A primary mission of the Western Neighborhoods Project is gathering oral histories. In November 2000 we visited Jack Tillmany for a wonderful conversation.
Jack grew up in the outer Richmond district during World War II, attending St. Monica's school.
His father had the orchestra of the Portola theater in downtown San Francisco before "talkies", and Jack grew up a huge movie fan.
"Before television, everyone went to the movies. Imagine the world without television. Movies were your only visual entertainment. We all listened to the radio, but to actually see the story you had to go out to the movie theater. It was a way of life. Some people went every day if they were lucky. We went two of three times a week. Everybody did. It was a universal recreation."
When Jack was a child, World War II touched on every aspect of life, even a kid's life:
"All during my grammar school days, everything was 'because of the war,' or if you wanted something you had to wait until 'after the war.' The war was something that we couldn't remember when it wasn't in progress."
An eminent regional collector, Mr. Tillmany has amassed thousands of photographs of San Francisco streetcars, California movie theaters, and over ten thousand publicity photos of Hollywood actors and actresses. Jack also possesses extensive knowledge on all these subjects.
Having formerly managed the Piedmont Theatre in Oakland and the Lorenzo Theatre in San Lorenzo, in 1970 he took over the Gateway Cinema in the Golden Gateway Center, and in that location, introduced revival film programming to San Francisco, which he expanded to the Richelieu Cinema in 1975. He retired from the motion picture business in 1981.
Film research has always been his hobby and, for the past six years, he has been one of the world's leading contributors of information to the Internet Movie Database.
Our website has made great use of Jack's generosity and knowledge. Many of our images, and much of our information on western neighborhoods theaters, we have received from him. We're not alone. You will see many of his photos copied for inclusion in the San Francisco Library's Historical Photograph Collection and on our sister site, OpeSFHistory. In 2005, Jack further shared his treasure trove with the world in the form of a terrific book, Theatres of San Francisco. Hundreds of unique photos inside bring back the days when everyone went to the movies weekly and had numerous neighborhood theatres to choose from.
Thanks for letting us visit, Jack!