CineArts at the Empire

85 W. Portal Avenue,
San Francisco, CA 94127

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Empire Theatre, San Francisco

Built in the Moorish style, the Portal Theatre was opened December 26, 1925. Renamed Empire Cinema it reopened October 1, 1936. On June 26, 1974 it was divided into three screens. On September 12, 2003 it was renamed CineArts at the Empire.

Contributed by William Gabel

Recent comments (view all 30 comments)

Chris1982 on August 16, 2015 at 7:16 am

This is listed as the CIN√ČARTS AT THE EMPIRE on Cinemarks Website. Maybe the name in the header should be changed to the same.

stevenj on August 16, 2015 at 10:22 pm

As I recall the last time I was in the Empire (one of the upstairs theaters – Bad Education – that’s how long ago it was) the auditorium seating was cramped and the seats not aligned properly with the screen forcing you to look somewhat towards your shoulder to see the screen. The downstairs auditorium is fine. The theater is close to the West Portal Metro station which makes it fairly easy to get to.

jordanlage on July 15, 2017 at 6:33 pm

Passed by the Empire yesterday (July 14, 2017) and it looked like it was doing pretty well for a theater so maligned in the comments here, though I’m sure the criticisms are not inaccurate. Just sad to hear of theaters not taking pride in their interiors in order to give audiences the experience they deserve by going to see a movie outside the comfort of their living room. It should be something special. (Darquil’s blog gives some convincing insight on this – see his/her link.)

On the same day, I caught an evening film screening at the Paramount in Oakland. Thank god that palace still exists pretty much intact. What a glorious place to see a movie, even if the acoustics are not ideal. I could take issue with the 35mm print of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN that the Paramount screened – old, a little scratchy, colors not vibrant – but at least they were showing a great now-classic film.

One other point: I can’t seem to find any mention of the theater that was across and down West Portal from the Empire. It is currently a Walgreen’s but the deco facade details are still evident. Anyone know anything about this former theater? Or can direct me to its entry on CT? Can’t find it anywhere. PS, anyone who could do a thorough overview history of the Empire, please give a whack at it. As of this date, the Empire entry has no written overview, just comments.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 15, 2017 at 9:44 pm

jordanlage: Jack Tillmany’s well-researched list of San Francisco Theaters doesn’t have a listing for a house at 200 West Portal, currently the location of Walgreen’s. I can’t find any evidence of a theater at that location, either. Do you remember one being there?

To me the building looks as though it might as easily have been built for an early supermarket or a bowling alley or perhaps a neighborhood department store of the sort once once fairly common in American cities. A lot of businesses other than theaters were housed in buildings with Art Deco or Streamline Modern details.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 15, 2017 at 9:51 pm

This web page has a drawing of the proposed West Portal Theatre project by architect Irving Morrow, dated 1923.

jordanlage on July 16, 2017 at 5:53 am

Thanks for your response, Joe Vogel. I could be mistaken; the building housing the current Walgreen’s on West Portal could have been something other than a theater. I don’t know the history of the ‘hood. I was only passing through. To me, the building had all the elements to suggest it had previously been a theater. Your link posted 7/15/2017 is a decent overview for the Empire. I’m not a local but if I’m on West Portal again this trip, I’ll snap a photo and post it here.

stevenj on July 16, 2017 at 6:28 pm

I took the M Line almost daily down West Portal Ave in the late 60’s while I was attending SF State and remember a large Woolworth’s down a block from the Empire. I did find a 1960’s (exact year not specified) photo in the SF Public Library’s photo collection online showing the same building today at 200 West Portal as a Woolworth’s then so it may have been a Woolworth’s from the get go.

rivest266 on August 1, 2018 at 10:06 pm

1936 grand opening ad in the photo section.

rivest266 on August 12, 2018 at 11:59 pm

Became a 3-plex on June 26th, 1974. Grand opening ad in the photo section.

rivest266 on August 19, 2018 at 12:56 am

Reopened as CineArts @ Empire on September 12th, 2003. an ad can be found in the photo section.

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