Embassy Theatre

1125 Market Street,
San Francisco, CA 94103

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Embassy Theater and San Francisco Theater Row Venues

Viewing: Photo | Street View

As the American Theatre, it was already under construction when the earthquake and fire of April 1906 hit San Francisco. It finally opened on January 21 1907, and, during the next decades, was known as the Rialto Theatre in 1910, the Rivoli Opera House in the 1920’s, and, finally, in 1927, the Embassy Theatre. It premiered ‘Vitaphone Talking Pictures’ in San Francisco and soon became known as the Warner Brothers Theatre, but reverted back to Embassy Theatre on August 31, 1933.

Under the management of Dan McLean, it became a popular second-run Market Street venue, with the added nightly attraction of Ten-O-Win, a spin-the-wheel game that McLean originated.

By the 1980’s, Market Street had deteriorated into a haven for the strange and the homeless, and the Embassy Theatre suffered the ignominity of providing a haven for drug dealers, prostitutes, and local crazies.

The earthquake of October 1989 caused severe structural damage, the building was determined to be uninhabitable and was abandoned. It was torn down in 1994.

As the only theatrical structure to bracket both the 1906 and the 1989 Earthquakes, it holds unique status in the annals of San Francisco history. As an incredibly popular venue for several generations of San Francisco moviegoers, it will long be fondly remembered.

As of late-2012, there are plans to build a 12-story apartment building on the site.

Contributed by Tillmany

Recent comments (view all 27 comments)

wolfiewolf on August 29, 2006 at 2:51 pm

I watched the men tear down this beautiful old theater. It was Evans Brothers Wrecking Company, and they did it with a crane with a clamshell bucket. I also watched as the excavator operator wrapped a cable around the seats in the balcony and pulled the cable and the seats came tumbling down. It was cool to watch. (His name is Mark and he is very cute and delicious to watch him work in the cab of his CAT excavator.)

I also saw the spinning wheel in the pile of debris at the site.

I also remember seeing a beautiful art deco light fixture that hung in the center of the theather. I asked the crane operator Bill if he could save that, and he just looked at me, smiled and said, nah, too tough to get down. One day I went by and that light fixture was gone, probably smashed into the pile of rubble. That was so sad.

carolgrau on November 22, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Poor place was doomed from the very start, to bad I’ll bet she was a beauty.

chrisjones on September 18, 2010 at 6:36 pm

The last two photos are fabulous. Whenever I pass The Strand now, in its delapidated state, it angers me that an icon of the city has been left in this manner… Can nothing be done to resurrect it?

CSWalczak on September 18, 2010 at 7:17 pm

No doubt something could be done, but, sadly I doubt if anything will. Much as I dearly love San Francisco, there seems to so little interest in or resources made available there for the preservation of their classic theaters. The City essentially signed the death warrant for the St. Francis theaters last week. It was not that long ago that the Coronet bit the dust. The Clay is on life support. Various projects are threatening the New Mission and the Divisadero. It is really a depressing situation there.

Foreverman1 on November 8, 2011 at 7:29 pm

I worked at the Embassy Theatre back in 1980-1982 before I moved to Seattle. I was an 18 year old kid living in the streets and the owner took me under his wing and gave me a job. I pretty much took care of everything except ticket sales and projection booth at nights there. I hated leaving but I didn’t like the way San Francisco was changing and I moved to a better city. We played lots of old classics there.Brings back many memories. R.I.P. Embassy Theatre…Mike From Seattle…

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Here is an item about renovations from the March 25, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World:

“The announcement is made that the Rialto theater, on the site of the old American on Market street, will be opened early in April, when improvements costing in excess of $70,000 will have been completed.”
An article about San Francisco’s movie theaters in the July 15 issue of the same publication had a slightly longer item about the Rialto:
“The latest and one of the largest houses to enter the downtown field is the Rialto theater on Market street, above Seventh. This theater occupies the site of the old American and is conducted by the Western Theater Company, under the management of Howard J. Sheehan. It has a seating capacity of 1,600 and is showing a Metro program, with an International Film Service serial and news pictorial at ten, twenty and thirty cents.”

rds3000 on August 16, 2014 at 9:01 pm

We just found a 10 cent ticket stub from the American Theater inside the walls of my house that I’m remodeling in the outer Sunset in SF. The house was build in 1917, so I wonder if they used the old American tickets for a while after it became the Rialto, or what?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 16, 2014 at 9:38 pm

rds3000: The ticket stub might have been stuck in someone’s pocket for months before being pulled out and dropped into the unfinished wall. It’s an interesting mystery, and a person might make up any number of stories about how the ticket stub got there.

But I doubt that anyone spending $70,000 to remodel a theater would have been so thrifty as to store for several months a few rolls of tickets with the old name on them just to save a few dollars.

stevenj on July 27, 2015 at 1:30 pm

I recently bought a scanner and have started going through 55+ years (got my first camera at age 8) of slides and negatives to digitalize. Was surprised to come across several B&W photos I took of the Embassy’s front entrance in March 1977 and have posted 2 of them in the Photos section. Maybe someone knows the lady in the box office? I believe that the ticket taker is manager Dan McLean (who also would spin the 10-0-Win wheel at evening shows).

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