Good news: The Alexandria Theater doesn’t look as bad on the inside

One of the staircases leading up from the lobby

Blog reader Steph was walking by the old Alexandria Theater (18th & Geary) on Tuesday and noticed the fence was down and the front doors open. She peeked inside and snapped a few pics. Glad to see the staircase, carpeting and interior are still looking fairly fresh (though the place could clearly use some cleanup and tlc).

Steph didn’t get a look at the rest of the building. She says onhealthy purchase propecia “there were two guys in the back near the parking lot taking out debris from the basement”. She said they didn’t know anything about plans for the building.

The theater last made news in April 2011 when high winds unhinged the vertical marquee.

There were discussions for new development on the property back in early 2011, but unfortunately, those seem to have faded.

Sarah B.

The lobby inside the Alexandria Theater, and where the concession stand used to be


  1. Thanks for this post, Sarah! It is very timely.

    We plan to call for a hearing into the status of the Alexandra’s development and rehabilitation at our next Supervisors meeting Tuesday. This is the first we are mentioning this!

    That theater has been such an important part of the Richmond, and it is a shame that it has been in disrepair so long.

    We’re going to ask about both the long-term plans as well as the short-term blight. Of course, I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts here.

  2. The orginal plans of early 2011 should be persued. If not, it should be still used as a Theatre. Smaller of course.

  3. Eric,

    I live across the street from this theater. I’m pro-preservation and love SF history. Really.

    That being said, there is NO market to keep this a theater. For every small theater we try to keep open (or, in this case, reopen), there’s LESS business for the other small theaters who are struggling to stay in business. I love the Balboa. The Four Star is nice too, and The Bridge has done a good job in general. But to insist that the Alexandria must remain at least partly a theater because it was once a theater, and therefore keeping it entirely closed (and rotting in the middle of The Richmond, quite frankly) for years isn’t serving our neighborhood at all.

    Setting up a viable set of apartments with an effort to keeping the original front of the theater is great for the neighborhood, and it’s great for all the nearby businesses. At some point we have to realize the city has to carefully manage its preservation, while also realizing that certain ways of life, like small theaters, can only be so plentiful (Balboa… Four Star… The Bridge) before they are taking so much business from each other that none of them can thrive.

    The neighborhood has real potential on the Park Presidio to 27 Avenue corridor on both Geary and Clement. I hope you can help with its future success.

    Scott W

  4. What I would like to see is a nonprofit such as the SF Indie film fest take over the space and use it for year round programming and film arts education.

  5. As a resident of the Richmond district and a person who has worked in the film industry, I must agree that there are many indie movie houses struggling to stay open in the neighborhood, and opening another will just cannibalize profits from them. Others have suggested apartments but that is all the Richmond district essentially is… Apartments and restaurants. The neighborhood needs a bigger draw to pull in crowds from around the city. The space would be perfect as a live music venue, as our nightlife is lacking. The original facade would work well as an enterance and could host music and comedy acts.

  6. Interesting thought Brian.

    The Richmond could really use something to spice up the neighborhood. Although, I am not sure the “all male showcase” you had mentioned is the right idea.

  7. I live on 18th Avenue. ANYTHING will be better than the way it sits today, and yesterday, and last year… It’s such a shame. It has the potential to be a beautiful property. Can’t we come together – as a neighborhood – as a community – and bring it back? We can do better.

    I don’t love the idea of apartments, but do favor an idea for some kind of venue – something geared to our neighborhood. The idea of something that draws people in is appealing. Family friendly would be a nice. Seems it’s a large enough property to be multi-use.

    Frankly I’m glad the topic is up for discussion again.

  8. If the hearing is to hear a progress report from the developers this is a good idea. We will be able to ask why after months, is the permit still being held up by the city to proceed. As far as lamenting it has been vacant for years I challenge the supervisor to be able to state the steps he as taken during the years the building has been vacant to improve the situation.Only recently have the squatters been removed, fencing installed. The Developers have been highly responsive to community input and concerns once they were involved. Years of calls and attempts to contact the original building owners went no-where-why?. It’s NOT a proud administration accomplishment. Lets get on with the plan (which includes a theater) and get building for gosh sakes

  9. What is going on with this site? I went to a meeting at the ymca 3-4 yrs ago and it sounded like the development was going to be approved. This has the unfortunate smell of politics putting the brakes on something that would greatly improve the Geary Blvd commercial corridor.
    I am a resident of the neighborhood and it is a shame that this is still a blight after so many years. We need some positive progressive change in this area to support the demographic changes going on in this neighborhood. I feel like not much has changed in your tenure as supervisor(Eric Mar) and in theory you should be a facillatator of change and communication. I would love to be able to walk or ride my bike with my children to vibrant businesses as opposed to venturing into other neighborhoods on a regular basis. A lot of the businesses are as energy sapping as the dense fog we experience. We need to focus on supporting commercial merchants and residential owners in the Richmond. We have great attractions like the DeYoung, the Academy of Sciences and the Legion of Honor that bring people to our neighborhood but we don’t have adequate businesses that these visitors can support. A

  10. I saw my first movie at the Alexandria at five years old in the early 50’s and subsequently spent a lot of time there so it has a lot of nostalgia for me. Having said that I feel like it somewhat fell apart in the 70’s when they subdivided it with thin walls and a lot of audio bleed-through. However, I believe it is a Richmond district icon and I agree with those that would like to maintain some sort of facade no matter how it ends up.

  11. Our neighborhood lacks a decent-sized gym. If the near-by YMCA could move into the theater, that would be awesome. (Crunch moved into the Alhambra theater in Nob Hill.)

  12. What a good idea, Stacy J. The YMCA next door is cramped. I was a member there for a year but it just didn’t have the equipment or the room to even do free weight exercises. If they could move in to the Alexandia space, that would be pretty awesome. It could still have the lovely facade, and it would fulfill the role of being a community space.

  13. Candy,

    Yeah! Those were the good days.


    I am pretty sure the last thing we need is a YMCA because all you people that want to exercise decide to drive to the gym to walk on a treadmill for 15 min. Parking is hard enough in the Richmond without you fitness types taking up spots to go exercise. My money is on the fact that you slowly loosing your battle against obesity and blaming it on the lack of a convenient YMCA.

  14. @Erica — the SF Film Society has the New People Cinema at Post Street near Webster. They show indie flicks every day. Last time I went there, the audience was maybe 15 people max.

    I don’t think the market for indie flicks can support another venue.

  15. I still remember the lobby in this theater like ti was yesterday. Saw so many movies here! Neighborhood theaters were the bomb and need to come back.

  16. I saw a bunch of movies at the Alexandria.

    But I second Scott W’s comment. Cities evolve, and movie theaters are fading. There will always be some, but right now there are more than people are willing to patronize. Let’s not preserve things just for the sake of preservation.

    I think the Coliseum (now apartments over Walgreens) is a pretty decent example of the reuse of an old theater building, and I’d be satisfied to see the same thing happen to the Alexandria. The Coliseum is a heck of a lot more attractive than 90% of new apartment houses.

  17. I think a theatre like the Kabuki (Sundance Cinemas), that serves wine and food would be great.

  18. Turn it into a dance club. Put in a ton of sound-proofing, renovate the inside so that it resembles Ruby Skye. Flatten the floor, put up a stage so that it can be used for live bands or DJs, and turn it into a great destination dance club.

  19. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival should take it over, there needs to be theater where we can go see silent movies and the old cartoons for kids. Dont turn in into some kind of shlumpy YMCA thing.

  20. Mixed use retail and apartments. We need to increase our tax base and our housing stock.

  21. At this point, I’d be content with the property owner steam cleaning the entry and adequately fencing it off so it no longer functions as a toilet. Anyone who walks by on a regular basis can vouch as to how disgusting it is.

  22. A lot of great ideas but it will always come back to finances. What type of enterprise will generate the amount of income needed to attract investors? YMCA? doubtful. Night club? don’t think the neighborhood would allow it. Specialty films? too large a space (4 Star and Bridge can do it on a small scale). One thing that might work is a food court, a number of small restaurant counters with a large eating area. This would allow both chain type companies and small entrepreneurs who want to venture into the market but don’t have the resources to open a stand alone location. The front facade and some of the interior could remain but most of the building would need to be retrofitted to pass fire code and health inspections. A food court would provide the public with a place to go for a wide variety of low cost cuisine and the maintenance and financial obligations of the building wouldn’t be dependent on only one entity but would be shared by numerous tenants, some corporate and some small businesses. For a good example of a well run and highly successful food court go to the old Emporium now Bloomingdale’s basement.

  23. Given the diverse nationalities have made the Richmond District home, why not turn it into something everyone can use along the lines of what Bill Haber describes. I have felt for many years that San Francisco needs something like Singapore’s parking lots turned into affordable gourmet paradises. Singapore has unfortunately forced these individual pushcart businesses (that sold only one dish) indoors and into sterile food courts. Some of these businesses are still operated today by the children and grandchildren of the bee hoon, satay and fruit sellers I once patronized at traffic circles and carparks.

    Keep the screen and stage for performances. Also retain the front seating section downstairs. Restore the loge and turn it into a dining area. Use the seating area under the loge and the lobby as food stalls/kitchen. Feature different cultures and use food trucks and/or caterers specializing in a culture and schedule performances accordingly. San Francisco could use some more Chinese Opera, Russian dance, Thai, Cambodian and Indonesian dance, gamelan orchestras. Comedy would work and could cater to those whose language is not American. Rotating performers could draw people from everywhere.

    Since there is always a cry for housing, build a multi-story underground lot on 18th Avenue; use car elevators if necessary, leaving street level parking for carshares and the disabled. Turn some of the existing parking lot into housing, keeping in mind that there is not sufficient physical infrastructure or water for San Francisco to support a density similar to Hong Kong (or Singapore). Until all gas, electric, sewage, water, and public transit are significantly improved, I am opposed to increasing the human burden on these resources.

    If that fails, could we have a Ranch 99 in our district. I cannot drive or ride a bicycle, have never been able to, and must rely on my feet or Muni to get around. No, I am not old enough to get a senior pass yet, just have been run over by cars and bicycles while on the sidewalk and have permanently damaged vision when I am in motion.

  24. Since there is always a cry for housing, build a multi-story underground lot on 18th Avenue; use car elevators if necessary

    So when there’s a cry for housing, we should build parking. I guess when there’s a cry for parking, we should build housing?

    Let’s get this straight: you’re proposing very expensive infrastructure (multiple levels of underground parking) while severely limiting the use of the place (not allowed to “increase the human burden”). All that’s missing is to call for the city to fund it with tax breaks and subsidies (because no one else will).

    You want Russian dance? Ever hear of the Russian Center on Sutter? They put it on regularly. They’re not exactly raking it in, though, and I don’t think they’re looking to expand.

    This is so incredibly frustrating. No wonder we have derelict buildings standing year after year, and only crap gets built.

    Too many cooks!

    there is not sufficient physical infrastructure or water for San Francisco

    Right. This is why we’ve limited density in San Francisco, to ensure that there’s enough water. Never mind that the result is that people move out to the suburbs where they use far more water and require far more infrastructure, per capita.

  25. here’s still room for innovation in the movie theater business. I only wish I had the cash to invest!!
    For example: http://www.flixbrewhouse.com/
    Innovation pushes other theaters to improve. Look at the great renewal that the Balboa is experiencing, as they have offered new programming, etc.

    Last, I am *sick and tired* of absentee and scofflaw landlords sitting on vacant property to the point where is becomes an eyesore, or worse. Thus, I would like to see a city ordinance passed that requires the following:
    a) If , after one year, a commercial property remains vacant, the commercial property owner shall pay to the city of San Francisco, on a monthly basis, a fine that is equivalent to the last monthly rent paid in that location, until said commercial space is rented. This will accomplish two things: compel commercial landlords who are lazy to get off their butts AND/OR make their rents attractive enough to meet current market demand. If that means offering a lower rent, so be it. Landlords are community members, and they should NOT be immune from penalty if theur properties cause an eyesore, or create problems.

    b) If after three years (assuming that the fines in part “a” are levied), a commercial property remains vacant, the city of San Francisco shall retain the right to offer said property for sale, with the proceeds going into the general fund.

    The absentee owner of the Alexandria should be outed, and if s/he is overseas, there should be HEAVY fines levied against that person for letting that property evolve to its current condition. There is simple no excuse for this happening in a major residential/commercial district. There is no excuse for letting a building go to rot. To set an example, I would suggest Supervisor Mar introduce legislation that implements these changes, following his re-election to the BofSupes. No more pussy-footing around!!

  26. Phil:

    I don’t mind the spirit of your proposal, but I think it would be seriously problematic. It would be one thing if the landlord had to come up with a reasonable plan, get funding, and begin construction– in that case, if it hasn’t been done in a year, it’s reasonable to say that the landlord’s being negligent.

    But it’s not that simple. Projects here have to go through multiple levels of review, get approval from neighbors, from various agencies, etc. This can take years. And it’s probably a lot more difficult to line up a loan when it’s unclear when (or whether) the project can get under way. It’s not, after all, like the owner in this case hasn’t been trying– there have been plans drawn up, and meetings, etc. It’s just not that easy, or fast.

    You might say that it should just reopen as a movie theater, but it was already a movie theater, and it closed– most likely because it was losing money.

    The most likely result of such a law, anyway, is that the property would be leased as temporary storage space or something to a local business at a low cost, fulfilling the letter of the law and not the spirit.

    And even if the law was successful, it might result in turning many San Francisco buildings into white elephants, which are more likely to end up costing the owner money than making any– to the point that the only people willing to buy them (at severely discounted rates) will be the politically-connected who can get a project through the system. I don’t think that’s desirable.

  27. Alai, you would be amazed at what the Postal Service rents seasonally to hold packages during the Christmas shipping season. It’s not pretty. They would probably use Delano’s space before the Alexandria.

    That said, something must be done with all the vacant commercial space in our district and it’s up to the Supes to ease the way. We don’t need more nail salons, foot massage, or plastic goods from China. A decent shoe store has been missing for ages since Walter May closed, and one has to go downtown or to the Presidio for sporting goods. There are no medical supply stores for area residents not using Kaiser, they must travel to Divisadero or further for equipment, support hose and the like. Our district also lacks in retail optometry shops at street level.

  28. I think there is a market for first-run, standard movies (not necessarily indy or foreign). Especially ones that play later than 8 or 9 PM. There are many times that my husband and I have wanted to go to dinner and catch a movie after. But, in order to do that we have to venture to at least Van Ness or eat at 6 PM.

    Also, I know the Alamo Drafthouse is coming to the Mission. (http://drafthouse.com/blog/entry/alamo_drafthouse_is_coming_to_san_francisco).

    As a former resident of Austin, we use to frequent at least 1-2 of them there. They always had a pretty good menu (somewhat themed) and great drinks (beer and wine). They do first-run movies, indy, and special events like themed sing alongs, Master Pancake (think Mystery Science Theater), and other fun stuff. So Drafthouse, how about taking a peek at the Alexandria and showing some love to the Richmond.

  29. There are medical supply stores at 448 Clement Street, and at 3900 Geary–that I know of. There’s an optometrist’s at 59 Clement.

    I don’t patronize nail salons either, but you know what? If they can stay open for business, there must be a demand for them–and it’s better than vacant storefronts (some of them are fixed up quite nice). I’m sure there are other businesses which can thrive, too, but as far as I know no one’s stopping them from opening. If they are that’s something the supervisors could look into. Maybe look into reducing the costs of opening a new business– I recall reading that they can be in the tens of thousands in fees alone.

    I surely wouldn’t mind the Drafthouse either, but if they’re not interested, what then? Do we insist that it be kept in its current state for another ten years?

  30. I put my vote in for a concert/event venue! They could keep the movie screen and also do special film events. It’s an SF treasure.

  31. Steph, they did that with the historic Paramount in downtown Austin. It is a non-profit org; and they have great headliners (we saw Louis CK, Eddie Izzard, Ron White, a taping for Comedy Central Dimitri Martin show, Kids in the Hall, and a number of classic movies during the summer movie season). I would love to see the same for the Alexandria too.

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