This Sunday marks 90 years since The Balboa Theater opened in 1926. The theater was constructed by Samuel H. Levin, with the well-known Reid Brothers as the architects (Cliff House, Fairmount Hotel, Spreckels Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park, Alexandria Theater).
On opening day, Levin stated “In building theaters nearest the home it is my aim to provide entertainment for them of a standard worthy of family patronage. In the New Balboa, as in all my theaters, I seek to supply the comforts and intimate surroundings associated with the higher ideals of home life.” [outsidelands.org]
He called it the “New Balboa” because the original, also named Balboa Theater, opened at 1634 Ocean Avenue in 1922 in the area known then as Westwood Park.
The Levin family owned and operated our Balboa Theater from its opening until 2001, when management was handed over to Gary Meyer, a longtime movie consultant and aficionado. Despite independent theaters closing all over San Francisco, Meyer kept the Balboa going with solid programming and live events.
“I just can’t let another old theater close. This is an incredible neighborhood of family restaurants and businesses and our audiences appreciate the personalized attention we provide,” Meyer explained after taking over.
But the Balboa was not immune to economic forces and in the late 2000’s, it was looking like the Richmond District might lose another theater.
In late 2011, everyone exhaled a sign of relief when it was announced the theater would live on through a partnership with The San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation and a lease that was secured through 2024.
“It’s great to be able to save another of San Francisco’s last remaining neighborhood cinemas,” said Alfonso Felder, president of the SFNTF.
“Gary Meyer has done an incredible job keeping the Balboa going and providing the Richmond district with an exceptionally well programmed neighborhood theatre. We’re looking forward to working with Gary to establish a plan to keep the Balboa’s marquee lit for many more years.”
In 2012, Gary Meyer announced he would be stepping down, but thankfully, CinemaSF stepped in to take over management of the theater.
In their first letter to theater supporters, CinemaSF’s Adam Bergeron and Jaimi Holker, a husband and wife team who describe themselves as “dyed-in-the-wool movie buffs”, wrote “We will strive to provide you with movies and events you will love in an authentic and charming setting, and we may even have a few tricks up our sleeve as time goes on.”
Since the partnership with SFNTF and Cinema SF coming on board, the Balboa Theater has enjoyed many improvements including a restored blade marquee, new seats, a new HVAC system, and a digital projection system funded in large part by $101,000 in contributions from a Kickstarter campaign.
The theater is also showing more first-run movies like this year’s blockbuster Star Wars while continuing its fun, creative programming for the neigborhood like Popcorn Palace every Saturday for kids.
This Sunday, the Balboa Theater will celebrate their birthday with a Birthday Bash at 7pm featuring a screening of 1926’s “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp”, an American comedy silent film directed by Harry Edwards. Gary Meyer will host the event, and the movie will be accompanied by live piano.
In honor of the occasion, the city of San Francisco also declared Sunday, March 6th “Balboa Theater Day” this week.
Happy 90th Birthday, Balboa Theater! It’s been a long, wild ride but we’re sure glad you’re still here to help us make movie memories.