The Survivors: The Last of the Great San Francisco Movie Theaters

by James Bergantino on September 30, 2014 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

Growing up in the Sunset district at a time when VCRs and basic cable were still very much a household rarity, I would not have to travel very far to enter the magical world of cinema on the big screen. As a kid–and still today–the experience holds a certain rare and unique magic; It is an event, an escape, a diversion, and most of all, it serves a vital purpose in that it supports the arts, promotes social interaction, and supports local business. It can also be an unforgettable experience, especially when you have just seen a movie that changed your life.

I can remember as a youngster going to the Surf Theater on 46th and Irving, the Parkside Theater on 19th and Taraval, and the enormous Coronet Theater on Geary near Arguello (Star Wars, anyone?) just to name a few. These theaters and many others have long since perished, as have the movie-viewing habits of  most individuals with increasingly-busy schedules and/or a fixed budget, especially here in pricey SF.

Unfortunately, over the past few years SF has seen several more theaters permanently shuttered, much to the dismay of myself and others who value the experience of sitting in a pitch-black theater with fellow moviegoers and a small tub of popcorn on their lap… It is a shared experience; We are becoming more isolated and disconnected from one another with each passing year and each theater closure. Three of my very favorite theaters have closed recently– the Lumiere on California, the Bridge on Geary, and the Red Vic on Haight.

However, all is not lost. With preservation efforts from those who still value the theater experience and its numerous benefits, we are fortunate to still have a few historic theaters that feature classic films, as well as independent, documentary and first-run feature films.

Active participation in the arts includes supporting these remaining surviving theaters, because once they are gone, they are gone for good. All we will have left are the memories of a bygone era…

 

Image: sf station

Image: sf station

4 Star— Located in the heart of the Richmond district, this theater features two screens, ornate red ceilings, and is a family-owned operation. The red neon sign through the evening fog draws you in. Plenty of great restaurants in every direction. http://www.lntsf.com/4-star-theatre.html

 

 

 

Image: Timothy Pflueger

Image: Timothy Pflueger

Castro— By far the largest and most elaborate of the existing SF movie houses. From the warm-up organ player (an actual person), to the quality and impeccable detail of the facility, to the vast array of classic films, going to the Castro Theater in an event like no other. http://www.castrotheatre.com/

 

 

 

Image: sfbay.ca

Image: sfbay.ca

Balboa— A classic two-screener in the outer Richmond which has been recently refurbished and even hosts an annual Academy Awards party. They offer a nice mix of first-run films, classics, and documentaries. Pop into the Hockey Haven before or afterwards to discuss the film http://www.cinemasf.com/balboa/

 

 

 

Image: sfntf.squarespace.com

Image: sfntf.squarespace.com

Vogue— One of the oldest theaters in SF. An elegant, quaint, single-screen movie house tucked away in Presidio Heights. http://www.cinemasf.com/vogue/

 

 

 

 

Image: sf station

Image: sf station

Roxie— SF’s oldest continually operating theater in the heart of the Mission district. Offers an eclectic blend of documentary, independent and classic films. www.roxie.com

 

 

 

 

Image: www.sfphotorama.com

Image: www.sfphotorama.com

Clay— Another great single-screen neighborhood theater on Fillmore with midnight showings of cult classics on weekends. http://www.landmarktheatres.com/market/SanFrancisco/ClayTheatre.htm

 

 

 

 

Image: jubilation photography

Image: jubilation photography

Presidio— Small, classic multiplex located on Chestnut Street in the Marina/Cow Hollow. Great options nearby for lunch of dinner. www.lntsf.com/presidio-theatre.html

About the Author

James is a senior at San Francisco State University majoring in Urban Studies and Planning and is currently working on a fall intership with the CPF. He is a third-generation SF native with deep roots and an appreciation for the City's history, diversity and culture. His many interests include urban transportation, sustainable development and historic preservation.