Rafael Film Center

1118 4th Street,
San Rafael, CA 94901

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Ron Pierce
Ron Pierce on October 4, 2018 at 11:20 pm

According to this news clip (In photo section) from Film Daily, June 4, 1938, the New Rafael was designed by A.J. Hopper and opened May 25, 1938.

DavidZornig on August 6, 2017 at 7:16 am

1963 postcard added courtesy of John Harkins.

DavidZornig on May 14, 2015 at 9:04 pm

Several 1970’s photos and a vintage postcard of the Rafael as the Orpheus added.

AndrewBarrett on September 29, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Perfect! Thanks a lot Mr. Joe Vogel!!!

If I ever find out more about the whereabouts of this organ (assuming it wasn’t destroyed/junked during the 1937 fire and 1938 remodel), I’ll let you know!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 26, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I now know that the Orpheus Theatre was not the house built for the American-Irish Players Company in 1918. In fact, that project might never have been carried out. Articles in various Marin County newspapers from the 1920s through the 1960s indicate that the Orpheus was built by the Tunstead estate in 1919 and leased to Max Blumenfeld and Sam Gordon before it was completed. An item in the May 3, 1919, issue of The Moving Picture World had these lines:

“These same architects [Reid Brothers] are working on plans for a 1,500-seat house to be erected at San Rafael, a suburb of San Francisco. This theatre, which will cost about $125,000, has been leased to Max Blumenfeld and Sam Gordon for a period of twenty years.”
The opening of the Orpehus Theatre on January 21, 1920, was recorded in this article from the following day’s edition of the Marin Journal

Several sources say that the 1938 rebuilding of the Orpheus as the Rafael Theatre was designed by S. Charles Lee. That could be the case, but the Rafael dates from the period when a number of northern California theaters were designed by the unlicensed William B. David and his plans were signed by other architects, including Lee in some cases, so there is some possibility that the Rafael was one of David’s designs. He designed several projects for Blumenfeld over the years.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 26, 2014 at 8:58 am

An ad for the Orpheus Theatre in the February 5, 1920, issue of The Marin Journal specifies that the house had a Seeburg-Smith organ.

AndrewBarrett on September 26, 2014 at 12:28 am

Glad to see this is still open and in use as a movie theatre, even if parts of it are no longer original.

Was there ever an “Orpheum” theatre in San Rafael, or is this the only theatre there with a similar name?

Because: In “The Encyclopdia of the American Theatre Organ”, pg. 629, there is a listing for a Smith theatre organ having been installed at an “Orpheum Th.” in San Rafael at some point. No other details are given in the book, such as size of organ, date of installation, blower info, etc.

So, could this (Orpheum/Orpheus) simply be a typo or a bit of mis-information that crept into the book? I know that this particular volume of the Encyclopedia (Volume II) has an appendix in the back filled with corrections, some major, most minor, to the previous volume (Volume I), including much subsequently-discovered (and subsequently-corrected) info about theatre names, people’s names, organ technical data, etc. Unfortunately, Mr. Junchen died before Volume III was completed (the tome on Wurlitzer) and as far as I know, the “new” posthumously completed Volume III (Wurlitzer), while excellent for its subject, doesn’t have an appendix with additions/corrections to Volume II.

If fire really “gutted” this building in 1937, could the organ have gone up in flames with it? Does anybody know? Thanks for the info!

Mikeyisirish on June 27, 2012 at 9:24 am

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

JGGreco on February 27, 2012 at 9:11 pm

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

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 13, 2011 at 1:53 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.

darquil on April 24, 2010 at 11:28 pm

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

TLSLOEWS on April 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Nice night time shot Lost Memory.

DanZastrow on June 29, 2008 at 2:25 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.

DavidG on August 24, 2005 at 8:05 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.

Lawrence on April 13, 2004 at 9:30 am

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 April 13, 2004 at 1:49 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 January 24, 2004 at 9:34 am

I love the Rafael Theater – and am worried about what might happen
when the Century Circuit builds their new downtown 12plex which will
also be playing art films. Does anyone know the status of that construction?

frenchjr25 on October 7, 2003 at 6:00 pm

The Rafael has been open for a many years now after being restored and rebuilt. It is used as an art house. The balcony was removed and a new theatre was built in its place. Part of the building was demolished so that a 3rd theatre could be created.

Donald John Long
Donald John Long on November 21, 2002 at 8:36 pm

I attended this beautifully-restored Art Deco masterpiece of a movie theater in June 2000 for a special 80th Birthday retrospective celebration for cinema animation genius Ray Harryhausen, who was the guest of honor, along with Dennis Muren of Lucasfilm-ILM, who fielded questions from the audience about Ray’s cinematic techniques. The two movies shown on the new screen were “7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958) and “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) in beautiful Technicolor.

A Day to remember, and celebrate the new life of this grand moderne theater – a worthy residence for the Film Institute of Northern California. It was great to see Ray Harryhausen in person once again!

Patrick Crowley
Patrick Crowley on July 8, 2001 at 6:28 pm

Our entries are as accurate as our fans make them, so thanks for correcting our mistake!

I’ve updated the Rafael’s location with the correct city. If you get a chance to add the Sequoia Theater, that would be great! :)

willdavis on July 8, 2001 at 5:41 pm

I’m sure you’ve been told by now that the Rafael Theater is in San Rafael, which is 11 miles north of Mill Valley. The Sequoia theater, an equally interesting edifice, is in Mill Valley. I wonder how accurate your other entries are…
==Will Davis

frenchjr25 on March 29, 2001 at 11:41 pm

The Rafael was built in 1920 as the first run movie house Orpheus. It was enlarged and a new screen was added in 1926. After a 1937 fire gutted the victorian style auditorium it was remodeled in the art deco style and reopened as a second run movie house. It even served time in the 1960s as a Disney Family Theater. It was heavily damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and was closed. In 1998 the majority of it was gutted with half of the building being demolished. It was rebuilt as a triplex in 1999 and shows art and foreign films.