San Francisco has lost a great number of its classic movie theaters. Neighborhood and business communities have been working together with the City to devise ways to save and reuse those irreplacable buildings that have managed to survive.
Elsewhere in the U.S., theaters once facing demolition have been restored to become tremendous assets to their communities. Look at Canton, Ohio's restored Palace Theater, and Columbus' magnificent Ohio Theater for two compelling examples. Can San Francisco rise to the same challenge?
ABOVE: The Bridge, The Strand, The New Mission, The Harding Theater, The Coronet, The Metro, The Alexandria
December 12, 2012: On the heels of the Lumiere Theater's recent closure, Landmark Theaters announced that December 27 marks the final night of operation for its Bridge Theater. No details have been provided for the closure, or what may become of the Geary St. venue in operation since 1939. View the SF Examiner coverage that includes photogapher Beth LaBerge's coverage of the theater here.
September 23, 2012: The Lumiere Theater that opened its California and Polk location in 1967 closes after a failure to reach a new lease with its landlord—a great loss for foreign and art filmlovers that this Landmark location has catered to. For additional information, go here.
February 2012: Stephanie M. Lee reports on SF Gate that The American Conservatory Theater has purchased the Strand Theater and intends to convert the theater to a 300-seat venue that would include a restaurant, classrooms and rehearsal space. Per A.C.T.'s artistic director Carey Perloff, "This is a great chance to have a small, more intimate space in which we can take the kinds of artistic risks on new material and young artists and new forms that are more challenging to do in a 1,000-seat theater." SF Mayor Ed Lee comments, "A.C.T.'s purchase and activation of the Strand is another important step in cultivating a unique identity for the neighborhood that will bring new jobs and bustling crowds to the area." See also Aaron Sankin's coverage of the plans for the Strand on SF Huffington Post.
Preservationists are hopeful after hearing of Alamo Drafthouse's 2012 proposal to restore the New Mission Theater at 2550 Mission Street. Twelve years before, the theater had been slated for demolition by then-owner City College. Due to the persistent efforts of the Save the New Mission Theater group and other preservationists, demolition plans came to a halt. CCSF decided to sell the property to Gus Murad in 2003. Go here for updates and information on The New Mission Theater.
The Harding Theater, at Divisadero and Hayes, was sold to a condo developer who intends to demolish this 1926 Reid Brothers single-screen theater that had served as a live music concert venue in the 60's to groups like The Grateful Dead. Growing neighborhood and citywide opposition to this plan hopes to stop the demolition or modifications to the building that would compromise its ability to be a viable theater once again. Read more on this.
San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation has successfully negotiated an agreement with the owner of Cinema 21 that allows for both Walgreens and a two-screen theater. Nearby Walgreens will move into the street-level floor. A 264-seat theater will be housed upstairs, and an 86-seat theater will be built in the mezzanine area. A concerted neighborhood effort working with the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation was able to stop the impending loss of the theater in May 2002.
The Coronet at 3575 Geary, one of San Francisco's largest theaters, and the theater that had premiered Star Wars and Bladerunner, closed March 17, 2005. Its owner, The Institute of Aging, a nonprofit health services provider, demolished the 1,350 seat theater and adjacent parking lot, replacing the space with a 150-apartment, six-story housing complex and campus for IOA. Details can be found here.
Declared a landmark in 2009, the Metro at 2055 Union Street closed in 2006. In February 2012, the Planning Commission approved a plan to seismically retrofit the theater, and convert the interior into a gym run by Equinox Fitness. Part of that space will be used as a multi-purpose auditorium for film screenings, presentations and other neighborhood activities 18 times a year.
Designed by the Reid Brothers, celebrated architects of the SF Fairmont, Cliff House, Oakland's Grand Lake Theater, and San Diego's Coronado Hotel, the Richmond District's Alexandria Theater has remained closed since 2004. A redevelopment plan was reported by SF Gate in February 4, 2011 that would "encompass the old movie house and an adjoining parking lot and feature a restaurant, retail space and 46 housing units." Photos and historical background on the Alexandria can be found on the Western Neighborhoods Project site.
The tables below list former San Francisco movie house closings during the period of 1978 to the present. Thanks to Tom Mayer for the compilation of this list.
|Avenue||2650 San Bruno Avenue||now a church|
|Richelieu||1075 Geary Street||side door at Richelieu Hotel|
|Music Hall||931 Larkin||now a church|
|Larkin||816 Larkin||now a porno house|
|El Rey||1070 Ocean Avenue||now a church|
|Ghirardelli||900 North Point|
|Surf||4510 Irving||now a church|
|Cento Cedar||38 Cedar Alley|
|Pagoda (Pagoda Palace)||1741 Powell||never reopened after renovation|
|York||2781 24th Street||now Brava Theater group|
|Gateway||215 Jackson||now Eureka Theater|
|Strand||1127 Market||closed February 2003. Sold to A.C.T. February 2012 to be renovated.|
|Lumiere||1572 California||closed September 23, 2012 due to lease dispute.|
|Coronet||3575 Geary||closed March 17, 2005|
|Alexandria||5400 Geary||closed February 2004|
|Metro 2 (Mercury)||2240 Union Street|
|Coliseum||743 Clement Avenue||damaged in 1989 earthquake|
|Stage Door||420 Mason||Ruby Skye nightclub|
|Northpoint||2290 Powell||closed 1998|
|Embassy||1125 Market Street||demolished|
|Alhambra (SF LM #217)||2330 Polk||
closed February 1998, now Gorilla Sports
|Royal||1529 Polk||closed February 1998; demolished fall 2004|
|Regency 1||1290 Sutter/1320 Van Ness||reopened September 98 as the Regency Building|
|Regency 2||1268 Sutter||closed March 26, 2000; former Avalon Ballroom|
|St. Francis||965 Market Street||closed 2000|
|Cinema 21||2141 Chestnut||Planning Comm. voted against conversion to pharmacy May 2002|
|Presidio||2340 Chestnut||Reopened December 26, 2004 by Frank and Lila Lee|
|Alexandria||5400 Geary||Closed February 16, 2004|
|Metro||2055 Union Street||Closed October, 2006|
|Cine Latino (Crown)||2555 Mission||Mission Rock Climbing|
|Grand||2665 Mission||retail store|
|New Mission (SF LM #245)||2550 Mission||purchased by City College of San Francisco; sold 2004.|
|Tower||2465 Mission||now a church|
|Apollo (Amazon)||965 Geneva||opened 1928 as the Amazon; closed 1978|
|Harding Theater||616 Divisadero||opened 1926, closed in 1970; venue for concerts, theater and church.|
|Haight||1702 Haight||vacant for 20 years before being demolished in 1994|
|El Capitan (SF LM #214)||2353 Mission||built 1928, closed 1963; now hotel and parking lot|
|Fox||1350 Market Street||demolished 1963; now site of Fox Plaza|