San Francisco’s Metro Theatre to close in one week

posted by JimC on September 19, 2006 at 5:09 am

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — The staff of the Metro Theatre in San Francisco was informed over the weekend that it will close its doors forever on Saturday Sept 23. The owner of the building has bought out Regal Entertainment’s lease and plans on demolishing the building and replacing it with condo apartments.

The Metro, which opened in 1924 and was designed by famed theater architect Timothy
Pfluger, had one of the biggest screens and best sound systems in San Francisco. Their superior screen image was provided by 35/70mm Todd-AO/Norelco projectors with a 5000 watt water cooled lamphouse.

The sound system was first rate and to Regal’s credit, they had a tech come in and tune it up on a regular basis.

It will be a shame to see this place go.

JimC/San Francisco

Theaters in this post

Comments (28)

HowardBHaas on September 19, 2006 at 7:16 am

That’s terrible. I saw a movie there in 1997 when other single screen theaters were still open, and before the Metro’s restoration. This is one the San Francisco movie theater activists should consider fighting for.

bazookadave on September 19, 2006 at 7:25 am

Sorry to hear about this loss. If I lived in SF I would attend a last show and take as many pics as possible of the interior for posterity, since it seems all we will have left of our wonderful theatres is photographs.

HowardBHaas on September 19, 2006 at 8:27 am

I am also going to 2nd the comment for people to PLEASE take interior photos, especially of the auditorium and murals and details revealed after the restoration, and link those photos to the Metro’s page on this website. I’ve wanted for awhile to see the restored interior, but didn’t get out there. I almost did a year ago, but decided to vacation elsewhere. There are black & white photos of the interior decades ago on the theater’s page, but they aren’t in color and I don’t know how much of that decoration was exposed or restored.

jon6444 on September 19, 2006 at 9:23 am

I would encourage someone to take some photos during demolition…..there might be some architectual details that had been covered up during renovations.

GaryParks on September 19, 2006 at 10:12 am

Firstoff, a little historic correction: The theatre was designed by James and Merrit Reid. The office of Timothy Pflueger did the 1941 remodel, which is mainly what one sees today in the auditorium. The vertical sign dates from this time, but the marquee dates from an earlier and more lighthanded redecoration, as does the deco sunburst pattern you see today on the inner lobby ceiling once you enter.

The plasterwork in the outer and inner lobbies is mostly from 1924. The paintwork on the outer lobby ceiling is 1924, save for some minor embellishments by artist Kelly Cool during the 1998 refurbishing. She also did the arched murals which are on either side as you proceed from the outer to inner lobby.

The lobby as remodeled by Pflueger no longer exists, having been totally removed during the 1998 refurbishing, at which time the original 1924 lobby was largely restored, with some sympathetic updating.

The auditorium features murals by the Heinsbergen decorating firm. These date from Pflueger’s remodeling. The ceiling, save for the 1998 acoustical panels, chandeliers and 1941 paint, is from 1924.

Behind the draped and plastered angled walls on either side of the screen are hidden extensive intact remnants if the 1924 auditorium. These include large Ionic columns surmounted by eagles clutching shields, and arched niches containing urns and long-disconnected cove lighting. The organ chambers, though empty, are intact, and their openwork grilles, though slightly damaged, are largely extant.

I was one of the historical advisors to the 1998 renovation, and was a guest at the subsequent Grand Reopening. I would love to see the Metro escape demolition, even if it meant only a partial retention of the building. While preserving the building intact would be my first choice, even a reuse of the building’s shell, with a restoration of the facade’s key decorative elements is preferable to complete demolition, which will likely give birth to yet another example of slavish, tired devotion to the long-outdated and academically-loved but (usually) publically-loathed Bauhaus style, or worse, a poorly proportioned attempt at historicism such as is so common today—a style best described as “Lego Mediterranean.”

All this being said, I am not currently in a position to actively help in the fight to save the Metro—professional and preexisting volunteer obligations preclude this—but I would be more than happy to share copies of the photos I took in 1998 of the 1924 architectural features which exist behind the 1941 walls, as well as extensive knowledge of theatres designed by Reid Bros., having been closely involved with the ongoing preservation and restoration efforts at the Reid-designed Golden State Theatre in Monterey, as well as a little aid in the efforts to save San Francisco’s Harding Theatre.

RetroFan on September 19, 2006 at 10:18 am

Damn – another of the city’s biggest losses. Little by little this city is losing its best characteristics. I tried to go as often as possible – doing everything in my power to avoid the ruthless multiplexes.
I bid adieu to the next-to-last of our civilized, comfy theaters with class and character.

Eric on September 19, 2006 at 10:21 am

Unfortunately we all knew this would be coming. So much for that Neighborhood Theatre Foundation, I have yet to see them save one theatre. There are a few shots of the interior posted on right now. I hope others can get some more.

jon6444 on September 19, 2006 at 10:38 am

Gary, Are you able to post any of your pictures from the renovation here? Many of us would love to see them…thanks

HowardBHaas on September 19, 2006 at 11:40 am

Photos can’t be posted here, but can be linked from other sites, such as the free flickr site or other sites people use.

GaryParks on September 19, 2006 at 6:23 pm

From Gary Parks:
Right now I’m at the mercy of a rather antiquated computer setup. I’m happy to scan the prints and email. The whole posting on the web thing is a little cumbersome right now. Feel free to email me. As long as the requests don’t get too numerous. One can get overwhelmed. :–)

stevenj on September 20, 2006 at 5:23 am

This will leave only 5 single screen theaters in San Francisco, the Castro, Bridge, Clay, Red Vic and the Vogue.

JimC on September 20, 2006 at 7:49 am

First of all thank you Gary Parks for correcting some of the architectural inaccuracies in my original post. Having spent many years in several Pluger buildings (including the Pacific Telephone Building,) I recognized parts of the Metro as being very Plugeresque and jumped to an incorrect conclusion.

I’d also like to make a slight modification to my original post-
REGAL is definitely out of there as of this coming weekend, and
the LONG RANGE plans of the owner is to have it torn down and
replaced with condos.

However, this being San Francisco, jumping through all the necessary bureaucratic hoops to get demolition & re-building permits is a process that can take years.

One need only to look at THE ALEXENDRIA (closed 2004) and CORONET
(closed 2005) which have degenerated into neighborhood eyesores as the property owners wrangle with various city agencies, preservationists, merchant associations and neighborhood groups to get the necessary permits to do ANTHING as proof of this.

So, the latest “update” rumor circulating among the METRO staff is that while REGAL is definitely out of there as of this weekend, the owner MAY try to keep the METRO open as an independent house until he can get all the demolition paperwork and building permits in order to keep the property from becoming an eyesore on very trendy & upscale Union Street. But his long range plans are still to have it torn down once all the paperwork is approved.

So THE METRO may still be around for another couple of years, open or closed, – or maybe not. Only time will tell.

I don’t have any pictures of the interior of the theater, but I do have lots of detailed photos of the projection room & equipment.
Unfortunately, I can’t post pix here.

JimC/San Francisco

kevinsilva on September 20, 2006 at 5:05 pm

This is unbelievably sad. My favorite theater in SF. The last old untouched theater with a balcony that showed new movies. Just a beautiful place. In the last few years we’ve seen the passing of The Amazon, The Royal, The Alexandria, The Coronet(!) and now this.Does that Neighborhood Theater Foundation do anything other than show outside movies? Newsom and the city should be ashamed.

afelder on September 20, 2006 at 9:49 pm

As the President of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, I wanted to be sure to provide some information about our organization given the comments above. The Theater Foundation was the driving public force behind saving both the Presidio and Cinema 21 theaters. We organized public testimony supporting preservation of the Presidio and had extenstive conversations with the the family that owns the Presidio in advance of their coming to terms with Frank Lee on a lease agreement.

We were also the primary organizers of the campaign to save the Cinema 21. Our efforts led to the defeat at the Planning Commission of the original plan to eliminate the theater. We then came up with the compromise plan to save the theater and initiated the conversations with the property owner that led to the deal to save the theater. We also helped to fund initial architectural study of the compromise plan. The Cinema 21 will re-open as the Marina Theatre next year (it premiered as the Marina Theater).

Our work was also essential to the 2004 local landmarking of the New Mission Theatre and plans are currently being developed to re-open the New Mission as multi-purpose entertainment venue. The New Mission was slated for demolition only a few years ago.

More recently, we worked with the Board of Supervisors to enact legislation that provides significant protections to neighborhood theaters by requiring Conditional Use review of any plan to convert a theatre to another use. Plans for the Coronet were submitted just before the enactment of this legislation. We are already seeing signs that he legislation is having an impact and hopefully the Coronet will be the last theater to be demolished in San Francisco for some time. It is possible that the 4-Star Theater will be saved as a direct result of this legislation. It should also be noted that the Alexandria Theater building will not go away and that the current property owners have committed to maintaining a theater in the building. We’re currently working to do whatever we can to preserve theaters like the Metro and the Vogue and I hope people realize that Regal’s departure from the Metro is not likely to be the end of movie-going at this Theater.

Given the multiple threats to neighborhood theaters from multiplexes, home theatres and escalating real estate values saving neighborhood theaters is a very challenging task. Despite these challenges, however, we are having some success. Unfortunately, we can not control the whim of corporations like Regal Entertainment that have little concern for their few remaining neighborhood theatre properties. Regal was behind the recent closings of the Alexandria, Coronet and Galaxy theatres and is now behind the closing of the Metro.

The Theater Foundation is an all-volunteer organization and we focus our energy on advocacy and working to establish policies through legislation that help to protect San Francisco’s theaters. Our popular outdoor film series began as an extension of our advocacy efforts – a creative way to bring film back to neighborhoods that had lost many, if not all, of their neighborhood theaters (i.e. North Beach, Noe Valley and the Mission).

I hope this clears up some of the confusion about what the Theater Foundation has done and is doing. Perhaps you can all help us spread the word about what we do or drop me a line at if you would like to learn more.

RetroFan on September 21, 2006 at 6:49 am

Thank you for the statement!!! Yes, there is hope. Let’s just hope the Metro isn’t gutted and multiplexed (I just don’t think I can bear that).
The Theater Foundation has done terrific things and that takes dedication.
Sadly, movie-going itself is forcing us to change our viewing habits. The big corporations WANT this mass multiplexing – they want MONEY and more SCREENS (no matter how small, cramped or badly decorated they are).
We want the comfortable, civilized, well-managed single-screen neighborhood theaters. They, on the otherhand, could give a rat’s puh-tooty about what we want.
But it’s sites like this that educate, inform and bring people together.

JohnMessick on September 21, 2006 at 1:45 pm

I live in Central Pennsylvania and Regal had a 6 screen here in a shopping mall. They had a month to month lease with the mall until the mall decided to turn the theater into a food court. What I don’t understand while Regal and the owner don’t enter into a month to month until the owner has the paper work completed. Seems he not much of a business man

FilmBearSFCA on September 21, 2006 at 10:57 pm

First and foremost, I know a couple employees there and I can assure you and she is very reliable that the employees were NOT notified over the weekend as the posting had suggested… It was during the week… Second, with the way the Regal Chain has operated since engaging their presence, I am not surprised… The Regal Chain has not necesarilly been blessed with the most loyal or employee friendly reputation. This city over the last couple of years is turning into post yuppy Starbucks Sipping, cellphone using greedy group that have no respect for good things. Things are treated as disposable rubbish as are people and it is no wonder many do not understand the value of such a beauty. If the company truly cared for the business they are in, there were ways in which they could have saved it but, they sold the lease for a lump sum to the building owner who will make the the theatre into a money hungry cash flow for him or her and making the area more hoity toity than it can be… This is sad and a sad reflection of people’s greed and their pocketbooks…

JimC on September 22, 2006 at 5:54 am

I stand by my original account. I was first informed of this in a voicemail around 10am Monday morning. I posted my comments shortly after 8am Tuesday after I had a chance to speak “live” to the employee who gave me this info to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood his message and to ask a few questions. So obviously some employees were told over the weekend, and perhaps others found out about it during the week when they reported to work. In the big picture, it really doesn’t matter who found out what when. It won’t really change the future of whatever will happen to the METRO.

I agree 100% with the comments made by FilmBear on the current state of the movie business here in San Francisco. Well said, Mr. FB!

FilmBearSFCA on September 22, 2006 at 6:39 am

Jim, thanks for you input… I am so devastated as I was truly hoping there would be hope. This reminds me of history repeating itself. Will there ever be a time when people think of the consequences of their actions? Look at the Fox and all the other palaces that have been razed. Sure, there will be photographs, word of mouth and and history but, there will be no buildings left… I am so glad that someone had sense and foresight when it came to the Paramount in Oakland and the other theatres that were saved. Money is great but, you can’t take it with you… Once again, thanks for your comment Jim…

JimC on September 29, 2006 at 7:43 am

Just FYI to all: I noticed that as of today (Sept 29,Y2k6) listings for The Metro have disappeared from my Yahoo movie page, the local newspaper listings and the FANDANGO telephonic movie listing/ticket buying service. I tried calling one of the unlisted numbers I had for the theater and got a recording saying it had been disconnected.

Rumor is that the property owner may try to re-open for awhile as an indpendent theater, but only time will tell if this will happen or if the building will become yet another boarded-up eyesore like Alexandria and Coronet have become in the past few years. (Although I just can’t picture the local residents and merchants on trendy-upscale Union St letting this happen)

Let’s hold on to what we’ve got and remember to patronize YOUR local neighborhood theater.


RichardT on September 29, 2006 at 3:08 pm

Are we giving up on this? I was stunned to see the Metro closed today as i walked along Union Street. This is a beautiful, recently-renovated theater; not like some of the others that are still standing. Is the Theater Foundation giving up without a fight? I hope not. Unlike others, I’m less concerned that it remain a single-screen theater: if it needs to have 3 screens to survive, I prefer that to condominiums. What do we need to do to keep this beautiful theater going?

cleofore on October 4, 2006 at 12:49 pm


ZabrinaTipton on October 9, 2006 at 3:21 pm

We need to frequent and support our neighborhood theatres by Not always renting DVD’s and by not going to the Meteron or the new theatre in the Emporium. A miracle with lots of money needs to happen for the Metereon.

Please go to movies at these neighborhood theatres and do the same when you travel to other towns, support the neighborhood theatres:
Bridge, 4 Star, Balboa, Empire (Cine Arts), Victoria, Roxie, Castro, Lumiere, Presidio, Vogue, Clay and the Metro, when it reopens.

I worked on some ads for the San Francisco Neighborhood Theatre Foundation and e-mailed Alfonso Felder, the President, offering the ads for free and offering my photography to use to bring Awareness to our theatres.

As I sit typing this comment, I can see out of my kitchen window the back of the New Mission marquee and the Wigwam (Cine Latino Theatre) on Mission Street. They just waste away and their interiors are gutted with no preservation for the craftmenship, as well as recycling materials that exist in current structures.

We, San Francisco Citizens, are a progressive people. Why are we not at least beginning with the “Green” factor to begin the process of saving the theatres from being degutted. We can create multi use for the theatres: book signings, art shows, minglers, fundraisers. We need to be creative with the function of the theatres and make them alive with people, money and lights on!

I hope to hear from Alfonso. If anyone wants to contact me directly, please do so and I will work with you on being active and share with you the ads and more detail of my ideas above.

I wish I was an old, blue haired lady with millions to donate, for it would go to the Metro and then those following that needed the support and then a marketing plan to keep the theatres producing revenue.


ZabrinaTipton on October 9, 2006 at 3:22 pm

Correction: “A Miracle with lots of money needs to happen for the Metro.”


JimC on October 9, 2006 at 5:22 pm

Zabrina’s comments are “spot on”. Unfortunately many times by the time events get to the point where a theater has to actually close their doors it usually means its' finances have deterioriated to the point that the only way to save it is if some millionaire philanthropist or organization with deep pockets steps forward.
…but miricales do sometimes happen.

I remember The New Mission Theater. It’s another lost treasure.

RichardT on October 9, 2006 at 5:54 pm

Zabrina is absolutely right when she calls for us to patronize the neighborhood theatres instead of the megascreens downtown. More importantly, we need to have operators who want the individual theaters to be successful. In my 16 years in the Union St. neighborhood, I never once saw any kind of promotion for a movie at the Metro. I thought that perhaps this would change after the theater was renovated but, in fact, things got worse as rumors of the theater’s demise grew stronger. It remains a mystery to me that someone would sink serious money into upgrading a building as a theater and then immediately begin talking about closing it (those in the know, please explain this to me).

What’s happening at the Balboa Theater is what the Metro needs – someone who cares about movies instead of real estate and is willing to put some effort into increasing patronage (this for a theater that doesn’t hold a candle to the Metro in terms of physical plant and location). I don’t know how it’s working out there, but I do know that the Metro could use activities like discounts; deals with local parking establishments, restaurants and stores; talks by film directors, and the activities described by Zabrina. Something to get a buzz going about the theater. I’m not giving up hope that something great can be created in our neighborhood.

HowardBHaas on November 4, 2006 at 5:47 am

Gary Parks mailed me a CD of photos that he refers to above, and I have posted them with his consent at my flickr gallery,

View link

JimC on November 18, 2006 at 2:03 pm

Several weeks ago a friend of mine who lives near the Metro called to tell me that it was being boarded up as he passed it on his way to work. I went down there the following day to confirm this.

I took several pictures that morning. I do not have a way to post them to the internet, but if anyone is interested in seeing them I’ve set up a temporary e-mail address where you can requst them.

Send a BLANK e-mail to:
I will keep this address active until Dec 31, 2006

In return I will send you 3 pictures (about 60kb/each).

PRIVACY STATEMENT: I will not share your e-mail address with anyone. It will be used ONLY to send you the pictures you request and then it will be immediately erased from my system.

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