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Sad to hear that the building has been converted into Walgreens today.
I used to drive past this theater all of the time, not particularly interested about what went on inside since they never really screened the films I liked to watch. Today I regret not ever having patronized it and getting to experience one of the city’s better theaters before multi-plexes came along and annihilated the single screen business model.
The good old days, a time when theaters could still fill the theaters with sold-out crowds.
At least they didn’t knock it down. What a beautiful old theater. I must have driven past it a million times knowing nothing about its history.
I lived in the Haight for 5 years in the 80’s, before the Wasteland opened, and I had no idea that this had once been a theatre. I can’t remember what was there before the Wasteland, but most likely it was another clothing store as the Haight has always had a lot of those.
Never a comfortable or luxurious theater (four walls and a couch), it provided a community friendly place for like-minded individuals to view works other theaters would not screen. I lived in the Haight (Upper and Lower) for a good 5 years and loved the fact that I could walk to a theater to see an interesting film. Good luck doing that today, no matter where you live.
After the Haight Theater closed in the late 70’s (long before my arrival, and demolished in the early 80’s) where it sat empty for a good 10 years before St. Vincent De Paul build a structure there, the Red Vic (at its original location, where the Red Vic B&B is located today), it was the only theater in the immediate area of The Haight, the amazing Castro being the next nearest.
Excellent photo (blurry and all). I wish we had some photos of inside the theater.
I was a film student in the late 1980s while living in SF and attending SFSU. This was a very important theater for film students and the local film community since it was among a handful of independently operated theaters where you could see the works (today called ‘content’, and before that, ‘product’) of cinema’s most profound, productive and influential (living and deceased) directors working outside of the Hollywood production system.
Where else could we see the works of Andre Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, Fellini, Agnes Varda, Mitzoguchi and Godard? There were a few others, like the Castro, The Roxy, and The Clay, and many others I am sure I have left out, but The York was special because it was the only theater dedicated to screening classic, second-run, foreign and domestic movies that was not a small, four-wall setup, in fact, it was a rather large theater with impressive architectural detail. By the time it closed it was definitely showing its age and was in bad need of updating, but nothing like The Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, made famous in Altman’s The Player, left to literally crumble to pieces.
Some of the things I missed about old SF are its vibrant collection of repertory theaters, most of which has now disappeared. One of my most memorable moments was screening my first Bergman film at the Surf Theater in the outer Avenues. Walking out of the theater at dusk, into a blanket of fog after experiencing Bergman for the first time felt like a drug-induced, mind-altering experience, like dropping acid for the fist time.
This was one of the truly unique neighborhood theaters in the City, not only because of its size (very small), location (way out towards Ocean Beach) and its modest, understated architectural style, but because of its rich programming calendar. Though it closed soon after my move to SF, I wisely chose to frequent it often and saw many important foreign films there. As a cinema student in the 1980s, I experienced my very first Ingmar Bergman film there, an experience that had a lasting emotional/artistic impact on me, even to this day.
I think the what also lent a visit to the Surf a truly magical, almost metaphysical experience, was exiting theater at night, electrified from an emotionally charged cinematic experience, into the think summer fog that blanketed everything in sight — it was unforgettable.
I used to live around the corner from this theater. I had moved to the Haight in the early 80’s and by the time I moved into my first floor apt on the corner of Cole and Oak, the theater had already been demolished. For years it sat as an empty lot, partitioned off by chain-link fence and plywood, and I was blissfully unaware what had previously occupied that space. Its just as well since being a cinema major, I would have been grieving at the loss of such a beautiful theater and probably would have held vigil there everyday on my way back from class.
The Haight in the 80’s was not exactly a mecca for movie screens. Yes, there was the Red Vic, but quite honestly, it sucked. I had no idea of what the inside of the Haight looked like, but it probably would have made a great repertory theater. Sad loss. The next to fall after that was of course the I-Beam.