San Francisco Landmarks
Critics say San Francisco has been comparatively lax about preserving its numerous old theaters, scores of which have been demolished or converted to other uses in recent decades.
In 2001, the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation said historic cinema houses nationwide were imperiled, but focused specifically on the rapid decline of neighborhood movie houses in San Francisco, while pointing out strategies that other cities had employed to save theaters.
"Of all cities, San Francisco should be able to find a way to keep these theaters,'' said Alfonso Felder, a vice president of the San Francisco Giants and president of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation.
One theater that preservationists are focused on is the 1916 New Mission Theater, a well-preserved 2,021-seat venue that the community clamored to save in 2004 when San Francisco City College sought to gut it. A local restaurateur and hostel operator who now owns it has proposed reopening the theater with a restaurant and bar, although he is still working with community groups on a final plan.
In the first half of the 20th century, the number of theater seats in the Mission District, 15,000 at the peak, was second only to the 25,000 seats on mid-Market Street, known as the "Great White Way" for all the lights at night.
Currently, the city's redevelopment agency is proposing the creation of a mid-Market Street redevelopment area that would, among other things, support "theater, arts, cultural and entertainment activities" and conversion of adult entertainment theaters in the area to "other theater/arts uses."
Only three theaters in the area, the Golden Gate, Orpheum and Warfield, however, offer mainstream entertainment. Of the five other remaining historic theaters, three are nude dancing venues, one of which is owned by a developer who wants to tear it down for condominiums. Two other theaters are empty, and the city planning commission has approved demolition of one of them, a structure from 1910, to make way for a condominium tower.
The New Mission Theater is National Register Listing #01001206.