The Gateway Cinema

215 Jackson St. | map |


Opened: November 15, 1967 on the street level of the then freshly-built Golden Gateway Center apartment and shopping complex. The theatre is on the south side of the street between Battery and Front. The photo from the Jack Tillmany collection is of a line during the 1974 engagement of "Robin Hood." Are you in the photo?

Seating: 444

It was initially operated by Edward and Roslyn Landberg, who also operated the Berkeley Cinema Guild on Telegraph Avenue and the Cinema on Shattuck Avenue. They had obtained the USA rights to the Japanese epic "Chushingura," which had already proven popular in a record shattering ten month run in Berkeley and wisely chose this to be their opening attraction at the Gateway.

The booth equipment included Simplex E-7s and Peerless Magnarcs. Sightlines at the flat-floored theatre were an initial problem, later corrected by adding platforming at the rear of the house.

As things turned out, the Landbergs divorced and divided up the theatres, Edward continuing to operate the Berkeley sites, and Roslyn taking over the Gateway, but there was never another "Chushingura" and the Gateway, burdened with an unfamiliar location, a frustrating lack of public transportation, and an inconsistent booking policy, failed to find its audience.

In December 1970, Jack Tillmany entered into a business partnership with Roslyn Landberg, and took over operational control of the Gateway, inaugurating his own, at that time still pioneering, policy of revival cinema. Tillmany felt that, like himself, there was a potential audience of younger persons whose interest in primarily domestic vintage films was strong enough that they would be willing to support a venue that offered uncut 35mm prints, projected in the correct aspect ratio, of films which, by that time, were only to be seen in cut and mutilated form, with frequent commercial interruptions, often in the wee small hours of the morning, on local television.

After about 2 years of trial and error, the concept began to catch on, and by mid-decade, several thousand film enthusiasts from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, the majority of whom were not yet born when the Gateway's most popular films were first made, congregated nightly at the Jackson Street venue. Evergreens like "Gone with the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "The Thin Man," "Casablanca," "The Maltese Falcon," "It Happened One Night" and "His Girl Friday" never failed to attract sellout crowds.

Leading the popularity list was MGM's "San Francisco" (1936) with Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy who faced and survived the devastation of MGM's realistically recreated earthquake and fire of 1906, and in which Jeanette MacDonald introduced the song which has since become San Francisco's anthem. Along with a variety of rare historical material including Thomas Edison's 1906 newsreel footage showing the ruins of the earthquake, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and 1943 color footage of the four track Market Street and Municipal Railway trolley systems on Market Street, selected from Tillmany's personal collection, this program became an annual event each and every April, on the anniversary of the infamous event.



The kiosk in front of the theatre. Note the attached bin holding copies of the current calendar, a customer must. It's a Jack Tillmany photo.



Tim Phillips, a friend of Tillmany's, dressed up in a gorilla suit and wandered the city to promote "King Kong" in September 1973. Here he's working a cable car.



Phillips handing out Gateway calendars at the Vaillancourt Fountain in September 1973.

Without a doubt, the Gateway's finest hour occurred in the fall of 1974 when Tillmany, unable to locate an acceptable color print of WB's "Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), subsidized a new IB Technicolor transfer, freshly struck in England from the original separation negatives. Sellout crowds enthusiastically responded for three capacity weeks, and similar response took place as the lone print wound its way back and forth across the USA in similar revival venues.




Another photo taken by Jack Tillmany during the 1974 "Robin Hood" engagement.



Jack Tillmany viewing his display case advertising "Robin Hood" and "Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

Following the overwhelming success of "It Happened One Night" (1934) and "His Girl Friday" (1939) at the Gateway's Christmas program in December 1974, Columbia Pictures inaugurated their Columbia Classics sub-division whereby fresh 35mm prints of titles chosen by revival venues such as Tillmany's, which had since sprung up all over the USA, were made available to whoever chose to put up the required guarantee in advance, and so a library of vintage titles was built up, chosen by the very exhibitors who wished to show them.



Tillmany's display of original vintage 3-Sheets, from his personal collection, which greeted visitors on the south side of the lobby during his Columbia Pictures festival.

At the very bottom of the photo, the Gateway's 1974 admission and snack bar prices can be seen: General Admission: $3.00; Membership Discount: $2.00; Coca Cola, Orange, Fresca: .25 and .50; Popcorn: .35 (plain), .50 (butter), .75 (large butter). So one single green engraving of President Lincoln smiling back at you from the face of a $5 bill could purchase two discount admissions, with one dollar change for 2 cokes, and a shared buttered popcorn. Gourmet Deli style sandwiches were also provided by the Wine & Cheese Factory next door.



The poster case on the north side of the lobby which faced the poster display seen in the photo above. Both photos are from the Jack Tillmany collection.

Correct aspect ratio presentation had always been a personal fixation of Tillmany's, and so, while vintage films were of course projected in their original 4:3 format, the Gateway could also adequately handle CinemaScope and Panavision, with no cropped sides, no dropped top, if and when called for by "Lawrence of Arabia," "Rose Marie " (Ann Blythe version), "Sweet Charity," "Cleopatra" (Elizabeth Taylor version), or any of their other wide screen siblings.

Jack discusses the booking of "Word Is Out" in 1977: "It was on TCM in June 2020 with an intelligent introduction by Dave Karger and a guest host. It was a strange feeling hearing them talk about it like a 'historical moment' (which indeed it was) when it seems like only yesterday. Peter Adair was looking for a long run venue and I made a 6-week, 4-wall deal with him for the Gateway, where it opened Friday 2 December 1977, after its SF premiere Thursday evening 1 December 1977 at the Castro, and agreed to help him with the promotion, which he knew nothing about. They even bought advertising space on the backs of Muni buses. Of course I kept the snack bar income, so the more admissions we sold, the more popcorn. 

"We even sold T-shirts at the snack bar, and were always running out of 'small' because the guys wanted them as tight as they could get them, and 'large' and 'extra large' because that's the size the women needed. Nobody ever wanted a 'medium.' It was like a 3-ring circus, with nothing but 100% positive vibes, and lots of return customers. Yes, we even sold bumper stickers and I forget what else. Adair's group provided a 'signer' who stood on a little platform just to the left of the screen, and interpreted it for the hearing impaired. Everybody clapped along with that hot musical number by Buena Vista. Lots of tears too. Obviously reached plenty deep in many cases. 

"I don't remember the exact numbers, but I know the first week topped $10,000, with lines around the block, 2 shows per evening and a midnight show Saturday. The thing just wouldn't quit, and we ended up running it 15 weeks, all the way into March 1978. Meantime the usual Gateway audience were grumbling, so I told them to go to the Richelieu; some did; some didn't; c'est la guerre. By the end of 15 weeks Mariposa Group was just barely grossing their 4-wall weekly rental figure, so I tried to convince them to move it over to the Richelieu where I offered them a much better deal at about half the price, and promised to help them to continue to promote the film. But they opted for a deal at the Lumiere, where it came and went in a couple weeks. Too bad. I bet I could have stretched it out indefinitely at the Richelieu. I think it may have returned to the Castro later on, but without the hoopla."



The Gateway screen masked for scope format presentation. It's a Jack Tillmany photo.

In June 1979 the King Tut Exhibit was in full swing at the De Young Museum, and Tillmany chose to offer an opposing view of vintage Egyptology with the premiere revival of Claudette Colbert in Cecil B. De Mille's "Cleopatra" (1934). The Sunday San Francisco Chronicle Datebook heralded the event with a front page announcement, and full page story inside, 45 years after the film was first released!



The June 1979 Chronicle article by Norman K. Dorn about the Gateway's booking of the Claudette Colbert version of "Cleopatra." As noted in the article, Elizabeth Taylor offered moviegoers her  version at the Gateway one week later.

In October 1980, feeling playful, and in need of something "special" to show for Halloween that might prove interesting enough to lure some of his patrons away from San Francisco's many other Halloween diversions, Tillmany came upon a clever idea and tossed it to John Stanley, the popular local radio and television personality, also a feature writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Stanley gave it a hearty thumbs up, and devoted a full page piece that said so well, in his own unique style, it has to be read in its entirety. Needless to say, the results were over the top, as over 1000 celebrants, many of them in costume, came and went, in and out, during that one memorable evening. A dedicated few made it from start to finish, others only stayed long enough to get a taste, have some popcorn, then get on to other fun and games.



The Chronicle article about the Gateway's Trailer Orgy. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for the clipping.

But all good times must come to an end. Ten years at hard labor was enough! Tillmany had done what he set out to do, and did it successfully. A new team of film enthusiasts had expressed an interest in taking over the Gateway, and Tillmany decided the time was right to bid a fond farewell, and devote his time and energy to other projects, including his operation of the Richelieu Cinema. The time was right, the price was right. Tillmany and his silent partner Roslyn Landberg sold out their interests to the new team; the deed was done, and in March 1981 a "Farewell to the Gateway" was arranged, a surprise feature film that Tillmany knew was high on everybody's want-to-see list, but which had thus far eluded commercial presentation because of legal complications, was shown, and the party ended.
 

 
Local columnist John Stark wrote a touching and personally felt farewell piece in the San Francisco Examiner that said it all.

The new operators chose to go the route of contemporary foreign and domestic independent films, and were enormously successful with their initial offering, "My Dinner with Andre." But lightning failed to strike twice, and they eventually sold out to other local entrepreneurs, such as Michaan and Landmark, who were also unable to inject the spark of life into the operation. It closed as a film venue September 22, 1996.

A year and a half later, like Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Gateway found new life under a new name as the Eureka Theatre, a home of the local Eureka Theatre Company. The house reopened March 20, 1998 with a staging of Carl Djerassi's "Menachem's Seed." 2 years later it also became the home of 42nd Street Moon, with the opening of a "musical celebration of movie musicals," titled "Jazz Up Your Lingerie!"



A look at the former film house as a legit venue. It's a Michael Short photo appearing with "A new era of resource sharing in Bay Area theaters," a May 2017 Chronicle article by Lily Janiak. 

In July 2017 42nd Street Moon took over management of the facility and now identifies it as "the Gateway Theatre formerly the Eureka Theatre." They're working on obtaining a long-term lease. So in its own way, it's come full circle. In addition to productions by 42nd St. Moon it's also home to Theatre Rhinoceros and SF ArtsEd.  

Phone: 515-255-8207  Website: http://42ndstmoon.org/gateway
 
Regarding the earlier history of the Eureka, Dennis Harvey comments: 
 
"In the 1980s Eureka Theatre Co. was in a converted warehouse-type space on 16th St. a few blocks below Mission. When they moved operations to the Gateway, they were still the Eureka in name and legal terms, but basically no one previously associated with that organization remained affiliated with it. 
 
"The saddest thing about the original Eureka is that it was more or less killed by 'Angels in America.' They commissioned that play, which was a hugely ambitious undertaking for them, and it sold out its entire premiere run. But when it became obvious the play was going to be a huge national/international phenomenon, the playwright basically blocked the Eureka from extending that initial run. 
 
"So the show that should have funded the Eureka's future instead wound up being a financial bloodbath (because its initial expenses were so large) they never recovered from. The playwright STILL doesn't give the Eureka (without which 'Angels' never would have existed) much credit. Yet I saw the subsequent, much bigger/starrier Mark Taper, Broadway and ACT productions--and the Eureka's was still the best of them."



Looking east on Jackson St. with the theatre's kiosk over on the right. Photo: Google Maps - 2016


As for Jack Tillmany, he's alive and well and living in Walnut Creek, has authored three books for the Arcadia Publishing Company, Theatres of San Francisco (2005), Theatres of Oakland, with Jennifer Dowling (2006), and Theatres of the San Francisco Peninsula, with Gary Lee Parks (2010), and has been duly documented in Lorri Ungaretti's Legendary Locals (cover & page attached) all of which you can pick up at amazon.com.



The cover of the Lorri Ungaretti book "Legendary Locals."



The page about Jack Tillmany in "Legendary Locals."


Jack on TV: On YouTube see a 5 minute KRON News Interview of Jack discussing his book "Theatres of San Francisco" with Jan Wahl. Also see a 15 minute 2007 Channel 5 "Eye on the Bay" program about theatres. Jack is on discussing Bay Area historic theatres following a segment about drive-ins. "Theatres of San Francisco" can be previewed on Google Books.

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