Saturday, February 18, 2012

That's A Lot Of Popcorn Poppers!

Every movie theatre I ever worked in, 1983 to 1992-- And what has happened to them since.

The Rio, in 1982, a year before I started there.
• UA (United Artists) Rio. My first and favorite. Built in 1949, Curvy, elegant Futurist interior. When I was there I worked with a lot of amazing cool people, folks I still call my friends. Showed two blockbuster films famously shot in Santa Cruz: Sudden Impact and The Lost Boys. Used to run great midnights and Sunday morning programs of family fare and musicals which were quite popular. The Rio is still around, and actually better than ever: Somebody did what all of us who worked there dreamed of doing and turned it into a legit stage venue.

UA's Santa Cruz region was managed at the time by Joe Louis, a wonderful guy. At his suggestion, I filled in all over the district:

Never the Rocky Horror Picture show, though--
that played at the Sash Mill.
• UA Del Mar 4. The regional HQ. Joe Louis was famous for his midnight movie programming which, in a college town like SC, was always profitable. He programmed the four screens with four genres of midnight movies: Horror, Cult, Classic, and Soft-Core Adult. Still open, now an art cinema.
• The UA Cinemas. Now Regal Riverfront Stadium 2. "Arrangements," the short film I wrote, premiered there in 2008.
• 41st Avenue Playhouse. Filled in weeknights one winter-- and hated every minute of it. Still open.
• Aptos Twin. The office held the most amazing collection of movie one-sheets I ever saw, some dating back to the early 1960s. Still open, though I'm sure the posters are gone.

Taken during my tenure!
When I moved to San Francisco I just transferred to a different UA division, under a different district manager-- and a miserable son of a bitch at that. I managed a bewildering number of theaters in The City:

• UA Metro Center 6. Time has not softened my opinion of the manager of this big Colma crackerbox, who was yet another miserable son of a bitch. (Movie theatre managers come in two broad varieties: happy ones who know it's a joke of a job and treat it as such, and miserable bastards who take their s**t way too seriously.) Pleased to say this place is gone, bulldozed flat, and a Best Buy stands on it's grave.
• Alexandria 3.  It was a bit of a worn-out flea-trap when I first got there as an assistant manager: The place was under the management of Claire, the former UATC switchboard operator. (UA San Francisco used a central switchboard until 1985!) I would come back to the Alex near the end of my employment with UA as full manager. Went dark in 2001, but it's magnificent Egyptian facade still presides over 18th and Geary.
•UA Coliseum, or The Col: Opened in 1918 (Lillian Gish was there!), A neat old Richmond District theatre with a wraparound balcony. It was shut down after the 1989 quake-- The rumor was there was no structural damage to it, but the Naify family (who owed UATC) didn't own the land the theatre was built on, so it was not profitable to keep open.  It's still standing.
The ONLY way to see the Rings Trilogy--
on a 85-foot-wide screen.
• UA Vogue. A former Biograph theatre, opened in 1909. Tiny little single-screen, tucked into the wealthiest part of SF (Pacific Heights). Showed a lot of art films (The Rapture, Belly of an Architect). Quiet, quiet place: When I took over the theater I had a $100 petty cash fund-- and when I transferred to the Metro, there was still $65 left. Still in operation!
• UA Metro. Lovely Art Deco single-screen with 800 seats and LalĂ­que-style murals on the walls.  My favorite SF theatre managing experience. We showed Paris is Burning (documentary about transvestite shows) and sold out seven shows a day for three weeks. Showed the Chevy Chase bomb Nothing But Trouble-- which sold 68 tickets in a fortnight (got a lot of maintenance done over that two-week run). Went dark in 2003.
• UA Coronet. The Big Kahuna, George Lucas' favored SF theatre. 1100 seats. Gone: there's a senior center where it stood.
• UA Galaxy 4. the flagship of it's time on Van Ness Avenue. An interesting experiment was conducted when I was there: we ran Terminator 2 on two screens, one side in 35mm and digital audio, the other side in 70mm. It was the only venue in SF where I ran midnight movies, and we cleaned up on 'em. Went dark in 2003, and right now (February 2012) they're tearing the 'ol "stack of phone booths" down.
• UA Stonestown Cinemas. Nice, quiet place to spend time. Had a clean, 60s architectural style to it, and was located near a big indoor mall. It was once a single screen but it was divided down the middle-- which meant that a third of the seats faced the center wall rather than the screen. The outside walls of the manager's office were floor-to-ceiling glass. Weird. Still open!

When I was working in SF, single-screen theaters were still very much a going concern. Eventually all got out-competed by 12- and 16-screen multiplexes, and as a result between 1995 and 2005 most of them all went dark. Then even larger 20- and 24-screen 'plexes were built, which drove the smaller 'plexes out of business. Now these behemoths are under strain by On Demand, Bit Torrent and general apathy towards movie-going. The difference is: once these humongous 'plexes go dark, folks like me won't be waxing nostalgic about them.


  1. Curiously, was next door to the Rio this evening, taking in (and shooting) a belly dance show.

  2. Anybody remember what the Aptos Twin marquee looked like in the 1980s? I know it was United Artists in those days, but I can't find a photograph.

  3. I wish I'd taken a photograph of the Aptos Twin marquee in 1994 when it said: LASSIE BLOWN AWAY

  4. I'm curious when you worked in Santa Cruz? Because when I was there (1986-1989), the region HQ was at the 41st Avenue Playhouse and Steven Pavlovich was the district manager. Joe Luis (who hired me) was still at the Del Mar, but he wasn't the DM.

    1. I knew everyone you mentioned! We probably knew each other as well.