The Balboa Theatre

After work I took my sketching pack and wandered north through Golden Gate Park into the Richmond District. My destination, once I exited the park, was two long blocks north and two short blocks west.

I found a seat in the parklet outside the theater and started to sketch the tall neon sign of the neighborhood cinema: the Balboa Theatre, in the unrolling Pacific fog.

The Balboa is one of the last operating neighborhood movie theaters in San Francisco. It was built as The New Balboa and opened on February 27, 1926.

The marquee and sign of the Balboa. The amazing Korean film Parasite and 1985’s Dune are on the bill.

The theater was built by Samuel Levin as part of a neighborhood chain, San Francisco Theatres Inc. The 800 seat theater was designed by the same architects that were responsible for the Cliff House, the Fairmont Hotel, and the Spreckel’s Temple of Music.

Over the years the Balboa has been know for it’s long runs such as the 92 weeks that “The Sound of Music” ran between 1966 and 1967.

Like the city of San Francisco, the Balboa has been all too familiar with conflagrations. But like the Phoenix, the symbol of San Francisco, the Balboa has always risen from the ashes. After a fire in 1978, the Balboa was rebuilt and the 800 seat theater was divided in two and reopened on April 21, 1978.

Today the Balboa remains a vibrant, neighborhood theater that now focuses on second-run films. I remember seeing Harakiri by Masaki Kobayashi at the Balboa, as part of a samurai film festival.

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