for a high school kid to drink was hot apple cider—which we drank outside due to the foul odor and mean looking people. All of this was a great adventure and I fell in love with “Sundays and Cybelle”. Does anyone know anything about that coffeehouse?

LorettaM on October 16, 2010 at 9:42 pm

The coffee house was called the “Orion"
Accross the alley was the back door for Edinburough Castle. The bartender would go to Larkin St to pick up fish & chips for customers
(not allowed in the theater)

I worked at Cento Cedar in 1967-68, I believe.
I was hired by Hans to hand out fliers in Union Square for a French film, “War of the Buttons” during a newspaper strike.

Hans was the projectionist and his wife, Lila, chose the films.
They were required to hire a union projectionist 2 days a week to avoid conflicts.

Many fond memories

loingirl on December 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Former theater-goers and curious old-timers of the Tenderloin cinematic haunts would be glad to know that although the old Cento Theater is gone, the building has remained in the loving care of an architecture firm (not a home) during the last 20-plus years since being acquired in 1988.

Although little of the original theater remains, interior renovations have transformed the artsy theater to a tasteful design studio. The owner maintains nostalgia for the building, respecting its humble, gloried historical past. It is an edifice where many ghosts and memories continue to linger within its quaint, but seismically improved, brick walls. It was not by accident that he chose to keep the remnants of the old projection room in the mezzanine above fairly intact, complete with the projection squares. I should know since I used to be an employee here for over 15 years now and used to peer out the project squares when relegated to organizing the archives in the former projection room.

While I don’t think I was born when this place was a theater, I have heard many stories. The door to this projection room is the only original remnant of a bygone era. Those who worked at the Cento Theatre’s projection room would be glad to know that the words “Home of the 50 second splice” still remain scrawled on that very door to the former projection room. There remain some memories too special to expunge.

Sadly, the popcorn concession did not survive the renovations, but the original bathroom locations remain, but have been transformed to be more modern and comfortable. The entrance has been relocated from the more modest, but still gritty Cedar Alley to the livelier and more colorful 1031 Post Street.

Hans_Hammann on October 30, 2012 at 10:09 am

I never worked as a projectionist at the theatre but negotiated the deals to enable us to show the films. Also I was the sole owner of the building and only leased the the same to the Buckleys but never sold the same to them. The Buckleys leased the building from me! Loretta M. was a student at the University of SF while working with us. She was our very dearest co-worker! Hans H. Hammann

Hans_Hammann on October 30, 2012 at 10:20 am

Until 1972 my wife and I managed the theatre alone. At that time we sold the business and leased the building to the Buckleys.
Hans H. Hammann

Terre on August 17, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Cedar alley had been a grocery store. I personally removed all of the fixtures from the interior as I worked with Paul Kenney, the designer and first owner of this movie house. I still have the original plans of the building as laid out by Paul. Rear projection and single aisle. I live in Montana now and can be reached at 406 207 4958 Thank You, Nathan Terre'

Terre on August 25, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Paul Kenney was an artist, sculptor and on maker living on Beulah street in the Haight, Ashbury district when I first met him in 1964. Richard Hongisto was a visitor, when Richard had just joined the S.F. police force. The love film and literature was our common bond. If any one film could most illustrate Paul’s love of cinema, “ The Saragossa manuscript ” would be the one. Any one who knew Paul, who might wish to converse, please call me in Montana at 406 207 4958. Always ready to nostagicate about the 60s. Nathan

imdogoflanders on March 15, 2015 at 7:39 am

I frequented this movie house quite a few times in the mid-1970s. Saw many wonderful old movies, my favorite being “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” So much fun – and the site of a few great dates. I seem to remember at least one cat that roamed the theater and would jump into laps. The first time it happened to me was a bit of a thrill. Or did I dream that part?

 (I also frequented The Edinburgh Castle across the alley, had the fish & chips from down the alley to eat before the movie.)  
Vivaldi on September 6, 2015 at 1:48 am

I was an habitue of the Orion a house away from the Cento Cedar. The theater was hand built by a German couple whose last name sounded like Deadlift. The husband operated the projector and the wife sold tickets from the candy counter. The theater was picketed by the union because the projectionist was not a dues paying member. When the couple would not knuckle under, goons from the union slashed seats and threw stink bombs at least once. All the man wanted to do is to show movies that were not 20th Century Fox or Warner Brothers. Really, the two of them put that theater together BY HAND! That was a time for foreign films. There were the Larkin and Music Hall. The former is now a porno house and the latter a church. Movie goers from those houses used to take their coffee drinks at the Orion before and after performances. Yes, and the fish and chips from Old Chelsea fried up by Kathy or Scotty. It was an interesting neighborhood with the Foreign Language Book Store right at the corner of Cedar Alley and Larkin.

Chromejob on April 30, 2016 at 6:24 pm

Glad someone remembers this little theater. These were the movie houses where you got to see obscure films that barely made it to 4-5 markets in the US, and made San Francisco a “moviegoer’s” city.

I remember seeing MONTY PYTHON’S AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT here with my mother and among a dozen or less patrons we were the only ones laughing. Monty Python was practically unknown in the US at the time. When they started airing on KQED, I was already primed to soak in every episode.

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