For Castro, it’s good to be 85

Construction began on Yankee Stadium, and the Hollywood Bowl opened. But in San Francisco, 1922 may best be remembered for the birth of another icon: The Castro Theatre.

The movie palace officially opened June 23, 1922, at a cost of$300,000. Today, the price tag would hover near $30 million. A three-day 85th anniversary soiree begins Friday to celebrate the landmark, which has morphed into a major character in The City’s dramatic story lines.

“The theater has gone through many stages in many eras through its 85 years,” says Don Nasser, who oversees operations of the Castro. “Today, it’s not only embraced by the [Castro] community, but by the city and also neighboring communities.

“Theaters aren’t built the way they used to be,” he adds. “The Castro just has its own architectural beauty, which is attractive to many people.”

It’s true. The only other place you’d find such a divine mix of Spanish, Moorish and Italian designs (with splashes of Art Deco) inside of a Spanish Cathedral-like setting would be, well, in the movies.

Actually, the Castro’s own story is full of plot twists.

Nasser’s father, Richard, was one of the original seven Nasser brothers who opened up a Nickelodeon dubbed The Liberty on the corner of 18th and Collingwood in 1908. One incarnation of the Castro would find its way onto the block, where Cliff’s Hardware store now resides. That theater folded the same day the curtain rose on the current moviehouse, which still sports 800 seats in the orchestra section and 600 more in loge and balcony areas.

The theater’s heyday was back in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The Nassers even opened their own film studio, which Francis Ford Coppola bought in 1977. (It still operates today as General Services Studios.) That same year, the Castro was designated the 100th landmark in the city and county of San Francisco.

The mighty Wurlitzer — the live pre-show entertainment, which is now revered — entered the scene in 1982, replacing a smaller organ.

Over the years, the Nasser brothers leased the Castro to Blumenfeld Theatres, but in 2001, the family came back on the scene. Restoration happened and a bevy of film fests seemed to breathe even more life into the town’s avuncular neighbor.

Today, the palace is one of the last remaining theaters equipped to run 70mm films. Four remaining Nasser family members still keep their creative fingers on the beating pulse of the Castro, proving, perhaps, that in a day and age when multiscreen megaplexes are suddenly the norm, a little bit of family teamwork can go a long way in uniting a community.

The end? Not likely.

Castro Theatre anniversary at a glance

All events are at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St. Call (415) 621-5288 or visit


8 p.m.: Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom performs traditional Hawaiian songs. Monique Argent (of the Nasser Family) opens. $35 to $45.


11 a.m.: Laurel and Hardy in “Way Out West” accompanied by classic cartoons. Tickets are 25 cents, the price of admission in 1922.

2 p.m.: “Wizard of Oz” sing-along hosted by Laurie Bushman and Joe Collins. $10 to $15.

7 p.m.: Clark Gable in “San Francisco,” followed by live music by Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble. Afterward, “The Maltese Falcon.” $6 to $9.


Noon: “Gone With the Wind,” the first S.F. showing in three years. $6 to $9.

7 p.m.: Warren Lubich on the Wurlitzer accompanies “Phantom of the Opera.” Short: Laurel and Hardy in “Big Business.” $6 to $9.

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