Surf Theatre

4520 Irving Street,
San Francisco, CA 94122

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Additional Info

Functions: Church

Previous Names: Parkview Theatre, Sunset Theatre

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Surf Theatre

This theatre opened in September of 1926 as the Parkview Theatre (there is a construction announcement in the San Francisco Examiner on December 12, 1925, but it’s first listing in the telephone directory is November 1926).

It was renamed the Sunset Theatre in September of 1937. It was remodeled and renamed again as the Surf Theatre on July 24, 1957. The theatre closed for good on July 7, 1985.

Contributed by Charles Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 19 comments)

butters on September 29, 2006 at 8:42 pm

Question for anyone familiar with the Surf. One of my biggest childhood tragedies was the day my father took me to see The Three Stooges in a live appearance promoting one of their movies in the early 60’s. He drove up, saw that the line snaked around for 2 blocks, and drove me home, crying all the way. Does anyone know if this appearance was at the Surf?

Foggy on April 30, 2007 at 10:53 am

Back in the mid-70’s I loved going to the Surf… loved to go on foggy nights, and one time saw a great silent film (“Intolerance” maybe?) with which the theatre had a pianist playing musical accompaniment on a grand old organ down in the front. Wow.

seandolan on October 30, 2008 at 11:36 am

I also loved to go to the Surf on foggy nights. I had many an eerie, but very enjoyable walk back to the Judah streetcar line late at night. The walk after viewing the Japanese ghost movie “Kwaidan” was particularly so. Great memories!

river187 on September 30, 2014 at 6:41 pm

i lived around the corner 43 ave and loved every time there… just deserts goodies and great coffee.not to mention great movies..super memories and happy that I got to do it!!

upinthehaight on January 27, 2016 at 6:47 pm

I loved this theater. I used to go there in the 80’s to see independent films like “Streetwise”. I loved how small and intimate the theater was, and that is the movie experience I try to replicate wherever I go. I truly wish it was still open today.

AlainC on February 6, 2016 at 11:57 am

Such lovely memories of this wonderful theater in the late ‘60s/early '70s – on many a foggy night I made the long trek from UC Berkeley to the Outer Sunset to see amazing films (at the time, a long bus ride over the Bay Bridge, then almost the length of the N Judah line on those beautiful old PCC trolley cars). I vividly remember seeing “Let It Be”, the 1969 documentary about the Beatles’ last recording sessions and their impromptu concert on top of Apple Studios; the news of their break-up was still fresh, and there many teary eyes among the audience as we left the Surf to head back out into the misty night. At any moment, waiting for that N Judah car, it seemed Humphrey Bogart could step out of the fog, straight from “Dark Passage” or “The Maltese Falcon”, those classic San Francisco films.

quartermoon on November 6, 2016 at 6:04 pm

I remember going to the Surf when I was in high school for midnight screenings of The Sound Remains the Same. It seems like that movie played there every weekend. On a late Saturday night the Surf was a 1970s teenage dream palace. We sat in the balcony and were just kids.

sfinthe80s on March 25, 2018 at 8:55 pm

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.

JimLane on February 21, 2020 at 1:43 pm

Many fond memories of the Surf in its 1970s revival-house heyday, but here’s a favorite: The Surf appears at the opening of Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (1972), with Allen sitting in an all-but-empty Surf watching Casablanca, only to go home to find the ghost of Humphrey Bogart giving him advice on “dames”. Well, that same 1972 summer I went to the Surf to see Casablanca with my then-wife and best friend — and we couldn’t find three seats together.

I’ve always said that the biggest fantasy in Play It Again, Sam isn’t the ghost of Bogart, it’s the idea of seeing Casablanca at the Surf when it’s “all but empty”.

JimLane on February 21, 2020 at 2:14 pm

Apropos of my previous comment, I just uploaded two frame captures from Play It Again, Sam showing Woody Allen in the auditorium and lobby of the Surf. Enjoy!

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