Surf Theatre

4520 Irving Street,
San Francisco, CA 94122

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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!

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!!

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!

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.

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?

gsmurph on October 11, 2005 at 8:58 am

Update on my earlier post—-I happened to be in the area, got a look, and yep, the Surf is indeed (still) a church.

gsmurph on August 17, 2005 at 12:32 am

The Surf was turned into a church shortly after its closure; presumably it’s still operating in that capacity (though an update is clearly in need here).

RobertR on February 16, 2005 at 2:19 pm

Has it just been sitting empty the last 20 years?

jwood on November 19, 2004 at 9:23 pm

I remember attending a silent comedy festival at the Surf, probably in 1980. It was about a week-long event, and my girlfriend and I went to at least two of the performances. I remember crying while watching Chaplin in City Lights, and laughing out loud, nearly continuously, during many Buster Keaton shorts.

Those old silent comedies are just not the same when viewed at home on DVD. In a theatre such as the Surf, once a handful of people start laughing, it’s catching, and soon the whole audience is part of the show.

JGGreco on June 23, 2004 at 8:51 pm

Great arthouse…very small, maybe 100 seats. Used to go there in the late sixties, seventies. If my memory serves me correctly this was the theater that Woody Allen watched “Casablanca” in the film “Play It Again Sam” shot on location in San Francisco, 1972.

William on May 13, 2004 at 1:15 pm

When the theatre opened as the Parkview it seated 450 people, but during one of it’s remodels seating was reduced to 333 people.

scottfavareille on January 31, 2004 at 4:28 pm

Today, the Clay, Bridge, and Lumiere are all run by Landmark theaters and are still showing art films. The Castro is one of the leading revival houses in the US. It’s too bad the Surf couldn’t remain open as it was popular in its day.

stevenj on January 31, 2004 at 2:58 pm

Run by Mel Novikov in the 60’s thru mid 80’s, this was a neighborhood art house and one of the Surf Theatre Group (which also included the Castro, Bridge, Clay and Lumiere). By the mid 80’s, it was one of the last of the “independant” theatres in SF and after closing became a childrens day care center. It was located just a couple of blocks from Ocean Beach.