Another neighborhood theater closes in San Francisco and observers note that it is not just a transition of technology but perhaps the end of an era.
Richmond District moviegoers were sad to hear the news that on Dec. 27 The Bridge Theater on Geary is closing. Built in 1939 in honor of the Golden Gate Bridge, ("supposedly so named, notes local historian Woody LaBounty), the single-screen theater has been operated and managed by Landmark Theaters since 1991.
The San Francisco Examiner reported that The City once had an abundance of neighborhood cinemas, estimated around 74 at the peak of local cinema and “District theater” attendance. But the growth of multiplexes in recent decades has forced closures.
The Huffington Post noted that the trend of local theater houses closing is also due to the fact that the motion picture industry is transitioning from traditional 35 mm film process which became the standard around 1910 to the digital format. Many little theaters not just here in San Francisco but across the nation have suffered similar fates as this shift is making an impact.
While the use of digital is much more cost effective, the cost of upgrading is considerable, especially for a little family owned theater. According to some estimates like that from National Association of Theatre Owners the cost would be about $70,000 per screen. Part of the difficulty for a little neighborhood theater is having to compete with the multiplex cinemas. "It is a matter of love for the art of film or the need to make money," said Mona Skager. She has worked with several prominent directors and producers over the years like Francis Ford Coppola and George Lukas. The Richmond Review contacted Landmark Theaters to get more details. Landmark operates the Clay Theatre, Embarcadero Center and Opera Plaza Cinema.
Speaking on behalf of Landmark, Steve Indig would only say that The Bridge will close on Dec. 27 and refused to say anything more.
Interestingly, this reporter on assignment for the Richmond Review did speak to an anonymous source close to The Bridge Theater who noted that the contract Landmark has with the theater owners is not being renewed. Whether or not the theater owners will find another management company is not known. Repeated attempts to confirm this were ignored by Indig and others. Indig stood by the official statement released to the press on Dec. 12 and would say nothing more.
Supporters of the theater, like Lawrence Gordon are trying to get a petition signed to keep the theater open. He noted that, "I only heard that Landmark was unable to negotiate their lease and chose to pull out." "As for the future of the theater, I have no idea," he said.
“The Bridge is a marvelous single-screen theater on a well-traveled corridor,” said Murray Lubisch. He is among the dozen who have signed the petition so far.
“In 2010 Landmark had planned to close The Clay Theater on Fillmore Street,” said Gordon. He noted that “a deal was struck with the landlord” and the theater remained open. But that was a very arduous process as reported by Thomas Reynolds of The New Fillmore. The little theater which has been showing films for over 100 years was set to be shutdown in August of 2010. A neighborhood rally was organized. The SF Film Society and the Clay Theater owner Balgobind Jaiswal negotiated an agreement at almost the last moment. The society would help with renovations and pay rent. As to whether or not the SF Film Society or others are willing to step in to help keep The Bridge Theater open, no such info has been made known. "I can sympathize with those who want to keep little theaters open, I do think there is something lost when film is converted to the digital format," said Skager. She believes more needs to be known and understood about the digital process and certainly more efforts must be made to ensure that timeless film works are preserved in a way that guarantees future audiences see films the way they were indented to be seen.
“I am hoping to gather 1,000 signatures to urge Landmark to reconsider their decision,” said Gordon.