San Francisco Landmarks

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San Francisco Landmark #261
Metro Theater
2055 Union Street
Built 1924
Remodeled 1941
Renovated 1998

The Metro Theatre was designed by the Reid Brothers in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The tiered seating was a Reid Brothers innovation, and the Metro is the only remaining movie theatre in San Francisco that retains its original tiered layout.

The Metro was remodeled in 1941 to update the style from Spanish Colonial to Art Deco. The façade changed dramatically to a more simplified style. Roof tiles were removed and the marquee and the blade sign were replaced.

Although the interior changed dramatically, it was not gutted. Economic efficiency dictated that the original elements be left in place and covered over. New murals, executed by the nationally renown firm of Heinsbergen Decorating Company of Los Angeles, filled the side walls of the auditorium with fairy-like figures floating over tree tops.

While architect Timothy L. Pflueger has long been associated with the renovation, his involvement is less clear than that of architect Otto A. Deichmann. Historical consultants involved with the 1998 renovation of the theatre believe that Deichmann worked with Timothy Pflueger during the renovation.

The Metro Theatre is in excellent condition and remains the most intact Reid Brothers theatre interior in San Francisco.

Adapted from San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board Resolution 630 approved July 21, 2009.

The Metro is the original home of the San Francisco International Film Festival, the oldest international film festival in the United States.

The inaugural event was hosted by Irving M. "Bud" Levin, also the Festival's director. Levin felt that San Francisco had unique potential to support an international film festival comparable to those held at Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Edinburgh.

In the 1950s San Francisco had proven itself to be receptive to international cinema. Neighborhood theatres including the Vogue, Bridge, and Clay had already been showing foreign films. Despite the fact that crowds were often small, Levin felt the City would respond well to a festival.

On December 4, 1957, the festival's first opening night was held at the Metro. The fest1val ran fourteen days with films from twelve countries.

The Metro was eventually upgraded to a first-run venue, with bookings chosen to maintain an image of quality and prestige. Throughout many decades, the Metro was far better maintained than most neighborhood theaters elsewhere in San Francisco.

Adapted from San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board Resolution 630 approved July 21, 2009.

The Metro Theatre closed in 2006.

In a effort to save the building, preservationists succeeded in having it designated a San Francisco landmark in July 2009.

A few months earlier, San Francisco Chronicle columnist and tough guy C. W. Nevius - who is no bleeding heart, knee jerk fan of old buildings - reported the usual to and fro among preservationists, developers and politicians:

"What in God's name are you going to do with a 10,000-square-foot building with a sloping floor? Skateboarding?" asked District Two supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who opposes the landmarking....

"It's a nice thought," says Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for the National Association of Theatre Owners, "but unrealistic...."

Developer Sebastyen Jackovics, who wants to put a high-end gym in the Metro, is frustrated. "This is like landmarking phone booths when everyone has cell phones," he said.

Read the complete article at SFGate.

The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival in 2012 presented 289 screenings of 174 films from 45 countries. Screenings were at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the Castro Theatre, SFMOMA San Francisco Film Society Cinema, and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

Source: San Francisco Film Society

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