Ornate vacant theater built in 1916 to be transformed into entertainment center
Beneath several layers of paint on a wall of the New Mission Theater is a patch of gold and silver left over from the Depression era, when the theater experienced its heyday.
The historically significant portions of the 1916 art deco theater, located on the 2500 block of Mission Street, are scheduled to remain intact under plans to transform the vacant space into a venue for dancing, live music, movies and dining. Next door, 95 housing units are planned in an eight-story development, the second piece of the project designed to help pay for the theater’s restoration.
The historic theater, which can seat up to 2,300, is one of the last remaining early movie houses in The City. Starting in 2000, dozens fought to keep the theater from being demolished and turned into a campus building for the City College of San Francisco.
In late 2003, developer Gus Murad & Associates bought the building from the college and now plans to create a separate bar area behind the auditorium designed to serve as a movie house, dance floor or dining area. An elevator would transport people up and down to the basement level where a kitchen, storage and bathrooms are part of the blueprints.
Construction, if approved by The City’s Planning Commission, will likely begin in about two years, Morris said. The environmental impact report is in the works, city officials said. The architect declined to disclose the estimated cost of plans, which aim to make the theater a destination for diners. Preservationists who fought to save the theater on the National Register of Historical Places praised the new blueprints.
“This is the site of the proposed City College building,” said Katherine Petrin, a founding member of Save New Mission. “It came really close. … We’re really lucky.”
The New Mission was designed by the Reid Brothers, who also designed the Fairmont Hotel. In 1932, Timothy Pflueger, the architect behind the Castro, Alhambra and El Rey theaters remodeled the New Mission, creating an art deco monument. The theater still features etched glass, decorative plasterwork, ceilings with floral motifs and medallions and Corinthian pilasters.
In keeping with the theater’s earlier uses, some hope plans will include screenings of 35 millimeter films there, although the latest proposal only includes digital movies.
“It would be an attractive spot for 35 millimeter film,” said Alfonso Felder, president of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation. “In San Francisco there is a huge film-going population.”
Felder hopes to change the owners’ minds and persuade them to include the old-time films.