GUIDE TO SAN FRANCISCO'S NEIGHBORHOOD THEATERS
ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE NEW MISSION (Please see NEW MISSION THEATRE)
ALEXANDRIA THEATRE (1923)
The Alexandria closed in 2006 after being purchased by a developer that planned to develop a mixed use project at the site of the of the Alexandria and its adjacent parking lot. The property has changed hands many times, but plans are moving forward to develop housing on the parking lot site with construction commencing in 2016. Final plans have not been established for the theater building that remains at the corner of Geary Boulevard and 18th Avenue. The Theater Foundation has actively advocated for preservation of the Alexandria and continues to be engaged in efforts to preserve the Theatre and maintain an entertainment use within the historic theatre building.
AVENUE THEATRE (1927)
The prolific Reid Brothers designed the single-screen Avenue Theater on San Bruno Avenue in the Portola District. It screened films from 1927 – 1985. Since then various churches leased the 800-seat auditorium. In astonishingly original condition on both the exterior and interior, the theater will undergo a city-funded façade revitalization in the fall of 2016 and will be used by neighborhood groups while a more permanent situation is sought.
BALBOA THEATRE (1926)
Originally opened in 1926, the Balboa was one of several San Francisco theaters built and operated by the Levin family who ran the theater until 2001. It was designed by renowned architects James and Merritt Reid who were responsible for numerous other theaters including the Alexandria, the Metro, the New Mission and the Avenue, among others. In 1978, the single-screen Balboa was “twinned” and offered quality second-run films booked as double features. In 2001 the Levin family asked Landmark Theatres co-founder, Gary Meyer, to take over operation of the cinema. Meyer successfully played second-run engagements of quality movies in introduced popular events like the Balboa Birthday Party still celebrated every February. In 2011 the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation acquired the lease for the Balboa from Meyer and partnered with operator CinemaSF while a series of improvements were initiated.
CASTRO THEATRE (1922)
The Castro, designed by architect Timothy Pflueger, is a city treasure and a thriving success and a city treasure showing repertory and special events cinema with occasional live performances. Every January, the Castro hosts, Noir City, a popular film noir festival. The Castro was built by the Nasser family in 1922 and it still remains under family ownership.
CLAY THEATRE (1910)
Located on Fillmore Street, the Clay is operated by Landmark Theatres as a first-run, single-screen cinema typically exhibiting foreign and art-house content. In 2015, the Planning Commission approved a conditional use plan to allow the owner to establish a corollary restaurant use within the existing theater. No start date for any proposed project has been disclosed.
EL REY THEATRE (1931)
Designed by master architect Timothy Pflueger, the El Rey, an 1,800 seat single screen theater serves as an important visual landmark on the Ingleside neighborhood’s Ocean Avenue. It has operated as the Voice of Pentecost church since 1977. In November 2015, a change in ownership has led to uncertainty about the building’s future, which is a point of keen community interest. Also noteworthy is that in 1969 the world’s first GAP opened in one of the building’s two original storefronts. An overdue landmark nomination has been initiated.
EMPIRE THEATRE (1925)
Located on West Portal Avenue, the Empire is operated by Cinemark as a 3-screen first run cinema and successfully serves as a critical component of the neighborhood commercial area.
4-STAR THEATRE (1912)
Originally opened as the La Bonita, the 4-Star continues to operate as two-screen first-run cinema. The Theater Foundation worked with current owner Frank Lee to save the 4-Star in 2006 after it had been purchased by a local church. As of 2016, the building is on the market for $2,300,000.
GREAT STAR THEATRE (1925)
Chinatown’s last remaining theater is making a comeback with a mix of live performances and occasional film events. The current operator is on a month-to-month lease, but renewed momentum on the part of the community bodes well for a more stable future operation and building upgrades.
HARDING THEATRE (1926)
The Harding Theatre will re-open in late 2016 as the San Francisco venue for the popular Chicago food, drink and entertainment venue dubbed Emporium and featuring arcade style games, billiards and large screen video presentations. After plans to demolish the building in 2005 were scuttled, the Theater Foundation fought for the preservation of the Harding as an entertainment venue for over a decade.
MARINA THEATRE (1928)
The Marina Theatre currently operates a two-screen, first-run cinema operated by Lee Neighborhood Theaters. The Marina Theater was renamed the Cinema 21 in the 1950s or 60s and closed in 2001. After a long battle to prevent the loss of the theatre, the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation developed a compromise plan with the building owner to preserve the theatre while adding a ground-floor retail use. The Marina Theatre re-opened in 2008.
NEW MISSSION THEATRE (1907/1916)
After an impressive architectural rehabilitation, the New Mission Theatre re-opened in December 2015 as the 5-screen Alamo Drafthouse New Mission Theatre. It had been closed as a venue for film since 1993. Since 2000, the Theater Foundation has actively engaged in efforts to save the New Mission from demolition and was instrumental getting the building placed on a National Register of Historic Places and listed as a City of San Francisco Landmark #245.
PRESIDIO THEATRE (1937)
Originally known as El Presidio, this Marina district theater opened in 1937 and remained a single screen theater until 2003. After a nearly two-year closure, it reopened as a four-screen, first-run cinema owned and operated by Lee Neighborhood Theaters. The Theater Foundation successfully advocated for preservation of the Presidio in 2002.
ROXIE THEATRE (1909)
It opened in 1909 as the Poppy Theater, but its name was changed to the Roxie in 1933. Since 1976 it has operated as a center for independent film, documentaries and art house fare. In 2003, the 234-seat venue was augmented to include the 49-seat theater Little Roxie two doors down from the main theater. Now operating as a non-profit, the Roxie continues to offer distinctive cinematic experiences, including daily film screenings, festivals, series, special events, co-presentations and educational programs.
VICTORIA THEATRE (1908)
Located in the Mission District at 16th and Capp Streets, the Victoria is a 480-seat theater, which presents films and live performances. Originally built in 1908 as a vaudeville and motion picture house, it was known as Brown’s Opera house and was operated by the grandfather of California governor Jerry Brown. It maintains an eclectic program. In 2016, it served as the venue for various film festivals including the San Francisco International Film Festival.
VOGUE THEATRE (1912), 3290 Sacramento Street
Located at 3290 Sacramento Street in Presidio Heights, the Vogue opened in 1912 as the Elite Theatre and was briefly known as the Rex before becoming the Vogue in 1939. In it’s over 100-year history the Vogue has thrived as a venue for foreign and independent films. In 2007 the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation purchased the theater and made substantial upgrades. In 2012 the SFNTF teamed up with operator CinemaSF, further brightening the theater’s future. The Vogue has become the annual home of the Mostly British Film Festival and continues to host an eclectic mix of classic and first-run films, including programs of the San Francisco Film Society, New Italian Cinema, French Cinema Now, and Hong Kong Cinema.
CinemaSF operates both the single-screen Vogue as a first-run cinema and its sister cinema, the Balboa Theatre in the Richmond District which has a popular eclectic film program in addition to new releases.