The Alhambra Theatre

2330 Polk St. | map | 


Opened: November 5, 1926. The photo by Gabriel Moulin from the collection of Steve Levin. This and five other Moulin photos also made an appearance in a 1927 issue of Pacific Coast Architect. The Alhambra is on the east side of the street between Green and Union.



The cover of the opening night's program. It's from the Jack Tillmany collection. The program featured photos of other theatres operated by the Nasser Bros. as well as those affiliated houses of Consolidated Theatres and T&D Jr. Enterprises. See five program pages down at the bottom of this page.

Architect: Timothy Pflueger of the firm Miller and Pflueger

The theatre was twinned in 1974 with a wall down the middle. Each of the narrow theatres got half the balcony. When Pacific Theatres and Disney untwinned the theatre in 1988 they installed 70mm equipment, restored the proscenium, and put in a smallish screen inside the arch.  

Seating: 1,625

Closed: 1998

Status: This Russian Hill neighborhood house is now a Crunch Fitness gym. Nearly all the decor is intact.



A June 1930 schedule for the Alhambra and the Royal. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for sharing the item from his collection.


The lobby: 


A look along the standee rail toward the house right side of the lobby The rail was later walled in to form a separate lobby. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926



The house right stairs. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926



The mezzanine.  Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926 



A mezzanine lounge area. That door on the right goes to the manager's office. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926



A 1943 lobby view by Ted Newman. It's a Jack Tillmany collection photo on the San Francisco Public Library website.



A 90s look at the lobby from Scott Neff on Cinema Tour. The photo is one of a set of 55 by Scott on the page.



The house right stairs. It's a 1997 photo by Ken Roe on Flickr, taken the year before the theatre closed.



A look down the length of the mezzanine level of the lobby in 1997. In the center of the photo note the the menu boards above the snackbar. It's a Ken Roe photo on Flickr.



A 2013 shot by Bob Ristelhueber of a peacock over the exit doors at the house left end of the lobby. It's part of an 11 photo set on the BAHT Facebook page. Thanks, Bob!



An urn on the landing up to the balcony. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013 


The auditorium:  


The rear of the main floor. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926 



A proscenium view. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926



A look from the centerline. Thanks to Maria Iclea Kava for posting the photo on the Facebook page Bagdad By The Bay. A smaller and somewhat darker version of the photo is in the San Francisco Public Library collection.



The great dome. The organ spoke through the ceiling.  Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926



The rear of the auditorium from onstage. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926



Up in the balcony. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926


 
A look down from the balcony in 1943. Note that we still have a usable orchestra pit. It's a Ted Newman photo from the Jack Tillmany collection now at the San Francisco Public Library.


A 1943 look at the dome. It's a Ted Newman photo from the Jack Tillmany collection on the San Francisco Public Library website.


A 1943 look at the rear of the auditorium. It's a Ted Newman photo from the Jack Tillmany collection on the San Francisco Public Library website.



This 1974 view across the auditorium by Clem Albers for the Chronicle was taken before the theatre got twinned. Note the curtain way out in front of the proscenium for the CinemaScope screen installation. The photo appeared with a Peter Hartlaub SF Gate story out September 12, 2015 called "Time Machine: 10 historic screenings we'd like to visit."

Jack Tillmany notes that the house had a great 'Scope installation that, of course, included 4 channel mag sound. When the theatre was untwinned it got 70mm equipment but a small screen. They opted to put it within the proscenium instead of out in front. 



A 1991 dome view by Gary Parks. He comments: "Yes, that Gary Parks guy laid on his back between rows of seats, with his Minolta camera resting steadily against his eyes, using 400 speed film--100% hand-held. I can't remember if I did a 1/2 second time exposure, or a 1 second time exposure, but it sure turned out great, and I wanted for years to see it published somewhere, and was elated when Therese Poletti had it occupy all of Page 50 in her book on Pflueger. She even considered it for the cover, but decided that the color pastel rendering from Pflueger's office of the El Rey should go on the cover, and I agreed (it's in the Mark Santa Maria Collection, having been acquired from Jack Naify). However, the silly editors insisted on putting the interior shot of the Castro on the cover......though the title is Art Deco San Francisco. Therese was not happy about that."



Thanks to Ken Roe for this photo taken in 1997, the year before closing. It's on Flickr.



A 1997 balcony view from Ken Roe on Flickr.



A main floor view of the space as a gym. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013


A house right view. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013



The view toward the Crunch gym's dome from the front of the house. The photo by Rebecca A. McBride is from the book by Ms. BcBride and Julie Lindow "Left in the Dark, Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres." This photo also appears on a 2010 Trouvaillesdujour blog post with nine other fine San Francisco theatre interior views by Ms. McBride. 



In the balcony looking out beyond the machines in what is now a Crunch gym. The photo by Rebecca A. McBride from "Left in the Dark, Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres" appears on a 2010 Trouvaillesdujour blog post with nine other fine San Francisco theatre interior views by Ms. McBride. There's more about the book on the "Left in the Dark" website. 



 A proscenium view through the machines. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013



Working hard up in the balcony. It's a photo by Lacy Atkins for the Chronicle from a 2011 Peter Hartlaub article, "New Life For Old Theatres," about the theatre's survival as a Crunch Fitness branch. 



The house right wall. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013



The house left wall. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013



A last look at the dome. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013


In the booth: 


A look at the booth after the equipment was removed following the 1998 closing. The amp rack was staying as the gym people wanted it. The photo is one of many by Norm Brown and Aaron Sisemore on a page about the theatre on the site Film-Tech.



More exterior views:


Thanks to the Open SF History Project for this 1926 pre-opening view. The photo is from the Emiliano Echeverria/Randolph Brandt Collection. There's a smaller version from Jack Tillmany that appears on the San Francisco Public Library website.



A 1926 marquee detail taken by Gabriel Moulin. Thanks to Maria Iclea Kava  for posting this and three other Alhambra photos on the Facebook page Bagdad By The Bay.



The boxoffice. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926


 
Looking south across the entrance. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926



A view north on Polk. Photo: Gabriel Moulin / Steve Levin Collection - 1926



A 1926 view south on Polk. Photo: Gabriel Moulin - Pacific Coast Architect - 1927. Thanks to Bob Ristelhueber for finding the set of photos from the magazine and posting them on the BAHT Facebook page.



A a bit of a disturbance in 1930. Labor troubles? Playing that week: "The Dawn Patrol."  The newspaper photo is in the San Francisco Public Library collection. The Library also has a photo of "Bomb used in attempt to destroy Alhambra Theater."



A 40s view north on Polk St. from the San Francisco Public Library collection.



A 1966 Joe Rosenthal photo for the Chronicle. It appeared with a March 2016 article by Bob Bragman on SF Gate: "A 100 year look at San Francisco marquees and theaters."



A February 1968 photo by Tom Gray that's in the Jack Tillmany collection.



Thanks to Jack Tillmany for this shot he took in 1971 when the house was still running as a single screen operation.  They're running "Five Easy Pieces" and "I Never Sang For My Father."



A 1974 Chronicle photo of the closed theatre by Clem Albers. It appeared with the 2011 Peter Hartlaub SF Gate article "San Francisco Movie Theaters Then and Now."



A February 1980 look at the theatre running as a twin. It's a Tom Gray photo from the Jack Tillmany collection.


Thanks to Jay Peterson for his 1991 photo. It was a post on the BAHT Facebook page.



A 2009 photo by Thomas Hawk appearing with "Neon Dreams: 16 old theater marquees around the Bay Area," a February 2018 article on Curbed SF.



A fine minaret detail from Jubilation Photography. Also see a marquee detail, a vertical sign view, and a lovely street view looking south



A look north on Polk from a 2011 Peter Hartlaub SF Gate article, "New Life For Old Theatres." It's a Lucy Atkins photo.



A signage detail. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013



A bit of the facade. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013



The south minaret. Photo: Bob Ristelhueber - BAHT Facebook page - 2013


Pages from the opening night souvenir program:







Other Alhambra theatres: An Alhambra theatre at 325 Bush St. had opened in the early 1870s. It was later called Maguire's New Theatre and the Bush St. Theatre. The Alhambra Theatre at Eddy & Jones was an 1898 vintage legit house. What ended up as the Esquire Theatre at 934 Market St. had been called the Alhambra in 1917 and 1918.

More information:  The Cinema Treasures page on the Alhambra has 30 photos of the theatre. See the Cinema Tour page for 55 photos including many interior views taken shortly before closing. Also see the Alhambra photos on the San Francisco Public Library website.

The Alhambra is one theatre that was covered in Peter Hartlaub's 2011 SF Gate article "New Life For Old Theaters." A 2015 SF Gate piece discussed the twinning of the theatre in 1974. A video is included that has shots of the auditorium with the screen out in front of the proscenium as it looked before the twinning. Thanks to William David French Jr. for spotting this one.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment