Balboa Theatre

3630 Balboa Street,
San Francisco, CA 94121

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Balboa Theatre

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The Balboa Theatre is one of the very last neighborhood theatres still operating in the city. It was built by Samuel H. Levin as part of his chain of neighborhood theatres known as San Francisco Theatres Inc. Opened as the New Balboa Theatre on February 7, 1926 with a seating capacity for 800. It was designed by brothers James & Merritt Reid, renowned architects who also designed the Cliff House, Fairmont Hotel, Spreckels Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park and many other theatres in the Bay area. The Balboa Theatre was remodeled after a 1940’s fire.

By the 1960’s, the Balboa Theatre had very long runs of blockbuster films, at popular prices, includiing 92 weeks in 1966 and 1967 for “The Sound of Music”, which followed the roadshow engagement at the United Artists Theatre on Market Street. After a another fire in in 1978, the theatre was twinned.

The theatre was run by the Levin family for almost 60 years until February 2001. At that time the Balboa Theatre, which was showing second-run films, underwent a renaissance thanks to the efforts by the co-owner of Landmark Theatres chain, Gary Meyer, who leased it from the Levin family. Meyer showed quality second-run films at very reasonable prices and his efforts built a buzz around town. He renovated the theatre and included revival and film festival screenings. He later switched to first-run films.

Meyer ran the theatre as a labor of love, but after a decade felt it was time for a change. The master lease was turned over to the San Francisco Neighborhood Theatre Foundation in late-2011 under a lease lasting through 2024. In February 2012 Meyer stepped down from being in charge. Both the Balboa Theatre and the Vogue Theatre are now part of the new CinemaSF organization, as the Vogue Theatre had already been rescued by the San Francisco Neighborhood Theatre Foundation.

The Balboa Theatre has 307 seats in auditorium 1 and 226 seats in auditorium 2. Both auditoriums have been equipped with Dolby 5.1 sound systems since 2012.

Contributed by Ross Melnick, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 29 comments)

garymey on October 21, 2010 at 8:14 am

Book Release and Film Show Event:

LEFT IN THE DARK: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres
Thursday, October 21, 7pm, $5 admission
“Impresarios” at the Balboa Theater with Julie Lindow, R.A. McBride, Gary Meyer and Melinda Stone!

A Night About the Moviegoing Experience
A fun evening for lovers of movies and theaters on Thursday night, October 21, 7pm at the Balboa. A program featuring authors who contributed to the beautiful new book about movie theaters, LEFT IN THE DARK: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres. The book’s editor, Julie Lindow, will introduce photographer R.A. McBride who will present an illustrated presentation about the theaters of San Francisco and launch an exhibit of her photos in the Balboa lobby. Melinda Stone and Gary Meyer will talk about their chapters in the book. Sing-a-longs, prizes and theater games will be part of the celebration that includes an entertaining program of rare shorts, cartoons and trailers about the moviegoing experience.

Admission is only $5.00

Dish Give-Away, Sing-Along, Bingo, Ten-O-Win!
Photography exhibit by R.A. McBride, Slide Show, Readings and Stories!

Short Films Program:
BOSKO’S PICTURE SHOW by Friz Freleng and Hugh Harman
TEN-O-WIN by Christian Bruno
MOVIE PESTS by Pete Smith
BACALL TO ARMS by Robert Clampett and Art Davis
MINNIE’S YOO HOO by Walt Disney
Rare Previews of Coming Attractions and Surprises

The program will be followed by a reception and book signing.

Balboa Theater
3630 Balboa Avenue
San Francisco, CA

Photographs by R.A. McBride
Edited by Julie Lindow
Literary essays by: Rebecca Solnit, Katherine Petrin, Melinda Stone, Eddie Muller, Liz Keim, D. Scot Miller, Gary Meyer with Laura Horak, Elisabeth Houseman with Joshua Grannell, Sergio de la Mora, Chi-hui Yang, and Sam Sharkey.

Available now at for $39.95.
The book is now available for purchase at bookstores and the Balboa Theatre.
Published by Charta Art Books, distributed by D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers).
10 x 8 cardstock cover, 59 photographs, 168 pages, 11 chapters

Twistr54 on November 16, 2010 at 3:25 pm

A good companion book ,‘LOST DETROIT, Stories behind the Motor City’s majestic ruins’. its new…and ‘Detroit’s Downtown Movie Palace’s’…out for a few years. Both are good books, and I will be adding this book to my library.

eileengoodnight on September 1, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I worked at the Balboa during the ‘70s. I was working there when Star Wars opened; in fact I remember the black and silver poster being hung up in the lobby. I didn’t like sci-fi so I was . Damn, I wish I had it now! During my tenure we showed mostly soft core porn and Kung Fu movies. Great location, fine theatre, wonderful memories!

davidkaye on January 8, 2012 at 4:32 am

Gary Meyer has run the Balboa for 10 years and finally decided that he either had to sell it or take in a partner. It’s been known for years that he hadn’t made a dime off it but was operating it as a hobby, given his fulltime career as director of the Telluride film festival.

That partner is the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which also had taken over operating the Vogue Theater. Website:

So, as of January 6, 2012, not only is the Balboa getting a new lease on life but a new outdoor paint job as well. Looks like the Balboa is saved for now.

GaryMeyer on February 22, 2012 at 2:11 am

The Balboa was taken over by Adam Bergeron and Jaimi Holker on Jan. 13, 2012. The master lease was turned over to the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation in late 2011. The enthusiastic new operators, Cinema SF, also are running the sister theater, the Vogue. I had obtained a city grant to redo the facade and we are proud of the results…need to get a photo up here soon. New heaters were installed and there are many other projects planed for both theaters. I will still consult on special events and whatever they need help on but the plans are going to really bring back the theaters with contiued special events too.

And if you live nearby and want to experience a night at the movies, circa 1926, check this out. BALBOA BIRTHDAY BASH

Sunday, March 4, 2012 Doors open at 6:45pm Show starts at 7:00

The Balboa Theatre will celebrate its 86th Birthday on Sunday, March 4. A night at the movies circa 1926 will be the order of the day.

Inspired by Martin Scorsese and Brian Selznick’s HUGO, the evening’s feature film will be Harold Lloyd’s silent classic SAFETY LAST with a 35mm print directly from his granddaughter Suzanne.

It will be accompanied with an original score by pianist extraordinaire Frederick Hodges , preceded by a program of short subjects including films by George Melies (HUGO again).

There will also be a live vaudeville show featuring Melies himself performing some of his famous magic effects. Songstress Linda Kosut will sing songs her mother sang.

Author John Bengsten will offer an illustrated lecture exploring the locations Harold Lloyd used to make his movie. Bengston will sign copies of his newest book, Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York through the Films of Harold Lloyd,

Everybody will get birthday prizes and the evening will conclude with a special birthday cake created by the Cake Lady, Diane Boate served with liquid libations.

Audience members are encouraged to dress in their best jazz age clothing as we recreate a night at the movies in 1926. Vintage cars will be in front of the Balboa.

Advance tickets are on sale at the Balboa and online at

The Balboa Theatre is located at 3630 Balboa Street (Fox Performing Arts Centerth Avenue) in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

Mikeyisirish on June 26, 2012 at 11:54 am

A 2011 photo can be seen here.

cmbussmann on February 3, 2016 at 6:46 pm

Saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens during my X-Mas sojourn in SF. It’s a fantastic neighborhood theatre with a great, congenial staff. Loved the experience!

cmbussmann on February 4, 2016 at 5:11 am

Added two lobby photos from Dec. 2015.

stevenj on February 4, 2016 at 8:34 am

What happened to all the comments between June 26, 2012 and Feb 3, 2016? They have disappeared.

hdtv267 on February 4, 2016 at 2:06 pm

That’s truly fascinating Steven. Amazing how some of those comments magically disappear, but the drivel in Rockaway and 66th & Broadway are allowed to fester like a cold sore from the lip.

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