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Church St Blues

October 12, 2009

Drama in Da Noe. Blue Church: You are on the way to destruction!


Water main turn on!

blue church water break

Hope they turned off the gas before they started.

The shots above were taken at 9 AM.  And at 6PM:


The Noe Valley Voice has pictures from a quieter, more gentle time, as well as some background on the Blue Church.

“A developer got the green light this summer from San Francisco Superior Court to demolish the blue building at the corner of Church and 28th streets, now occupied by the Church of San Francisco. The firm plans to build a four-story condominium complex that will include retail space on the ground floor.”

UPDATE: Historically astute reader TS reminds us that the Blue Church was once a theater best know as The Rita.

1950-1913 28th and Church

It opened in 1916 and shut down in 1965.

The Rita was a little neighborhood theatre on the northwest corner of 28th and Church. It opened as the Searchlight on August 5, 1916, and changed names rapidly the next few years. It was variously known as the Empress (1918-1927), the Lux, the De Lux, the Isis, the Princess, the Church, and, finally the Rita (1945). That name seemed to stick, but in 1961, entrepreneur Ward Stoopes took it over and ran it for about four years as the Del Mar.

Never successful as a neighborhood theatre, its only means of survival seemed to be as an outlet for “ethnic” films, i.e. foreign films WITHOUT English sub-titles, usually German or Russian. Its last days as a film theatre were in May 1965, but it is still in operation as a neighborhood church, painted a bright, bright blue.

Interesting re the German angle — Lehr’s the German specialty shop is on Church and 28th, and in 2001 Incanto replaced the beloved German restaurant called Speckmann’s.

The SF Examiner’s Thomas Gladysz provides more details:

The Searchlight Theatre opened in 1916. Admission at the time was 10 cents for adults, and 5 cents for children. Its August 5th Grand Opening advertisement (reproduced in Tillmany’s book) boasted a “New Theatre, Good Pictures, Latest Music.” The ad went on to state “We are installing one of the latest models of the AMERICAN PHOTOPLAYER, with all the Orchestral effects at a cost of $5000. Be sure to see and hear it.” That was big money during the early silent film era.

Before the theater, there was a saloon on that corner as we can see in this 1914 Sanborn map. (Note the outhouses and henhouses.)

1914 28th and Church

The number of theaters that were once in this city is rather amazing.  But I’m getting the feeling that there’s an analogy between theaters then and newspapers today.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2009 6:53 pm

    Bummer. What happened?

  2. October 13, 2009 2:57 pm

    That building was the oldest movie theater in the area, built in ~1916 or so.

  3. corrie permalink
    October 15, 2009 12:36 pm

    To find out what happened, Chuck, check out:


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