San Francisco Landmarks

San Francisco Landmark #94: Orpheum Theater
12 March 2004
(Click Photo to Zoom)
San Francisco Landmark #94
Orpheum Theater
1192 Market Street at Hyde
Built 1926

The following is excerpted from the San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board Final Case Report dated 20 October 1976:

Possessing the most impressive theater façade surviving on Market Street, the Orpheum Theater was erected in 1926. It was designed by Benjamin Marcus Priteca, west coast theater architect, to serve as a showcase for one of the nation's most important vaudeville impresarios, Alexander Pantages.

The Pantages Theatre (the original name of the Orpheum), opened its doors in 1926 as the fifth of Market Street's six major movie palaces. The other five were:

  • 1917: The California
  • 1921: The Granada (Renamed Paramount)
  • 1922: The Warfield
  • 1922: The Golden Gate
  • 1929: The Fox

The design of the Pantages was a far cry from the chaste classical mode of Priteca's early work. Here he turned to the Spanish Gothic mode, which was ideally suited to his love of intricate ornament. Until the opening of the monumental Art-Deco Hollywood Pantages, this was by far the largest and most exciting of the circuit's theaters, and is generally regarded as one of Priteca's most significant works.

In 1929, Pantages broke up his circuit, with the bulk of the properties being assumed by Warner Brothers and RKO. RKO took San Francisco, and having closed its O'Farrell Street Orpheum a few months earlier, they gave its name to their new Market Street Theater.

In 1953, the Orpheum was totally renovated to present the Cinerama process. Upon the termination of the Cinerama contract in the mid-'60s, the theater reverted to conventional screen fare for a time, then closed.

The Orpheum Theatre, the Curran Theatre, and the Golden Gate Theatre are owned and operated by SHN (Shorenstein Hays Nederlander) for the presentation of Broadway road shows, pre-Broadway productions, new works, and open-ended engagements. Before opening on Broadway, Wicked had its world premiere at the Curran in May 2003 starring Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel.

Of the six major Market Street theaters, three have been demolished: the California in 1962, the Fox in 1963, and the Granada (Paramount) in the late 1960's by the same Shorenstein Company which rescued and renovated the Orpheum and Golden Gate. The Warfield, now operated by Goldenvoice, has presented concerts since 1979 when Bill Graham Presents booked a two week run of shows with Bob Dylan.

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