Rafael Film Center

1118 Fourth Street,
San Rafael, CA 94901

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Lucas on 4th

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The California Film Institute has restored the former Rafael Theatre, now officially called the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center. The Art Moderne Rafael, a 1938 renovation of the fire-damaged 1918 former Orpheus Theatre, houses three screens, specializing in independent and foreign films.

Recent comments (view all 16 comments)

DavidG on April 13, 2004 at 4:49 am

The Century theatre you refer to was not slated to play art films, but was going to feature mainstream film fare, and their proposal was endorsed by the Film Institute that operates the Rafael Theatre as a positive contribution to Downtown San Rafael as a film center. However, after concerns surfaced over the possible traffic and parking impact on downtown, San Rafael-based Century Theatres agreed to hold off pursuing their plans until these issues can, if possible, be settled to everyone’s satisfaction. While Century’s proposal received the city’s blessing and could be revisited in the future, it has, for all practicle purposes been abandoned at this time.

Lawrence on April 13, 2004 at 12:30 pm

That’s wonderful news – that Century’s proposal has been abandoned.
Hopefully – it will stay that way – as that theater chain cannot be
trusted. They’re building CINEARTS complexes all over Northern CA
in upscale markets. SAN RAFAEL fits the bill – and the owners live
in your own backyard. You all have worked too hard and long to re-establish the arts with your historic venue to have it injured financially by Century Theatres.

DavidG on August 24, 2005 at 11:05 pm

LarryS – That’s a little harsh.
First of all, Century Theatres has “built” only two (with a third in the works) CineArts theatres in the recent past – at Santana Row in San Jose and in Sacramento (the third is planned to replace an existing CineArts in Pleasant Hill). Hardly “all over” Northern California! Upscale communities? Yes, because that is where the people with both the the interest in supporting these venues and the disposable income to do it regularly live now. None of these communities could have been previously considered “hot beds” of art film. Century is bring these communities something that they didn’t previously have, for the most part. The days of having to drive to an urban center like SF for art films is passing quickly – and at the current cost of gas and bridge fares, thank goodness.
Three of the other four Bay Area CineArts were being operated as “art houses” before Century took them over in 2001, and, I might add, long before the Film Institute reopened the Rafael Film Center (the Sequoia in Mill Valley, the Marin in Sausalito and the Palo Alto Square near Stanford U. on the SF peninsula – the fourth, the Empire in SF was converted from a sub-run house to an art house a couple of years ago). They just continued the booking policies for these theatres under the CineArts moniker.
Also, having been involved in the hearings and personally knowing the Syufy brothers who run Century, I can assure you they had no intention of a Downtown San Rafael theatre having CineArts screens. In fact, part of the reason they got the endorsement from the California Film Institute for the Downtown complex was their assurance that the theatre was not being considered as an art film venue. Their intent was to balance out the distribution of mainstream films offered in Marin and to contribute to the vitality of Downtown San Rafael as a cultural and entertainment center for Marin County.
Most of the mainstream screens are currently located in Northern Marin. Their desire was to make mainstream films more accessible in Central and Southern Marin and present them in a state of the art, modern theatre (possibly closing some of the aging north county multiplex screens they inherited from Pacific Theatres in the process).
In addition, Century and the Film Institute have a good ongoing relationship, annually co-hosting the institute’s Mill Valley Film Festival. This is a valuable partnership for both Century and the Institute, and since Century operates the only theatre in Mill Valley, it could hardly remain the “Mill Valley Film Festival” without their mutual cooperation.

DanZastrow on June 29, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Lots of changes since David’s last post. Cinemark has purchased the Century Cimemas chain. The California Film Institute (owners of The Rafael) have purchased the Sequoia in Mill Valley and there does not seem to be any plans for a downtown San Rafael multi-plex.

TLSLOEWS on April 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Nice night time shot Lost Memory.

darquil on April 25, 2010 at 2:28 am

I’ve posted information and photos from a recent visit here.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 13, 2011 at 4:53 am

Could the Orpheus Theatre have been the house at San Rafael for which plans were then being completed, according to the January 30, 1918, issue of Building and Engineering News? The item listed the owner of the house as Thomas Phillips, General Manager of the American-Irish Players Company of New York City. The architect for the project was New Yorker Francis H. Kimball.

JGGreco on February 28, 2012 at 12:11 am

The Rafael was featured in Lucas' “American Graffiti”. When the cop pulls over Milner in the yellow deuce coupe he stops right in front of the theater. Images here

Mikeyisirish on June 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm

A few 2011 photos can be seen here, here and here.

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