4 Star Theater property for sale at $2.8 million, targeting developers

The 4-Star Theater at Clement and 23rd Avenue

In another sign of the ever-present housing crisis and land grab, the property which has been home to the 4-Star Theater since 1913 is now up for sale for $2.8 million.

The listing on Loopnet is trying to attract developers, not buyers who might be interested in running a movie theater.

“This corner lot has enormous potential to develop as a mixed-use construction project,” it reads. The listing suggests “potential mixed use with condos”.

The property at 2200 Clement Street is zoned for mixed-use development with a maximum height of 40 feet. The current two-story building measures 3,640 square feet.

The listing is with Tri Commercial Real Estate and the flyer for the property does include some financials for the current movie theater business, listing the annual income from rent at $345k, or roughly $28k per month. Really? The 4-Star must be selling a lot of popcorn to make THAT rent…

The 4-Star Theater is currently run by the Lee family, who has operated it since 1990. The Lee family also operates the Presidio Theater and Marina Theater. According to city records, the 4-Star property is owned by Lida Yook Sim Wong.

A look at city records revealed an interesting tidbit. From 2004-2005, a church group that bought the property had plans to raze the theater and build a new, 3-story church.

Thanks to reader Anthony for the tip.

Sarah B.

The theater in 1919, then known as “La Bonita”. Courtesy of outsidelands.org and Jack Tillmany


  1. The continued rape of the character of this neighborhood–and the city at large–by greedy opportunists who are turning this city into Manhattan, building by building, disgusts me. Anyone who has been here for a few years should remember the (temporarily successful) rally by locals to prevent that church from taking over the 4 Star theatre. Of the various objection to that was the already difficult parking situation becoming even worse by the people the church would attract. Just a few years later, that 3-story building sounds absolutely quaint compared to the spectacle of a “multi-use” high rise (are you kidding me? WHAT Planning Commission???) currently proposed in that area. As grossly out-of-scale that building will be for now (does anyone believe it won’t happen?), it won’t be long before it will fit in nicely with all the other “multi-use” high-rise, $3,500-5,000/mo condos that will be built to accommodate all the “middle class” newbie transplants who are, by definition, too ignorant of where they’ve moved to know about the neighborhood their presence is eradicating. I know I’ll get a heated response from people who sincerely believe that the answer to astronomical rent increases and unconscionable evictions for long-time residents is MORE. More housing! No more land? Build up! Higher and higher!! What do you geniuses think more housing will will bring? Even more condos, more people packed together. More strain on resources. Diminished quality of life. People aren’t meant to live on top of each other like this. There won’t ever be enough housing to accommodate the number of people who want to live here. Never enough housing to keep rents at a sane level. As always, it seems, money talks–in this case, greedy landowners, techies with lots of money. Everyone else will just have to move on down the road.

  2. Renee’s right. Let’s not lose the character of the neighborhood. South of Market is turning into Manhattan. In a few years SF will be unrecognizable.

  3. It does no good to rail against the inevitable. Cities grow because populations increase. San Francisco has become a magnet for waves of new people because of its technological edge and economic success. “People arenโ€™t meant to live on top of each other like this.” Really? You are dreaming. Look around. This is the way of the future everywhere if people don’t stop overpopulating the planet…scarcity of resources and cramped quarters. A four-story mixed-use building at the site of the old 4-Star Theater hardly qualifies as “manhattanization.”
    My spouse and I were forced out of our rental in the Richmond in 2014 after living there for 17 years. We now live in a mobile home in Napa Valley. Nothing is affordable anymore if you’re not a millionaire.

  4. I’ll be really sad to see the 4-Star go, but I have to admit the surprise is only that it’s lasted so long. I’ve been to a handful of movies there over the past few years, and while I really appreciate its history, convenience, and to support a local business.. it just can’t compete in an industry that’s moved on. Every time I have gone for American films, the theatre has been almost empty — maybe the Asian films sell out (not really my thing), but it seemed unsustainable.
    The Balboa Theatre’s campaign for digital projectors summed it up too.. the costs associated with film are too high, and digital delivery and projection is the future, with some movies no longer being available on film at all. The Balboa Theatre had to do a huge fundraising campaign to get digital projectors, and the 4-Star would just never be able to pull that off.

    I still have distant, futile hopes that the Alexandria (or even The Bridge) will be taken over by Alamo Drafthouse, but as much as I don’t want to see the 4-Star go, I also don’t want it to turn into a vacant building with the woes we’ve seen at The Alexandria. Actually though, I’m surprised that the 4-Star isn’t a historical landmark.. I’m bet someone will work to change that now though.

  5. Renee is COMPLETELY RIGHT. I will be cutting and pasting her response since she is spot on!! I’m a 3rd generation SF’can, who can barely afford to eat in the neighborhood I grew up in…..just a bunch of hipster crap if you ask me….our 3 story house was converted into a big apartment in the early eighties….. All that stained glass and carved wood in-layed bookcases gone…..yeah SF just an off shoot of Manhattan….beginning of the end.
    Just glad I got to skateboard that whole city in the 70’s, no helmet no pads…..yes, I survived

  6. Have any of you been to the 4-star lately? While I would normally join you in attacking this as another attempt to “rape the character of the neighborhood,” it’s a mystery to me how this theater has even lasted this long. Facilities are horrible, equipment frequently fails, and they don’t even accept credit cards? There are much better uses for this site, and perhaps they even include some housing (much needed in the city), or some neighborhood businesses on the ground floor. Let’s not oppose things for the sake of opposition. This *could* actually be a great thing for the neighborhood.

  7. The only thing constant about San Francisco is change. The FUNDAMENTAL character of this city, since the gold rush, is people moving here in search of a better life for themselves, from all over the country. That is what makes this city so special. No one moves to Tulsa or Phoenix in search of a better life…

    That means the city will always be changing. It will be changing for the better for the people moving here, and for the worse for people living here. The wheel will turn, and the same thing will happen to the people who have just moved here years from now. And long time residents will be making fun of and denigrating the new “hipsters” whenever they arrive too. That part of the city never changes.

    I love the 4-star…Go see Mad max there while you can. It’s a great small theater. But it’s never full, and quite honestly the space would be served by better and more housing for people looking to move into the city, with some retail on the bottom floor. There’s plenty of great theaters downtown, and while it would be sad to see it go, it won’t ruin the neighborhood.

    Now if the supermarket next door were to leave, that would be another matter entirely…

  8. I lived in the Richmond District as a child. Gone now over 50 years. Even from a distance I can understand the sense of loss as the neighborhood changes character. However, it’s not some grand conspiracy. Times change. Costs rise. Somebody has to pay the bills. The use proposed sounds far more neighborhood friendly than a church.

  9. Question – how many people here have actually gone to the 4 star recently

    I’m saddened to see the theater leave, I go to the theater once a month (and every other week solely for popcorn) – however given how empty the theater is when I go, I suspect most of the posters here do not patronize this business … how can you complain about it leaving if you don’t give it your business

  10. It is too bad. Life long Richmond District resident. No it isn’t a fancy over priced downtown theater. That was it’s charm. It was also not supported. I know Mr. Lee and his family did their best to keep it viable. My suggestion is to support their other theaters and other indies like the Balboa, Vogue, and Roxie. In the meantime go to the 4Star.

  11. I’d like the 4-star to say, but if they can replace it with high quality housing (emphasis on high-quality, i.e. not a Richmond Special or the modern equivalent – the kind they throw up in 4 months), I’m happy. If it was me, I would build high right on top of the 4-star and keep the theater for the charm. More attention needs to be paid to aesthetics in this neighborhood. Those ‘luxury condos’ on 33rd and Geary that have been sitting for sale for months while everything else around them sells in a week are a total joke and disaster, as far as I’m concerned.

  12. I’m sad to see the 4-star go. It’s walking distance from us. We go there all the time. I will say, their equipment and facilities are sub-par. The small screen is pretty crappy, audio is poor and the seats are old and squeaky. But – we still go there. It’s so nice to have a small theater close by. Too bad.

  13. Renee – where does it say anything about “high rise”? Just curious. Did I miss that?

    If more housing is not the answer, then how do you suggest we keep people from wanting to live in San Francisco? That might be tough.

  14. while i hate to see the 4 star go, i find it funny that every time there is change in sf everybody always starts to bash manhattan as if manhattan is the worst place on earth. a writer once said sf has such an inferiority complex to new york and the only way that makes them feel better is to bash los angeles. and yes i am a native.

  15. We still have Balboa theater! Everyone should give them business! Fantastic neighborhood theater. And go get a coffee at Simple Pleasures before or after. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. Yes, change has really sped up. Goodbye to the 4 Star. Mel’s will also be converted for more housing with a “commercial floor” and the Copper/Lucky Penny is on the chopping block too. Of course you can say these places are all “ick” but the fact is their space is being bought up and built up, and up. I hope to last a few more years before I’m kicked out, but I can’t last much longer. It’s really sad, but the way of the world, I guess.

  17. It’s sad to see the neighborhood lose another theater but in all honesty the 4 star is really the least popular of the Richmond’s theaters. The behemoth of a structure that replaced the Coronet is the worst loss as far as theaters go. The building is completely out of sync with it’s surrounding. Anyway, SF needs to stop trying to looking for small neighborhoods to carry the torch for new housing. Fill all of SOMA, tenderloin and south beach with skyscrapers and put this “housing crisis” to rest. The way this city operates is absurd. Who the hell cares about a shadow on union square? Who the hell cares about building 1,000 ft+ buildings in downtown??? If you want more housing stick’em downtown where all the other transplants are. The citizens need to step up and start preserving the historic character of the neighborhoods.

  18. I’m all for any smart, attractive, quality development in the Richmond. There are so many buildings here that should probably be torn down and redeveloped into mixed use housing. I’m really looking forward to them upzoning Geart after the BRT is done and breathing some life into this neighborhood so long as it is done with careful thought and planning.

    I for one am excited for Western San Francisco awakening to the changing dynamic of the city and the potential to spruce up some older hoods that could use it. If it means starting with this theatre that apparently no one visits anyway, then so be it. Feels like a good path forward to me !

  19. Hate to see something like that go. But come on. No one goes to the movies anymore. Not enough to sustain a business in this expensive city. i just wish these establishments didn’t remain empty. It’s empty on this side of park presidio. It’s pumping in the inner Richmond. The inner is becoming much more exciting with eclectic shops and eatery. I would like to see something happening here. Kinda like a pizzetta/Angelinas vibe. We need a decent grocery, butcher, Mexican food, book store. Things geared to families. But what’s going on? A pot club, empty store fronts and the Alexandria still looks like crap. Come on. If there is more housing, then hopefully something more promising will arise.

  20. Progress stops for no one. Movie theaters unless they hit a specific demographic are not profitable. Would love to see this site developed as mixed use and bring up the level of housing in Central Richmond. If his royal excellency King Mar eased up on his hate for multinationals, the pot stores would go away and be filled with stores like they have in Laurel Village and Marina. God forbid is a Starbucks was ever to appear on Clement Street!

  21. HOW MANY OF YOU have been to the 4 Star? Ever? HOW MANY OF YOU have ever operated a movie theater? HINT: Gary Meyer, formerly of Landmark Theaters, ran the Balboa Theater for 10 years without taking a penny in pay just in order to keep the theater in operation. He’d have liked to have made some money on the operation, but didn’t. Now, the only way to keep the Balboa open is to run it as a non-profit. MOVIE THEATERS ARE HARD TO RUN. No one in their right mind would buy the 4 Star property in order to run a movie theater.

  22. @Franz, you really believe this neighborhood would be better off full of Gap stores, Starbucks, $40 breakfast eateries and with ‘Marina moms’ buzzing around in gaggles? I’ve never met so many clueless and self-centered people in one place as in the examples you cited: Laurel Village and the Marina. Is that what all of San Francisco is destined to become?? Doesn’t this city’s character mean anything? In reading comments here, one great idea that was suggested was yes, build housing and keep the theatre (as a landmark?? Because it IS a landmark). I have supported this theatre regularly, funky as it is, and love the place. I shop a lot on Clement. However, nothing my family and I do seems to matter toward preserving our neighborhood’s character.

  23. The word “Landmark” gets over used and thrown around way too much these days. It just has no meaning. The 4 Star is not the Golden Gate bridge, Coit Tower or the Ferry Building. It was one of many local theaters that has past its used by date.
    @Noel – Those mothers that you so unjustly hate are exactly that, mothers. SF need more families to grow within it. And King Mar’s education and neighborhood retail mix programs are killing it. You may not want a Gap or Starbucks in the Richmond, but guess what. We live in the USA. It allows the market to determine what stores thrive and fail. And in this case, the Richmond has voted with their wallets and said “the 4Star is not wanted”.

  24. This is sad news. We live around the corner, buy the movie pass, and have always chosen the 4 Star over the big box theaters whenever possible.

  25. I love the 4 Star. I will be sad to see it go. It was my favorite place to see HK movies 20 years ago, and it is still a fun place to see a flick every now and again. Movies used to be an event, and going to the 4 Star with your buddies was always much more exciting then parking your ass in front of your TV (or, now, computer screen).

    But if I’m honest, it’s probably time for it to go. When Frank Lee sold it in 2004, I had pretty much said my goodbyes at that point. 1913? It’s had a good long run. I’m really sad that it’s finally going away, but I’m also grown up enough to realize that nothing lasts forever. Especially movie theaters. If we’re able to keep the Balboa going it’ll be a freakin miracle.

    I too hate that we’re becoming (or have become) a boutique city for the rich. But that is the result of a much larger issue. Sometimes practicality trumps “character” and unfortunately I think this is an example of that.

  26. Sad to see it go. I agree with the idea that the building should be preserved as a landmark. I hope someone (outsidelands.org?) puts that forth to the Historic Preservation society (http://goo.gl/ptg3L2)…I’d be fine with building the residences above, even if the theatre has to leave and is converted into some form of new retail experience.

  27. To come back to the very first poster – who claims the neighborhood is being gutted (he uses a cruder word) – I have to say, I really wonder what he is talking about. I have lived in this neighborhood my entire life and honestly, basically nothing has changed. I mean, I am really hard pressed to note anything significant at all that has changed about this particular neighborhood (it’s different across town, of course). We have lost the theaters but that’s really about it! Restaurants come and go, but an astonishing number remain. If anything, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more change. I don’t covet what’s going on in the Inner Richmond, but wouldn’t mind it either. My really big complaint is with cheap quality stuff – housing, signage, stuff like that. I wish there was a little more scrutiny given to projects before they went up. It could be that the worst of this is behind us, though. By the way, why are ballplayers always looking to the sky every time they catch a pop up? I mean did God intervene and help them catch that ball – is that what’s going on? As much as Pablo was an important player, he was guilty of a lot of this and it made me cringe, too.

  28. A lot of thought by a lot of people on this subject. Since I studied planning in school and worked in the field a long time ago…I could write a book on the subject. I have lived in the Richmond since 1987. My comments are as follows:

    The subject is very complicated and to intertwined to do it justice here. But, in essence zoning is a 2 edged sword. Until about 1930 there was no real zoning (See Village Of Euclid V. Amber Realty (1926)) and cities grew organically as supply and demand tied to hit a balance point. The large apartment buildings, beautiful I may add, just West of Van ness and on many corners in the Richmond District that were built in the 1920 and early 1930 were in response to the demand. There were houses on large lots on them before those were built. The same thing happened on 5th Ave. in NYC.

    Zoning originally was envisioned as a way to keep someone from running a slaughter house next to homes, or a foundry belching smoke next to homes.

    But like anything else in government, it ran amuck. Today it is strictly a tool of people with money (power) to make them more powerful.

    San Francisco can never again be affordable. Why? Because we have property that has inflated due to the constrictions on supply due to zoning.

    Even if the BOS decided to open up zoning and allow the market to supply all the housing it needed to meet supply, it would never be allowed to happen.

    If supply floated up to met demand every parcel in the city would be forced into one of two things. One, their property as rent would drop like a lead brick as supply equilibrium forced the price per square foot way down. Your choice would be to tale only about 30% of what you were getting or sell to developers.

    Those with homes would find that their homes would drop in value as alternatives in higher density buildings at much cheaper prices would be available. Your choice would be to sit on a mortgage that was underwater or get together with neighbors to form a big lot and sell to high density developers.

    Bankers and the secondary mortgage markets would reel if prices per foot dropped as supply ramped up, in fact, they would do anything to see that this never happened as they worried about their portfolios.

    So we have the distortion that we see today in the local markets. Places like the 4-star and Alexandria have property that is so valuable that people want to make that gain in the rigged system.

    As an aside to the comment about the free market and theaters. The Alexandria was making a profit. The UA figured out that if they closed it and forced everyone to the big multi-plex that they could make even more money. Less staff to screen ratio’s. Of course that “forcing” is what happens when you have a monopoly like you do in the move house business.

    The zoning and distorted market we have created will by design create a civic equivalent of a mono culture in housing and businesses in San Francisco. The quaint shops, the little odd ball businesses, will not survive.

    I know several small restaurant owners that have said flat out that the economics of SF have evolved to the point that they cannot run a restaurant in the “middle tier” anymore. The economics just don’t work.

    As long as there is a population increase in the USA, a demand for the so-called central city experience, and a lack of any new central cities…we are doomed to see a mono culture version of San Francisco in a generation.

  29. The parking lot a few doors west was on the market recently. What ever happened to that lot?

  30. The Lee Family owns the property. The “Lida Yuk Sim Wong’ listed as the owner in city property records is Frank Lee’s wife. (under her maiden name)

  31. @Andy – It was bought by (according to the source) Chinese – not sure if he meant Chinese nationals or what.

  32. 4-Star indeed is a fairly shoddy facility, but it’s still nice having a movie theatre in the hood. What is the story on the Alexandria–will that ever become anything more than blight? Preferable to knocking out the 4-star would be to upgrade the facilities.

    Sure hope any new development of the Four Star will not doom the produce market next door.

  33. The Richmond (especially the outer) has so many more problems than the onesie/twosie loss of a business. Crime and trash are the most pressing, I feel. My house was ransacked and robbed in April after 22 years of living there. It disgusts me that our neighborhood is so full of litter. Blowing garbage on every street, the median strips on Geary cluttered with trash. Go to some other major cities in this country. You barely see a scrap of paper. What is wrong with us?? Also, as long as the city is awash in money, why not bring back weekly street cleaning? I’m sorry about the 4star but the last time I went to a movie there I had to sit on a folding chair in the back row. Next on the chopping block should be that nasty auto repair lot on the northeast corner of Clement and 32nd. Talk about an eyesore!

  34. @Adriana: The repair lot used to be a gas station, which is probably why it hasn’t been reutilized yet. They have to take the tanks out of the ground and see that it’s safe, etc. As for the trash, please join me in using the 311 app in our neighborhood. I am using it constantly, as I’m very concerned about the same things you bring up. The good thing is – they come out extremely quickly (like, a few hours) if you do go ahead and report things like street trash, dumping. If you do get it, be sure you get the correct one, since there used to be two versions, and only one worked.

  35. The “change” we are witnessing is NOT the way of the world. It’s the way of American capitalism. Those condoning it are doing so due to Stockholm syndrome, or because they are the ones profiting.

  36. We don’t have many movie theaters left in this neighborhood and all we have left is Balboa Theater and 4 Star Theater. Lets preserve the last two.

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