Nob Hill Theatre

950 California Street,
San Francisco, CA 94108

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Nob Hill Theater

The Nob Hill Theatre (no relation to the present day Nob Hill Theatre on Bush Street) opened in the Fairmont Hotel on October 20, 1944, with Jennifer Jones in “The Song of Bernadette”. It was a comfortably appointed, intimate little theatre designed to cater to both the permanent and transient residents of San Francisco’s exclusive Nob Hill district.

An unusual aspect of the theatre’s operation was that it used rear-view projection, in which the projectors running the film are actually behind the screen and the image is cast on the translucent screen from the rear.

For twenty years, the Nob Hill was a fixture on the South side of the Fairmont Hotel, facing California Street, and its modest facade can be found in the background of many photos of the era depicting the cable cars which ran past its front door. By the mid-1960’s the Hotel found the theatre no longer profitable, shut it down on October 27, 1964, and converted its former space into a restaurant.

Contributed by Tillmany

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 15, 2010 at 5:17 am

A card in the L.A. Library’s California Index cites an item about a San Francisco house called the Nob Hill Theatre in Motion Picture Herald of November 17, 1934.

As it seems unlikely that Jack Tillmany’s 1944 opening date for this theater is incorrect, I would imagine that the item concerned an earlier theater of the same name. Has anybody got a San Francisco directory from the period they could check for an address? The earlier Nob Hill Theatre might be missing from Cinema Treasures, or it could be a missing aka for another theater in the neighborhood that’s already in the database.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on August 15, 2010 at 6:41 am

Joe; In the 1941 & 1943 editions of Film Daily Yearbook there is a Nob Hill Theatre listed with 199 seats (Closed in both editions). Unfortunately, no address is given.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 22, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Plans to convert the Normandy Room of the Fairmont Hotel into a theater were afoot as early as 1919, according to an item in the April 16 issue of Building & Engineering News:

“SAN FRANCISCO. Blk Bded by Powell, Mason, California and Sacramento.

“Extensive alterations to Class ‘A’ hotel (build garage, alter tunnel and remodel Normandy Room into elaborate theatre of 400 seats).

“Owner — Hammond Ohlerich.

“Architect — Reid Bros.. 105 Montgomery St., San Francisco.

“NOTE — This work has been contemplated for over two years and it is now expected to go ahead.”

I’m not sure if the Nob Hill Theatre of 1944 was located in the former Normandy Room or not. It seems unlikely that the Fairmont would have been installing a movie theater as early as 1919, so that project might have been for a legitimate house. I don’t know if these plans were carried out or not.

stubby on January 9, 2017 at 2:17 pm

I saw several films at the Nob Hill Theatre in the late Fifties and early Sixties, when I was a kid. It was an art house by then, and I especially remember seeing “I’m All Right Jack,” with Peter Sellers, and “Lawrence of Arabia,” with whatshisname. It was a real vest-pocket theatre, so it certainly did not have 199 seats, and it was closed in 1964 to make way for an expanded Tonga Room. The radio studios of KSFO were also tenants of the Fairmont. PW

rivest266 on August 4, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Grand opening ad in the photo section.

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