The Crown Theatre

2555 Mission St. | map |  


Opened: It opened as the Wigwam Theatre July 24, 1913 with vaudeville and films. The cornerstone for the building had been laid New Year's Eve 1912 by mayor James Rolph, Jr. Joe Bauer and Ralph Pincus were the proprietors. This pre-opening photo is from the Jack Tillmany collection. A smaller version of it is on the San Francisco Public Library website

This was a replacement for an earlier Wigwam Theatre on the same site that had opened in 1907. The building is on the east side of the street between 21st and 22nd. It's right across the street from the New Mission.



This item announcing the upcoming opening appearing in the June 14, 1913 San Francisco Dramatic Review. At the time they were expecting a July 3 debut but didn't make it. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for finding the illustration on the Lantern Media History Digital Library site.



The Wigwam's opening ad. Thanks to contributor Comfortably Cool for posting it on the Cinema Treasures page about the theatre.



A news account of the theatre's opening. Again thanks to Mr. Comfortably Cool for finding it.

Architect: William H. Crim. He was later involved (with G. Albert Lansburgh) in the design of the nearby El Capitan. Cinema Treasures researcher Joe Vogel notes that the January 1913 issue of The Architect and Engineer of California reported that Crim had done the plans for the theatre. F. Frederic Amandes did a $40,000 remodel in 1935 for Fox West Coast. Vogel found a mention that he had done the plans in the March issue of Architect and Engineer.

Seating: 1,394

Stage specifications:
Proscenium width: 30'
Stage depth: 25'
Stage wall to wall: 74'
Grid height: 60'
Depth of "one": 12'
Sets of lines: 60
Number of dressing rooms: 8, 2 at stage level.
Orchestra size: 7
Power: AC only

The stage data comes from the 1919 edition of "Vaudeville Trails Thru the West." It's on Internet Archive. Thanks to Mike Hume/Historic Theatre Photography for spotting it. The book notes they were running split weeks with new shows Sundays and Thursdays. It was a schedule of 3 shows daily with 4 on Saturdays and Sundays.

It's unknown how long vaudeville lasted at the Wigwam. Or when it got more risque. The initial proprietor, Joe Bauer, later boasted that between 1922 and 1925 he was running the only girly show in San Francisco. Golden State Theatres took over the operation in 1925, keeping the Wigwam name.



The article about the sale appearing on page 12 of the January 1, 1925 Chronicle. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for finding it on Newsbank.



Appearing along with the films, the Merrymakers were the house revue company in 1928. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for finding this June 4, 1928 Chronicle article on Newsbank. 



The theatre got a remodel and reopened as the New Rialto on February 1, 1930, still under Golden State management. Jack found this mention in a January1930 issue of Motion Picture News. In 1928-1929 Golden State had failed with their Rialto Theatre at Mission and Rolph. Evidently they liked the name so they moved it down where the action was.



The February 3, 1930 issue of the Examiner ran this story about the renamed theatre. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for locating it. He notes that there seems to be no mention of the reopening in the Chronicle.



!n 1932 Golden State dropped the house and it was acquired by Fox West Coast. The transfer was noted in the July 26, 1932 issue of Film Daily. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for finding the item.

The March 1935 issue of Architect and Engineer noted that F. Frederic Amandes had drawn up plans for a $40,000 remodel. Thanks to Joe Vogel for finding that item.



A detail from the plans by F. Frederic Amandes for the remodel. The plans, dated February 23, 1935, are in the Gary Parks collection. He notes: "This longitudinal section shows the new sloping ceiling of the auditorium. They ripped out the original and did it all new. They even gouged out the box seats, organ chambers and original proscenium, and made a new one further back onto the old vaudeville stage. A new stage lighting board is shown on one floor plan, so clearly, the new, shallower stage was meant to be usable."



A longitudinal section of the rear of the auditorium and the all new lobby and mezzanine. Gary comments: "Note that original Beaux-Arts cornicework is shown as remaining on the facade. It looks like the exterior just got a modified marquee and an all new tiled exterior ticket lobby."



A detail of the auditorium. Gary notes: "This shows the ornamental deco style plaster. Note the vertical dotted line to left of the decoration. This is where proscenium used to be."



A proscenium elevation and, as Gary notes, "some exciting restroom details."



The lower right corner of one of the sheets. Gary notes: "We're looking at the Southeast corner of the theatre's stage. Mainly I wanted to include Amandes's name and address." Many thanks, Gary!

The June 8, 1935 issue of Motion Picture Herald mentioned the reopening by Fox West Coast. The issue is on Internet Archive. Up until the the end of its days, the vertical still said "New" on top. Jack notes that their last Chronicle ad on September 15, 1947 still had it listed as the New Rialto.



In 1947 it got a new facade and became the Crown Theatre with a reopening on October 17. At that time Golden State Theatres was back as the operator. Thanks to Mike Rivest on Cinema Treasures for the opening ad.

Jack Tillmany comments: "I went there once as the New Rialto, then often as the Crown, starting in 1949-1950, and later during the 'Beach Party' / 'Hercules in the Valley of Woe' days of the 1960s, up to 1971 (Elvis Presley in 'Clambake'). That was the sort of thing they seemed to play most, along with all the horror and sci-fi schlock. Nothing about the interior impressed me, one way or the other. To me, it was just the usual thing, the staircase up to the mezzanine; comfy loges; decent CinemaScope. Downstairs, the push-back stairs were the trendy feature, great if somebody was crossing in front of you, not so great for whoever was sitting in back of you. My feet did not stick to the floor."

Maureen Price notes: "During the summer in the 50 and 60's it used to run matinees for the kids. And at one time you could get in for three 7-UP bottle caps. It had a Karamel Korn shop next door and kids would stop there first before they got their tickets to get a a box of Karamel Korn."

The theatre became the Cine Latino on July 3, 1974.

Closing: 1987

Status: It's a skeleton. Everything got stripped off the steel frame and it has been that way for years. The building has been owned since the late 1990s by Vera Cort, who also owns the nearby Tower Theatre and many other properties. The project was announced as a health club with a restaurant and other retail also on the ground floor. Cort started doing demolition in 2012 and by 2013 the facade was off the building, work that exceeded the scope allowed by the permit. The city later red-tagged the project and suspended the permits.

For his March 2018 SF Weekly story "Seemingly Abandoned Mission Building Actually Under Construction," Joe Kukura talked to the architect: 

"'There has actually been construction going on for a long time on this property,' says project architect Charles Hemminger. 'Yes, the current permit is temporarily on hold, while the S.F. Planning Department determines how they want to proceed.' ...The property has eight building permits currently suspended, but Hemminger is optimistic they’ll all be restored in one fell swoop."

Elizabeth Creely, in "The tales of two once-grand San Francisco theaters diverge," her August 2018 story for Mission Local, notes that the City Planning Department has determined that the demolition of the facade and the iconic sphinx atop the theatre's vertical was illegal. She adds:

"The department has ordered Cort to stop all work on the building and the demolition that left the facade looking like an undistinguished hulk is now being investigated by the City Attorney’s office. Cort and her architect argue that the demolition occurred before the city designated the building as historic, while the city says the scope work onsite went beyond that allowed by Cort’s permit."

The building had been deemed eligible for inclusion in the California Register of Historic Resources in 2010. It's unknown if it had also been declared a City landmark. Creely goes on to note that Hemminger is ready to proceed after all the fines are paid and work resumes. He's drawn up plans for a reconstruction of the facade, including something resembling the Crown's vertical sign.


More exterior views:


A look north on Mission from 22nd St in 1918 from the scrapbooks of H.H. Dobbin. The building to our left would become (or was then?) the Mission Market. Down the block on the left is the New Mission Theatre (1916), across the street is the Wigwam. The photo is in the collection of the California State Library. Thanks to Maureen Price for posting the view on the Facebook page San Francisco Remembered.



A c.1925 photo from the Jack Tillmany collection with the theatre still running vaudeville as the Wigwam. Jack notes that way down the street there's no vertical yet on the Majestic but there's a glimpse of an early one across the street on the Majestic Department Store. He adds about the vehicle: "That's a Jitney Bus, a fixture on Mission Street as an alternative to the slower, over-crowded streetcars during the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s."



A Jack Tillmany collection photo taken in October 1932 with the theatre then running as a film house called the New Rialto advertising "2 Big Features To Day." A wider version of the same shot can be seen on an Open SF History Project page, courtesy of a private collector. A detail from the photo appears on page 77 of Jack's Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres Of San Francisco." The page with the photo is included in the book's preview on Google Books



An October 14, 1932 photo looking south on Mission. On the right it's a last look at the marquee of the New Mission before the Timothy Pfleuger remodel. The photo appears on an Open SF History Project page.



A terrific 1936 panorama of the street that was discovered by Jack Tillmany. In the foreground are the Majestic Theatre on the left (later to become the Tower) and the Majestic Furniture Co. across the street. In the distance are the New Rialto and the New Mission.


A look south in mid-July 1936 during some track work. The Rialto has acquired a new trapezoidal marquee. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for this detail from a larger photo.



Looking north during the last week of July 1936. Up the street on the right are the vertical signs for the Majestic and the El Capitan. It's a photo from the Jack Tillmany collection.

A version of the photo appears on a  Found SF page devoted to the area around 22nd and Mission, where it's credited to the SFMTA. The San Franciso Public Library has a smaller, more cropped version of this on their website. The photo also appears, along with many other vintage shots, on a 2009 Burrito Justice post "History Theatre -- Win Some, Lose Some."



Another view north on Mission St. in 1936 with the Rialto on the right and the New Mission on the left. The photo is in the SFMTA Photo Archive collection on Flickr.  



A closer look at the Rialto's deco marquee. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for this 1938 photo, one appearing in his Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres of San Francisco." It's on page 81, included in the book's preview that can be seen on Google Books. Jack comments: "Ten-O-Win! One of my favorites."



A 1944 look north on Mission from 22nd. It's a photo on the San Francisco Public Library website. It also appears, along with many other vintage shots, on a 2009 Burrito Justice post "History Theatre -- Win Some, Lose Some." Michael Scripps also had it on the Facebook page San Francisco Remembered.



A late 40s look north on Mission from the Open SF History Project. The theatre got a new facade and reopened as the Crown on October 17, 1947. Thanks to Eric Reimann for finding it in the collection. He added it as a comment to his post of a 1936 view on the BAHT Facebook page.



A January 1963 photo by Jack Tillmany. Thanks to Matt Spero for the color correction work. 



This August 12, 1964 photo by Alan J. Canterbury is in the collection of the San Francisco Public Library.  Thanks to Jack Tillmany for this larger version of it.



Looking north on Mission in 1966 with the Crown on the right. It's a Chuck Gould photo from a Found SF page about the 22nd & Mission neighborhood.



This shot from the same moment in 1966 as the previous photo appeared as a comment by Jimmy Alfaro to a New Mission Theatre photo posted on San Francisco Remembered by Isabella Acuña.



A 1969 photo from the Jack Tillmany collection. Down the street beyond the Tower we get views of the  Crown and the New Mission.



A 1972 photo by Tom Gray from the Jack Tillmany collection. He comments: "This one is interesting because the theatre had gone Spanish-language, but not yet changed its name. Meantime paint on the north wall has been washed away and reveals its former New Rialto identity."



A mid-70s look south from 21st with two giant marquees facing off. Thanks to Maria Iclea Kava for the post on San Francisco Remembered.



A rare shot with the Cine Latino's vertical lit. It's a c.1975 photo by Tom Gray from the Jack Tillmany collection.



A 1982 photo by Tom Gray that's in the Jack Tillmany collection.



A 1985 photo by Tom Gray that's in the Jack Tillmany collection. 



A 1985 photo from American Classic Images.Note that sphinx atop the vertical.


 
A 2009 photo by Anomalous_A of the Crown and its buddy across the street, the New Mission. Here a number of "windows" had been punched into the facade but it was still basically intact. The image appears in the 226 photo Mission District SF 2007-2009 album on Flickr. The theatre was supposedly getting turned into a gym.

Gary Parks comments: "The windows punched into the facade at this stage of the 'deconstruction' were simply the reopening of the original arched window openings. I was hoping they'd stop at that, but they didn't."  



Another 2009 view of the stalled construction from Anomalous_A on Flickr.



Thanks to Robert Muller for this shot of the Crown when it still had its facade and the New Mission pre-restoration. Robert added the photo as a comment to a 1980 photo of the Crown on the BAHT Facebook page.



A July 2012 shot of scaffolding up and the facade coming down, work that was not covered under the building's permit. Thanks to Elizabeth Creely for the photo, one included with "The tales of two once-grand San Francisco theaters diverge," her August 2018 story on the site Mission Local. 



A 2013 look north with the Giant Value store this side of the New Mission gone and the Crown stripped down to a skeleton and abandoned. Thanks to Dashiell Merrick-Kamm for posting the Chriss Carlson photo on the Facebook page San Francisco Remembered. It's from a Found SF page about the 22nd & Mission neighborhood.



A December 2014 view. Well, there's not much left of the former Crown/Rialto/Cine Latino except some of the steel frame and several concrete walls. Photo: Bill Counter

 

A look at the remains of the stagehouse of the Crown in December 2014. Not sure how anyone would have loaded a show into this one -- the rear of the building is not very accessible. Is that black rectangle the outline of the loading door? Photo: Bill Counter


There's some of the original steel left but that's about it. Thanks to Bob Ristelhueber for his July 2015 photo on the BAHT Facebook page.



Not much progress progress.  Photo: Bill Counter - December 2015



A closer view of the ruins. That's the soffit of the New Mission's marquee at the top of the image. Photo: Bill Counter - December 2015



The structure in March 2018. Photo: Google Maps 

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 Elizabeth Creely's "The tales of two once-grand San Francisco theaters diverge," an August 2018 story on the site Mission Local. 

SF Weekly ran a March 2018 story about the endless delays redeveloping the property. "Seemingly Abandoned Mission Building Actually Under Construction" gives you the story. Cinema Tour has a page about the theatre. 

Cinema Treasures has a page on the theatre, which they list as the Cine Latino. The comments in 2006 about the various Wigwams by a grandson of Joe Bauer going by the handle "poroos":

 "...My maternal grandfather, Joe Bauer, tacked up the sign for the Hotel Burbank (sunk all his dough into it) on April 17th, 1906. On April 18th the earthquake didn’t get him but the fire did. He had four $5 gold pieces left. With one $5 gold piece he bought, along with two partners, a teepee-shaped tent that they set up in GG Park and charged 5c a show for any entertainment they could bring in. They called it The Wigwam. GG Park had 10,000+ refugees from the quake/fire camped out there and they had nothing to divert them from their misery until the Wigwam came along.

"This venture was successful and Joe Bauer bought out his partners and put up a bigger tent, another Wigwam 'Theater.' This was even more successful and he then found land in the Mission and put up the first Wigwam Theater, built entirely of wood. Later, in about 1913, he put up the building that stands there now. He was a successful vaudeville theater operator and I have letters from the likes of Sid Grauman (Grauman’s Chinese in L.A.) and other west coast theater magnates asking JB to join their chain. He never did.

One of the vaudevillians he gave a break to was a young kid by the name of Asa Yolson who made something of a name for himself later by the name of Al Jolson. Jolson always played the Wigwam when he was in town. I have old registers with Jolson’s signature when he signed for his pay as all who played the Wigwam were required to do.

Joe Bauer sold the theater in 1925 and later built apartment houses on Nob Hill (wish we still had those!!) including Hillgate Manor on Taylor and Jackson that has the only private cable car turntable which is still used to turn cars in the parking garage. I lived in the Mission all during the 90s and called the Crown theater owner several times to ask for a walkthrough. He always declined due to 'insurance issues.' Would love to see the old Wigwam one day. You can still read the original sign from the back, looking from Capp St."  



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