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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 128: Coronet Theatre

Home of Star Wars premieres, Oklahoma, and 1,300 stadium seats on Geary Boulevard, the recent-gone Coronet opened in 1949.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Jun 27, 2015

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 128: Coronet Theatre Outside Lands Podcast Episode 128: Coronet Theatre


Podcast Transcription

WNP128 - Coronet Theatre

Amos: [00:00:00] Hi, this is Amos Glick. You're listening to Outside Lands San Francisco. The podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project.

Woody: It's Outside Lands San Francisco. The podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Woody: David!

David: Yes, Woody? Hello again!

Woody: Hello to you!

David: Thank you.

Woody: David, I know this, a podcast sounds like a radio show.

David: Yes.

Woody: So, in the vein of a radio show, we have a caller.

David: Caller, caller on the line.

Woody: Caller on line one.

Caller: Hi, this is Candace trying to reach you about the Carousel merry-go-round podcast. Did you know that there was a 1956 restoration? And I remember the petting zoo and a few other things. I don't know if you can still hear the Carousel music.

Woody: I can’t hear it now.

Caller: But that [00:01:00] went into operation after the 1956 restoration. The fellow that ran that and did some other chores also would play a record. I remember some of The King and I, which was kind of weird. You know, “The March of the Children” where they bring all the children into Yul Brynner.

Woody: Candace is remembering our Carousel podcast that we did.

David: That's right, a couple of podcasts ago.

Woody: I do think they still play music. I don't think they use a record player anymore.

David: I bet they don't. I bet they use something else, and it does sound like calliope music. I mean, it's funny, I, we did not know. I did not know there was a 1956 restoration. Did you?

Woody: I didn't. There's a lot we don't know, David, it turns out.

David: Yeah. So anyway, I looked up that 1956 restoration. And I couldn't really find anything about it except for a couple of Letters to the [00:02:00] Editor from the San Francisco Chronicle in 1955 complaining about how decrepit and worn out the Carousel was. You know, holes in the bottom, then peeling paint and…

Woody: Right.

David: All that kind of stuff.

Woody: Well, I think it's a great precedent we've set here that we have people calling in, giving us a little verbal feedback and…

David: Yeah!

Woody: And telling us something we don't know. Should we encourage people to do that?

David: I do. I encourage you, listener, to call us up if you've got something to say and leave a message on our caller message line.

Woody: And what's that number?

David: It's (415) 661-1000.

Woody: And probably say your name.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then tell us whatever you got to say. Quickly. And then hang up. And then maybe you'll be on the podcast.

David: That's right. And I might answer the phone and I might ask you to call back and let it record too.

Woody: I think that's cool.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And speaking of movies and The King and I, which was a movie that came out in the 1950s.

David: Oh yes, [00:03:00] yes.

Woody: I want a talk today on our podcast, I want our topic to be about another movie theater on the West side of San Francisco.

David: There are movie theaters?

Woody: Yes.

David: On the West side of San Francisco?

Woody: Yes, there are still, but also in the past we've done podcasts about the Surf, I think we did.

David: That's right, yeah.

Woody: And I don't know if we did the Alexandria. But I want to talk about one that's kind of at the top of my brain these days because this year, a new Star Wars movie is coming out.

David: Oh, you must be referring to the Coronet Theater.

Woody: That's right. The long-gone Coronet Theater, or recently gone Coronet Theater. That was on Geary Boulevard, right around Palm Avenue. Right near Arguello Boulevard.

David: Right.

Woody: Now you saw a movie there,

David: It’s now a…

Woody: Right?

David: I did. I did see a movie there, although I don't remember what movie I saw.

Woody: Well, I can tell you the Coronet, when I was a kid growing up… Yeah?

David: I did wait out in line though, so it was some big, important movie. I did wait outside in line.

Woody: Well, that's the thing. So [00:04:00] you know, you think nowadays, you think going to the movies, you have to go downtown to see a big movie within a giant, you know, a giant theater with lots of people on a line. It's usually downtown or in the suburbs. But back then, in our own neighborhoods, we had movie theaters. And the Coronet, even though it was out in the neighborhoods, drew some of the biggest hits from the ‘50s all the way into the, I guess the ‘90s even, really?

David: Yeah.

Woody: There were some big hits. That drew giant crowds because it was a big theater.

David: Yes. I mean, it, it's funny because, when movie theaters first came in, the neighborhood theaters were small ones, like the Four Star, or the Surf, or the Balboa.

Woody: Right.

David: And they catered, usually, to a second run or repertory…

Woody: Programming, right.

David: Programing, yeah. So that they would, movies would open up downtown. And you would have to go downtown to see a new, big blockbuster movie.

Woody: Right. But the Coronet kind of broke the mold on that. And you're right, David, it was sort of like some would open on [00:05:00] Market Street. And, it's funny, that area is getting all revitalized now, but it used to be there were all these giant movie theaters on Market Street, mid-Market.

David: Sure.

Woody: It would open down there, people would go see it for a few weeks and then it would move to one of the smaller theaters out in the neighborhoods, where they could watch it there. But the Coronet kind of broke the mold, mostly because it was big. So, let's get to the history of it. Opens November 2nd, 1949. Now the Richmond District already has, at that time, it has the Coliseum. It has the Balboa, it has what we call the Four-Star now. It has the Alexandria. All…

David: Right.

Woody: The Bridge opens, opened in like ‘39.

David: Right.

Woody: So just up the street is another theater. It's like four or five movie theaters already in the neighborhood.

David: Yeah. Interesting that the Bridge opened in 1939, and then the, just down the road, you know, a few blocks…

Woody: Not very far.

David: Opened a really big movie theater.

Woody: Over 1300 seats.

David: Yeah.

Woody: 1300 is…

David: That's a lot.

Woody: Yes. They're expecting big crowds, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Even though they've got these other theaters. It [00:06:00] opens November 2nd, 1949. The first movie stars Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan in I Was a Male War Bride.

David: Slapstick.

Woody: I don't know. But I want to tell you that, that movie is on Netflix right now.

David: Oh, is it?

Woody: Yeah. It keeps going through my little “recommended for me.”

David: So, you can see it with 1300 people?

Woody: No, I can only see it by myself. But if you want to see what I Was a Male War Bride is like, it's on Netflix right now. Again, this is a big stadium style seating arrangement, and it's kind of like a wide, it's kind of built for large movies with a giant screen. It had great sound system, it had 70 millimeter. So, it was a big deal for a lot of people.

David: Right.

Woody: Who wanted to see a movie in a comfortable place.

David: I remember it being a great big box with great big speakers on the walls.

Woody: Yeah, it was great for sound that and the Northpoint. I don’t know if you remember the Northpoint.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Had great sound and they used to have the big movies. Like Tora, Tora, Tora [00:07:00] and whatever, that were like advertising…

David: The blockbusters.

Woody: The, yeah, the sound. But even when it opened, it was supposed to do second run business. It was supposed to do like the…

David: Really?

Woody: Yeah, yeah it was. And…

David: Yeah, I mean, I Was a Male War Bride isn't exactly a blockbuster is it, Woody?

Woody: No. It had already opened and played on Market Street. So, it was second run. But it just shows what movies, the place movies had in American culture and entertainment in the late ‘40s still. Because they could open a 1300-seat theater in the neighborhood with a bunch of other theaters. Playing second run movies people maybe have already seen.

David: Right.

Woody: And still expect to break even. Right?

David: Yeah, that's, that's optimistic.

Woody: Well, the Coronet did pretty good though, and I got to tell you, this is the other funny thing: when you think 1949, David, and opening a giant movie theater.

David: Yes?

Woody: What's coming on the horizon that might cut into the movie business?

David: TV!

Woody: Yes, television.

David: That's what I think.

Woody: You were right, David. And the Coronet, the people who opened it, [00:08:00] they were thinking about that because it opened with a little room off on the right side. And I remember this sort of, you used to walk in the front of the Coronet.

David: Oh!

Woody: There was kind of a space off on the right side. It was a special TV viewing room with a six-foot, by eight-foot television inside there.

David: Really?

Woody: And that people could go to the movies, and if they wanted, they could go in and watch some TV for a while for free.

David: Weird.

Woody: It was like…

David: I mean, it was regular TV.  It wasn't like go in and watch the movie on the TV.

Woody: No.

David: No. Broadcast TV. So, you could go in…

Woody: Yeah.

David:  And watch the “Uncle Milty” or whatever.

Woody: Yeah. They were cutting their, they were, you know, they're playing it both ways. They're like, “Yeah, come in. You can pay your money and see it, see ‘Uncle Milty’ on a giant TV in our little side room.”

David: A six, by eight-foot TV, that sounds pretty unusual. Was it a regular, I mean, do you have any more information about it? Was it a cathode ray tube?

Woody: Probably.

David:  A giant…

Woody: A giant…

David: Giant tube. That, I mean, that's news by itself.

Woody: Yeah.

David: We should look up and try and find out more about that.

Woody: Well, all I, the only other thing I know about that, and [00:09:00] it comes from our friend and movie historian, Jack Tillmany, is…

David: A titan of movie history.

Woody: Yes. He says that it was when, I think it was Oklahoma, when Oklahoma came in.

David: Yeah.

Woody: To the Coronet, and we'll talk more about that in a second. And had its big run, they took over the TV room to make an advanced ticket sale room. Booth.

David: Oh, huh.

Woody: So, the TV went away then, during Oklahoma.

David: When Oklahoma was coming up? Or when it was, or people would go and buy another ticket for advanced?

Woody: Yeah. Because it was so popular that they wanted to have sort of a, they had another room where basically just to handle the crowds, people who wanted to buy tickets ahead of time.

David: Wow.

Woody: And we should talk just about that now. Because it was kind of a unique and unusual situation when Oklahoma opened. Now, Oklahoma starts as a musical, right, on Broadway.

David: Sure, yeah.

Woody: Then they make the movie. Everybody wants to see the movie, and this is when the Coronet changes. It used to be like, oh yeah, you're seeing an old Cary Grant movie that played a month, you know, two months ago on Market. [00:10:00] Now, the Coronet, everything changes: It's a first run. That means it's not playing on Market first.

David: Right.

Woody: Roadshow, which means that it's only playing in San Francisco at one place. The tickets are reserved. Like you buy your seat, like you're going to a theater.

David: Like a theater, yeah.

Woody: Theater, yeah. And you buy them ahead of time and you go in to see Oklahoma. Very popular, everybody wants to see it. They put up a special Oklahoma sign on top of the Coronet blade.

David: Right. I've seen pictures of that, yeah.

Woody: It ran, how long do you think Oklahoma ran at the Coronet?

David: I don't know.

Woody: Nowadays…

David: I think it ran over a year.

Woody: Close. Forty-four weeks.

David: Forty-four weeks.

Woody: Forty-four weeks. And this is the thing, like now, okay the Avengers: Age of Ultron, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: It might run for two months or something. Maybe, maybe it's a big one, three months, three and a half.

David: Really?

Woody: Yeah.

David: Still?

Woody: Yeah.

David: Because, I mean…

Woody: Maybe not even.

David: I just don't even think that they run for that long anymore.

Woody: They do. They go to [00:11:00] some little theater, right?

David: They move around.

Woody: Big multi-plex.

David: It's all calculated out.

Woody: Right.

David: But yeah, I mean, I, I certainly remember movies that played in theaters around town in the ‘90s, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that would play there for weeks and weeks. And you'd just be like, “Oh, please, change the movie.” I remember when I was a kid, M*A*S*H played at the El Camino Theater for, like, six months and I was like, “Come on!”

Woody: Yeah.

David: I can't even go to the, as a kid. I did.

Woody: You, you didn't want…

David: My mother did take me to see M*A*S*H.

Woody: Oh, there you go.

David: As, like, an eight-year-old. Boobs. There were boobs in it.

Woody: And suicide. Yeah well, back then, movies would play longer if they were a hit, but forty-four weeks is a long time. However, when Oklahoma closed at the Coronet, a new movie came in: Around the World in 80 Days.

David: Oh boy.

Woody: Do you know how long Around the World in 80 Days played at the Coronet in, I think it was like, 1956 roughly?

David: I, [00:12:00] Well, I was over with forty, with a year. I'm going to say fifty-one weeks.

Woody: This is the record for San Francisco. The long run record.

David: Yeah.

Woody: I think even The Gods Must Be Crazy, which played at…

David: I know, that's the one I was going to mention.

Woody: That's one you're thinking of, I think this beat that.

David: Played there for two years, I thought.

Woody: Yeah. The Around the World in 80 Days played ninety-six weeks.

David: Oh, my goodness, that's almost as many…

Woody: Almost two years.

David: Weeks as we've had podcasts.

Woody: Yes. That's true. So back then, you know, so they're making tons of money, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: You know, Coronet's doing pretty good. Even in the age of television there. And, just to remember, if you remember the Coronet, like we talk about other theaters, these movie palaces, the Coronet was very, sort of, low key streamlined, Moderne Architecture. Right?

David: Right.

Woody: They had like terrazzo entrance and, but when you go in, it wasn't a lot of decoration. It was like a king on the left side and a queen cutout. It was almost like a cutout on…

David: I don’t remember that.

Woody: The right side. Yeah. And they had a little crown, a little coronet.

David: Oh, okay.

Woody: Over them, floating over them. It was pretty [00:13:00] simple. It was a pretty simple theater. Because that was the style.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Late ‘40s, early ‘50s. But the real big successes were not over yet because those played. And then Coronet went back to being a second run theater. But then we get to our memories, or at least my memory.

David: Yeah.

Woody: I go to the Coronet in, I think it was 1976, late 1976. This is an era where I'm like eleven years old. I go with my friend Gabriel. We'd go to a movie every weekend.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Every week we'd try to go. In the summer every day, almost. And we had just seen Logan's Run.

David: Okay.

Woody: Which was a terrible science fiction movie.

David: Yes, yes.

Woody: And then we're at another movie and a preview comes on and it's like playing some classical music. And we see this furry face in a spaceship, and it's Chewbacca.

David: Uh-oh.

Woody: And the whole preview plays, and I said to my friend Gabriel in the dark, I say, “We should see that, that looks good.”

David: Yeah.

Woody: “We should make sure we see that.”

David: Yeah.

Woody: And that was Star Wars, which opened in May of 1977 [00:14:00] and played at the Coronet for like thirty-something weeks and had lines around the block. I mean, people remember that there was an advanced ticket line and there was like, “I got my ticket” line. They went in different directions.

David: Huh.

Woody: They went all the way around the block and they met at Rossi Playground on the other side, those two lines. Big hit. Crazy. It was not really expected and just blew everyone away.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Star Wars did.

David: Yeah, that's crazy. I do remember going to the movies with my brother, my older brother, and we went to the Serra Theater. Daly City. And they had a “coming soon” sign for Star Wars.

Woody: And you said, “We should see that.”

David: And it may have been coming, yeah, I said, “We should see that.”

Woody: And then Star Wars, it was such a big deal. But then the weird thing is, is that it didn't play ninety-six weeks. It played like thirty-something.

David: Yeah.

Woody: It could have played, probably, ninety-six weeks, but the Coronet had a contract for another movie that they had already signed up to come in. That was Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

David: Oh!

Woody: Which ran…

David: Back to [00:15:00] back!

Woody: Exactly! Which ran for weeks also.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Was another giant hit. I remember going to movies then thinking, “Every year there's a giant, giant hit.”

David: Yeah.

Woody: And it's just going to go on. Because a couple years before that, Jaws came out.

David: Right.

Woody: And it played at the Coliseum on Clement. Same thing, lines around the block. And I just remember, that was what movies were like then. You know?

David: Right. There were just a whole lot of landmark movies.

Woody:  Yeah. It was, it was a golden age, right? We'll call it a “golden age.” So, all the Star Wars movies pretty much ended up opening at the Coronet. George Lucas, I guess, liked the theater, it had great sound.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Big thing. So, everybody liked the Coronet, but: hard times came again.

David: Awww.

Woody: Like they always do.

David: Don't be sad kids. [Plays recording of cheering kids]

Woody:  Poor kids, they don't even remember these kind of movies. They go, they watch everything on their Xboxes, these kids today.

David: Yeah, kids today. I don't know what they do.

Woody: I don't know what they do either. And I have a kid. Before we get to the decline of the Coronet, some other big movies that [00:16:00] played there: Ben-Hur.

David: Yes.

Woody: Played seventy-five weeks.

David: Gee-whiz.

Woody: Funny Girl.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Which I got to say was not a great movie, with Barbara Streisand. I didn't, fifty-nine weeks. My Fair Lady, fifty weeks.

David: That's exactly what I'm talking about. It's like when I was just a, just a little kid.

Woody: They would clutter up these theaters.

David: It’s like these movies would come and be there forever and I'd be like, “Ahh, when am I going to get to go to the movies?”

Woody: The Godfather, thirty-two weeks.

David: [exaggerated yawn]

Woody: Yeah. Well, all these movies you could go, that's why we had five movie theaters in the neighborhood though, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: You've already seen The Godfather. You don't want to see it again. Anyway, movie business starts changing again. We've talked about this in the past. The movie theaters start not being the money makers with all the other entertainment options, with the multiplexes and all that, right?

David: Video.

Woody: All that stuff is just cutting into it. So, by the late ‘90s, the Coronet, which was a giant movie theater and not getting the big crowds, started losing money. And United Artists, which was running it at the time, [00:17:00] said its days were numbered. Then the Goldman Institute on Aging bought it for like eight and a half million dollars. That site, it's a giant site.

David: What a bargain.

Woody: Yeah. Nowadays you think about it.

David: I don't know what a bargain is.

Woody: Well, now you could buy a shoebox for, you know, a million dollars in San Francisco.

David: Oh, I guess you're right. There's been some houses, regular old houses, in Noe Valley selling for seven and a half million.

Woody: Right! So, you could get the entire Coronet site with that little parking lot they had and everything for eight and a half million.

David: Oh man. We really missed our chance.

Woody: You missed your chance. Anyway, so they bought it.

David: That could be a good place for the Western Neighborhoods Project archive.

Woody: Oh yeah. Well, too bad. July 22nd, 2000, they bought it, eight and a half million, and then they, they leased it back, for a while, to the United Artists while they were trying to get their plans together.

David: No, I mean, the, it still showed movies for a few more years, right?

Woody: It did, yeah. Closing day was February 2005. Last movie was Million [00:18:00] Dollar Baby, with Clint Eastwood.

David: Oh, another blockbuster. Well, not really.

Woody: Yeah, it was okay.

David: It’s a good movie.

Woody: Didn't it win an Oscar?

David: Yes.

Woody: Yeah, okay. So that was the last movie. It closed and then they pretty much started tearing it down a couple years later in 2007.

David: Right.

Woody: And now there's a giant home for…

David: It's just the same size as the Coronet.

Woody: Yeah.

David: In fact, you could almost imagine that it is the same building, but really, they, I remember them just ripping…

Woody: Just totally took it out.

David: Totally ripped the thing down.

Woody: Yeah. And I remember they had the letters from the blade sign, the “C” “O” “R” “O.”

David: Yeah.

Woody: Like, sitting in a corner there in the demolition site for a while.

David: So, you went and took them in the middle of the night?

Woody: I didn't, but I'm wondering if somebody did.

David: Hmmmm.

Woody: Except they were giant.

David: 661-1000.

Woody: That’s right!

David: Call us up if you have those letters.

Woody: We just want the “C.” We don't want one of the “O’s”. Anyway, that's the history of the Coronet. I want to thank Jack Tillmany for giving us this info. And, David, we have photos of the Coronet in the old days.

David: Yep.

Woody: We have photos of it being demolished. If you want to see that.

David: [making weeping noises]

Woody: [00:19:00] All on our website.

David: We do on our website. You can get to that on the internet.

Woody: Yes.

David: At www.outsidelands.org. And what else can you do on the website, Woody?

Woody: You can become a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project. And by doing that, you support us, you know, to do all these things like the podcast, like our great magazine we put out. Our walks, our talks, our…

David: Pay our rent.

Woody: Our rent, to help us preserve those great photos you're scanning, David. And also, I think, it's just a good thing to do because it makes you feel like you're part of helping us save and preserve the history of these neighborhoods that you…

David: That's what the people who are members tell us.

Woody: Yeah. That you probably grew up in or have some connection to. And if you remember going to the Coronet, and you have a great memory to share, now you can leave us a message on the answering machine. (415) 661-1000 and maybe we'll play it on the podcast

David: Or you can send us an email or use the, use the form on the website if you…

Woody: Or the postal service.

David: Want to do that. Yeah, you can send us a [00:20:00] postcard. Passenger pigeon.

Woody: Yes.

David: Not a passenger pigeon.

Woody; No, don't do that.

David: Or is it a courier?

Woody: Don't use any pigeons.

David: Ah, it’s a homing pigeon.

Woody: No pigeon.

David: No pigeon, okay. No, no animal life at, anyway.

Woody: All right. Well, maybe in another few weeks we'll do another movie theater. Maybe once every five or six months. But the Coronet …

David: Or we’ve run out of anything else?

Woody: No! We love movie theaters. But I'll see you next week, David.

David: Okay, Woody.

Child Guest Announcer: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded at Studio Trilogy in San Francisco, California.

Percy: [In a comical voice] Hi. This is Percy Gibbons, I'm a systems analyst at System Matrix in SoMa. To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history, go to outsidelands.org. That's outsidelands.org. Phew! Thank God that website didn't have a lot of “S’s” in it.

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