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History Theater – Win Some, Lose Some (and Then Some)

June 30, 2009

I am sad to report that the Cine Latino Ribity has been painted over.

Before (via Plug1)

ribbity cine latino RIP

After:

cine latino sin ribity

Ah, yes, the Mission is such a better place with that field of brown paint — easier to capture that Detroit-like feeling.

So after a little scrounging on the internets, we learn that Cine Latino was originally called the Wigwam when it opened in 1913. The name changed to the New Rialto (1930-1947), then the Crown (1947-1974), and then Cine Latino until it shut down in 1990.

1913 / 1964
today / 1980

wigwam, new rialto, crown, cine latino 72dpi

(Click to enlarge any of the multipanel shots.)

The Cine Latino neon is stunning, as are the windows in the original Wigwam.

And here’s an amazing history of the origins of the Wigwam (search for Joe Bauer).

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.

Looking north on Mission towards the Rialto (aka Wigwan/Cine Latino) and the New Mission Theater, in 1933:

new mission and rialto 1933

and in 1944:

rialto new mission 1944


Other theaters, in kinder days:

The New Mission Theater, 2550 Mission (yes, Gus Murad’s favorite, next to the Giant Value…)

1943, 1975, present

new mission theater 1943 1975 2006


Tower Theater (2457 Mission, 20th/21st)

1942 / 1964 / present

tower 1942, 1964, 2008


El Capitan (2353 Mission, between 19th and 20th)

el capitan 1933, 1950s, 2008

1933, 1950s, present


Grand Theater (2665 Mission, between 22nd and 23rd)

1970
1974, present

grand theater 1970, 1974, 2006

Hey, the Lucky Pork Store was there in 1970! WTF, an 88 cent store? Hmmm, with inflation, that’s like 5 bucks today, so maybe it had cool things. (Well, at least $5 worth of cool.)


And one more theater on Mission that didn’t make it — the Lyceum, between 29th and 30th.  Hmm, that intersection sounds rather familiar — as it’s the location of our favorite Safeway.

Compare this picture from the Bernal History Project:

1948 lyceum 29th & mission

to today from Google Maps:

29th & mission lyceum location

“Dell’s Do Nuts” is now El Gran Taco Loco, and the building just to the right of the Lyceum sign is still there (with another taqueria…)

Here’s the 1913-1915 edition of the Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Lyceum, as well as the west side of Mission between 29th and 30th.

mission 29th 30th zoom

Hey, a bowling alley with a bar! That would be useful. And the 3300 Club was a saloon back then too.  Looks like there was a hardware store in or near Cole’s.

Hmmm, I just noticed that second theater. From our friends at the Bernal History Project and their 1915 business directory, we see that it was the “Mission Theatre” — now Walgreens/parking lot.

Anyway, two great resources for old theaters are this list of post-1906 San Francisco theaters, and the Cinema Treasures website. Also, the San Francisco neighborhood editions of the Arcadia Publishing ‘Images of America’ books have amazing photos.  They’re in just about every bookstore in the city, as well as on Amazon, etc. The Bernal Heights edition is great, (though I was a little disappointed in the Mission edition — too many grade school class photos).

Sources for all images are in the links — SFLib, American Classic Images, Jack Tillmany and the Bernal History Project folks. and of course Flickr users. And Sparkletack has more historical references that you can shake a stick at.

Wow, this article got rather long. Congratulations if you made it this far — I honestly only intended to show the Ribity before/after, and then one thing led to another. Damn internets.

But the real question, which I leave to you readers, is why are there 5 huge theaters on Mission that are sitting there rotting? You can certainly make the argument that the Safeway is an improvement over what certainly would be a partially lettered Lyceum sign with a broken ediface.  Climbing centers, gyms, housing — why can’t we have nice things?

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2009 9:00 am

    excellent work, this is a great post! i’m a big movie theatre nerd and all the old (sadly underused) theatres in the mission are one of the things that initially attracted me to the neighborhood.

    el capitan had almost 2600 seats – about 1000 more than the castro!

    also in addition the neighborhood arcadia books, there’s one specifically about san francisco theatres by jack tillmany. when i used to work at the bridge theatre we had it for sale, and i spent many hours poring over it between shows.

    also this bar + bowling alley discovery is amazing! someone needs to bring that back!

  2. June 30, 2009 9:05 am

    Jack Tillmany ROCKS.

    There once was a brewery on the corner of 29th and Tiffany in the 1880s! Drink Eagle Beer! Another post on that and others soon.

  3. June 30, 2009 10:18 am

    The homes on San Jose Avenue behind the old movie theatre – where the back of the Mission Safeway is now – were moved across the street to what had been the old San Francisco & San Mateo Electric Railway stop. See p. 14 of Arcadia’s “San Francisco’s Interurban to San Mateo”.

  4. June 30, 2009 10:37 am

    I am simply amazed at how readily they moved houses in the day.

  5. friscolex permalink
    June 30, 2009 10:57 am

    This is truly a killer post! I can never get enough history like this. And what great research. Thanks!

    And even though I grew up around the areas included here, I still got mad love for the Sunset, West Portal, etc. These guys are doing pretty awesome stuff in the same vein as this post: http://www.outsidelands.org/index.php

  6. June 30, 2009 11:44 pm

    I keep walking by these old theaters and their “for sale” signs and getting big ideas… It would be fun to find out what these places are going for. Can this town support more theaters like that though? Some really shitty unpopular acts get booked at the places we already have, and smaller venues like the somewhat recently deceased 12 Galaxies keep having trouble. Letting them rot is such a shame though!

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