The Uptown Theatre

2101 Sutter St. | map |

Opened: March 18, 1907 as the New Alcazar, a replacement for the Alcazar Theatre on O'Farrell St. lost to the earthquake and fire. The location was the southwest corner of Sutter & Steiner, backing up to the Dreamland Rink, a location where Winterland would later be. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for the postcard from his collection.

Jack calls your attention to the little item atop the vertical which said "New" to correspond to the way the theatre was initially advertised. Note the split vertical -- a gap for the protruding tile roof. That big hulking building to the right is still there. It was built as the Bay Area Commandery of the Knights Templar.

Both the pre-fire theatre and new house were operated by Frederick Belasco, a brother of the more famous New York producer David. Frederick and his partners would later operate the Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles, a venue later called the Follies.

When a new Alcazar was built on O'Farrell St. in 1911 this theatre was renamed the Republic, running with that name until 1925. In 1926 it was called the Sutter. And then perhaps went dark.

It emerged as an atmospheric house called the Uptown after a 1930 remodel by Golden State Theatre Circuit.  The project was discussed in a February 28 Chronicle article where they admit using the foundation and walls of the Alcazar. They list a cost of $250,000. The reopening was March 1, 1930. It was covered that day in an article in the Chronicle. It's viewable on Newsbank.

The house got another remodel in 1937 with a complete change of look from the atmospheric style to a moderne hard top. Jack Tillmany comments: "A quick look thru the SF Chronicle reveals the last 1937 Uptown ad Sunday 9 May 1937 after which not a whisper until the re-opening promos the following September, so that must be when they shut down for the re-do, which seems to have immediately followed the Haight re-do by just a couple months, which makes sense. The September 17 Chronicle had an article about the reopening of the "newly remodeled" theatre.

Seating:  1,703 when it opened.  As the Uptown it was listed as having 1,425 seats.  Henry's Guide for 1907-08 lists it at 1,500.

Architects: The original building was designed by Archer & Corwin. Fabre & Hildebrand did the 1930 remodel. Gary Parks reports that Alexander Cantin designed a light-handed remodel in 1936 that was not executed. He also designed a total moderne remodel in 1937 that was executed. 

The stage specs are in the 1907-08 edition of Henry's Official Western Theatrical Guide. It's on Google Books. They note:

George H. Davis was the manager. The house had both gas and electric illumination. The proscenium was 34' wide x 30' high. The stage had a depth of 35 feet. Grid height was 65 feet. Wall to Wall was 80 feet.

A 1913 Sanborn real estate survey map with the theatre, here called the Republic, in the upper right. That's Sutter St. across the top of the image and Steiner St. down the right. In the upper center along Sutter is a house plus the Golden Gate Commandery Hall, a building used by a number of fraternal organizations. On the left at Sutter and Pierce, and extending down to Post St. along the bottom, is the Pavilion Rink, later known as the Winter Garden, opened in September 1906.

The National Theatre, also opened in 1906, is in the lower right at Post St. and Steiner. Just north of the National, and also behind it, was the Dreamland Rink, another 1906 building. The Dreamland and National properties were the later location of Winterland.

Thanks to John Freeman for locating the map and doing a scan from Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970, volume 3, sheet 277 via the San Francisco Public Library. He notes: "There was only one dwelling, but the rest of the entire block was taken up with some variation of entertainment or fraternal secrecy!"

The Uptown in the Movies: The theatre is seen 20 seconds into the Martin Scorsese film "The Last Waltz." We're on a Thanksgiving Day 1976 tour of the desolate Fillmore neighborhood before heading to Winterland, just around the corner from the Uptown. The opening sequence is on You Tube. Thanks to Stephen Stich for finding the clip.

Status: Demolished in the late 70s.

"Absolutely "Class A' Structure" The seating chart for the theatre c.1908. Thanks to Kevin Walsh for the find in a 1908 guidebook to the city. This and other seating charts were a post on the BAHT Facebook page.

The cover for the program for the week of April 19, 1909. The New Alcazar Stock Company was presenting "The Regeneration," a drama in four acts by Owen Kildare and Walter Hackett. The program, in the collection of the Museum of Performance and Design Performing Arts Library is on Calisphere.  

This November 1911 program is one of the last for the Alcazar at the Sutter St. location. In December 1911 they got their new house open at 260 O'Farrell, a block away from the original. The program, in the collection of the Museum of Performance and Design Performing Arts Library is on Calisphere. It's for the week of November 20, 1911 when famous American actor Burr McIntosh was brought in to perform with the Alcazar Players in "At Piney Ridge," a play of Tennessee life by David K. Higgins. 

Interior views: 

A look up the lobby stairs after the theatre got a remodel in 1930.  The photo appears along with a story about the project in the August 1931 issue of Architect and Engineer: "gay colors, jazzy patterns, bright patches of light and unusual details everywhere to interest and please the theatre patrons." It's on Internet Archive. The photo is also in the San Francisco Public Library collection, from Jack Tillmany. 

This lobby was totally gutted in the 1937 moderne renovation including new walls and stairs.

It didn't start out as an atmospheric. This was the look after the 1930 remodel by architects Fabre & Hildebrand. "...much attention has been given to sky and lighting effects. The camouflage of open sky, airy distances and the substantial character which has been given the construction of picturesque houses, which comprise the side walls of the theatre, has been achieved with much realism. The audience would seem to be seated in an open court surrounded by adjoining tile roofed structures with decorative balconies..."

The photo appears in the August 1931 issue of Architect and Engineer. The writer of the article evidently didn't know it was just a remodel. The photo is also in the San Francisco Public Library collection.

A lobby view after the moderne redo of 1937. The February 1943 Jack Tillmany collection photo is on the San Francisco Public Library website.  They give it an erroneous date of March 1930. 

Gary Parks comments: "Look at the Moderne light fixture on the ceiling. These were throughout the theatre. When the Uptown was closed, a young Allen Michaan snagged them. To this day, two of them hang from the ceiling in the Guild Theatre -- Menlo Park--which he embellished when he ran the house, and two were hung in the lobby of the Oaks, Berkeley, when he had that one. My friend Mark Santa Maria had another one."

The balcony lobby after the moderne redo. The 1943 photo is from the Jack Tillmany collection on the San Francisco Public Library website. 

The rear of the house in 1943. The photo is from the Jack Tillmany collection on the San Francisco Public Library website.  

A photo of the proscenium in 1943. It's a photo from the Jack Tillmany collection on the San Francisco Public Library website. 

More exterior views:

This 1907 construction view from the scrapbooks of Henry Hamilton Dobbin is in the California State Library collection, their item #01380810. Note several guys working on the swing-out sign. The vertical has yet to go up -- it's along the side of the building -- except for the "A" section which is out in front. Mr. Dobbin notes that it was a damp morning.

A 1907 pre-opening view on Calisphere from the Bancroft Library collection. That big hulk on the left is the stagehouse. The sliver of a building beyond is the first version of Dreamland Rink. Out of the frame farther left at the NW corner of Post and Steiner was Grauman's National Theatre, opening in 1906. The 1928 Dreamland/Winterland building would occupy both the site of the earlier roller rink as well as that of the National. Note the work happening on the vertical sign. Still need to get the "A" up there.

There's also a copy of the photo from the scrapbooks of Henry Hamilton Dobbin in the California State Library collection.

A June 1909 view of the theatre from Jack Tillmany, in the San Francisco Public Library collection. Florence Roberts is appearing in "Du Barry."

A look west on Sutter at Steiner in April 1916 from the SFMTA Archives. Here our theatre, on the left, is called the Republic. Later it would be called the Sutter before getting a big remodel in 1930 and ending up as the Uptown. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for this version of the photo. Bob Ristelhueber also had one on the BAHT Facebook page 

The vertical was redone when the theatre became the Sutter. Jack Tillmany has a photo of the Victory Theatre across the street after it became called the Sutter. It has a pre-1930 looking vertical that both Jack and Gary Parks think was hauled across the street when the Alcazar/Republic became the Uptown. 

A February 1943 photo of the theatre as the Uptown. They're running "Gentleman Jim" with Errol Flynn, released in November 1942. It's from Jack Tillmany in the San Francisco Public Library collection. 

A July 1, 1949 view of the theatre. It's a Jack Tillmany collection photo, appearing on p.103 of his Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres of San Francisco." It also makes an appearance on the Open SF History Project website.

This 1964 view of the theatre by Alan J. Canterbury is in the San Francisco Public Library collection. 

A look up Steiner past Winterland toward the Uptown and St. Dominic's Church on Bush St. It's a c.1968 Tom Gray photo in the Jack Tillmany collection.  

Open again in 1969 as Lloyd Downton's Uptown. The marquee reads "Underground Movies For Mature Swinging Adults" "New Sex Show Every Monday." It's a photo in the Jack Tillmany collection.  

A June 6, 1972 photo from George A. Dibble III on the Facebook page San Francisco Remembered. Thanks to Bob Ristelhueber for spotting it for the BAHT Facebook page. George comments: "Crowd for the 2nd Rolling Stone show lining up in front of the Uptown Theater, across from Winterland at Steiner & Sutter. I had just come out of the first show. Stevie Wonder was the warm up."

The blueprints: Gary Parks has four sets of prints in his collection. The first shows the original 1907 design.  

The second set from 1929 are the prints by Fabre and Hildebrand showing the remodel that turned it into the atmospheric house called the Uptown. Evidently the name emerged late in the process. Gary notes that the prints refer to the project as the Sutter, the name of the theatre at the time.

Sets three and four are by Alexander Cantin. The first, from 1936 dhows a "lighthanded" renovation with a moderne design scheme." This wasn't executed. On these plans we get the first look at the moderne tower and sign on the corner. Set number four was the total moderne renovation of 1937.

From set #1 - 1907

The corner tower. Gary comments: "Here, the Alcazar, which looks here like it was built, as far as I can tell. The blueprints I have are not always complete, for instance, this set has no front facade drawing, only the side facade."

A section. Gary: "A section looking toward proscenium, which is pretty typical, but look at the interesting caps on the upper boxes, and the Moorish detailing in the access passages."

From set #2 - 1929 - the atmospheric remodel

A Sutter St. Elevation. Gary comments: "So the remodel into the Uptown kept the entrance where it was, but removed the tile roofs from the towers, and replaced them--and much of the facade top, which Andalusian filagree. However--when we get to the "lighthanded" (1936) Version 1 of the  moderne remodel, you'll note that the Spanish detailing ended up more elaborate over the old entrance."

"Proscenium over-the-top in its Spanish ornament as any theatre of the period built in Los Angeles or Hollywood. The arched grille to the left of the proscenium (and the one on the house right side) are labeled as organ chambers on the plans. Whether they were filled with pipes, is not stated. There is an orchestra pit shown, but nothing specifically indicative of a console in the pit."

A sidewall elevation. Gary comments: "Note the plain pier immediately to the right of the organ grille. That's where the original Alcazar proscenium was!  In creating the Uptown, the stage sacrificed over half its depth in favor of more seats and a new orchestra pit.  A sign of the times.  Compare the sidewall ornamentation with the 1930 photo from Architect and Engineer."

From set #3 - the 1936 unexecuted "lighthanded" moderne renovation

A Sutter St. elevation. Gary comments: "Here's what Cantin planned at first. A totally new entrance, moved to the corner, with a tower and vertical much like what was actually built.  But much exterior ornament from 1930 remained, and much Interior ornament as well, with some alterations, mostly at the rear of the auditorium, to improve sightlines.  In some places, existing 1930 ornament was to be replicated or moved and reinstalled.

"To confuse us a little more, the Cantin "lighthanded" 1936 remodel concept shows ample 1920s exterior ornament as pre-existing...but  some of it doesn't match the stuff Fabre & Hildebrand's 1929 drawings show.  So--even their plans were partially altered (and I don't have those revision drawings) from what my F&H set shows."

A facade detail. Gary "Note how the simple mission style exterior of the original Alcazar design, with its single Carmel-Mission shaped grille, is still extant here."

A detail of the new tower and vertical proposed in 1936.

An auditorium section. Gary: "The drawings state that the interior walls and ornament to the left of what you see here are to remain -- the 1930 atmospheric detailing to be left alone.  But it's interesting to see how the back half of the auditorium was to retain that look, though some parts--including sections of the false buildings--were to be altered carefully."

From set #4 - the moderne remodel executed in 1937

Gary comments: "The sign tower--much like in the lighthanded earlier remodel plan, but with all Alcazar and earlier Uptown remnants consigned to oblivion."

A lobby floorplan. Note how different the stair configurations are in the 1930 and 1943 lobby photos higher on the page. Gary comments about the discrepancy: "They solve the question of the non-matching stairs one sees, when comparing the 1930 Spanish lobby with the later Moderne remodel. Mystery solved! So let it be written, so let it be done!  And lo, a whole new lobby was created.  And Mr. Cantin and his clients smiled upon what had been made.  And it was good."

The 1930 version of the lobby was completely gutted. The plans say "Remove all walls, stairs, plumbing, partitions..."

An auditorium sidewall elevation. Gary: "The interior, as the photos show. I could design stuff like this all day." Thanks, Gary!
More information: Jack Tillmany's Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres of San Francisco" can be previewed on Google Books. It's available from Amazon or your local bookseller.

See the Cinema Treasures and Cinema Tour pages on the theatre.  

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