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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 218: Parkside Theater

The history of a neighborhood theater, home of Tom Mix, Led Zeppelin, and a lot of toddlers.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Apr 1, 2017

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 218: Parkside Theater Outside Lands Podcast Episode 218: Parkside Theater

(above) Taraval and 20th, 1959

900 block of Taraval Street, looking east. Parkside Theatre and L-Taraval MUNI streetcar #1003.


Podcast Transcription

WNP218 - Parkside Theater

Woody: [00:00:00] 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. How are you?

Woody: Happy April Fool’s Day.

David: Do you mean it?

Woody: Yeah, of course I mean it. Do you want to have a sad April Fool’s Day?

David: Shake my hand.

Woody: No, no, no, pull my finger. So, David, last week I said we were going to go to the Parkside where, “the song remained the same.”

David: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

Woody: Did you get that reference? Did you get it? No?

David: I did get it. It's from a Led Zeppelin song, right?

Woody: It's a movie. They did it like, you know it’s…

David: It's a movie about Led Zeppelin.

Woody: Right. Rockumentary!

David: Oh yeah, right, rockumentary, yeah. I wasn't a big Led Zeppelin fan. I'm more of a Led Zeppelin fan now than I was back then. And I do remember that The Song Remains the Same, [00:01:00] played over and over and over again as a midnight movie at the Parkside Theater.

Woody: David, that is our subject this week, the Parkside Theater. And ironically, you know, it's funny, The Song Remains the Same… Did you ever see This Is Spinal Tap?

David: I did see that.

Woody: Right. I saw that just recently on Netflix again. And it is, a lot of it is, really kind of a satire of, like, The Song Remains the Same and other rockumentaries.

David: Really?

Woody: Yeah.

David: Oh funny.

Woody: Where, anyway, so that also played at the Parkside Theater.

David: Oh, well, I mean.

Woody: You got it all. But we're going back farther than that era. We're going to talk about the Parkside Theater. Which is where, David?

David: It's on Taraval.

Woody: Right.

David: Near 19th Avenue. Between 19th and 20th on the South side of the street. It's not there anymore. The building's there.

Woody: Right.

David: You can kind of figure it out if you never saw the Parkside, but it's at 933 [00:02:00] Taraval.

Woody: Right. And, it's just another one of these neighborhood movie theaters that were around from the ‘20s and they started kind of going away in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There's still a couple left. But the Parkside was opened in December 28th, 1928 and originally…

David: Right after Christmas.

Woody: Yeah, it was. And it had, originally it had this really long blade sign that said, “Parkside.”

David: Right.

Woody: I mean every darn letter going down from the top. And, I don't remember that. When I was around…

David: Right.

Woody: Because it changed in the ‘60s. They had a very simple. Sign that said…

David: Plastic sign that said, “Fox.”

Woody: It said, “Fox.”

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then it said, “Parkside” underneath it.

David: Right.

Woody: And so, I always thought of it as the Fox.

David: Yeah.

Woody: When I was a kid, because the Fox, these movie studios had their own sort of subsidiary theaters that they would show their movies.

David: Their movies in there.

Woody: Yeah.

David: Which is strange now.

Woody: Right.

David: I mean it's a different sort of [00:03:00] distribution model, right?

Woody: Right.

David: Along with the actors who had to work for the one studio. The studios had their own theaters that put out the…

Woody: Yeah, yeah.

David: That showed the movies. Yeah.

Woody: Yeah. So, they have like the UA or United Artists movie theaters.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And you know, so this was the Fox Parkside. The first film that was at the site when it opened in 1928 was Red Lights. [editor note - the first film was actually Red Lips]

David: Oh, Red Lights.

Woody: That sounds like a good movie.

David: I didn't do any research on that. Is it, was it good? What is the Rotten Tomato score?

Woody: Good question, I didn't look it up. It starred Charlie, quote, “Buddy” Rogers.

David: Yeah, Buddy Rogers, of course.

Woody: You know Buddy Rogers, right?

David: No, I don't.

Woody: What?!

David: I'm going to. Is he named? Is he related to Kenny Rogers?

Woody: No!

David: Oh.

Woody: Man, all the movie buffs are going to be mad at you this time.

David: Yeah. Well, lay it on me!

Woody: You can take it. But this is also the era when, if you're a [00:04:00] neighborhood, and the Parkside, had more of a neighborhood identity then.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Because now it's kind of mushed in with the Sunset.

David: Right. But the Sunset hadn't grown to fill up the entire…

Woody: Sand dune.

David: Sand dune area, yeah.

Woody: Yeah, the Parkside…

David: So, the Parkside was one of the older neighborhoods out there, right?

Woody: Right. So, the Parkside centered on Taraval and went South to where Stern Grove is.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And it would start in the early 1900’s. So, the ‘20s, it's an era when, if you're a neighborhood of any kind of standing, you have to have a movie theater.

David: Yeah.

Woody: I mean, you have your own hardware store, your own grocery, and your own butcher, your own baker. But then you had your neighborhood movie theater.

David: Right.

Woody: And so, it was a big deal for the Parkside to get one. Because if they, if people wanted to see a movie, then they'd have to walk over the hill to West Portal.

David: Right.

Woody: Or way…

David: Or could take the streetcar, I think.

Woody: That's true, they could. Or way over to like the Surf, or, which was then called the Sunset.

David: Sure, sure.

Woody: Or the Irving.

David: Or the [00:05:00] Park.

Woody: Which was in the…

David: The Irving, yeah.

Woody: 15th and Irving. So…

David: Or they’d go downtown for a new movie, right?

Woody: Yeah, yeah. Well, that's a good point. So, these neighborhood movie theaters were not, the way we think of them today, they were sort of where movies that opened down on Market Street or downtown in the big, showy, giant theaters, the neighborhood theaters got those after they'd gotten less popular downtown.

David: Right.

Woody: Second run movies.

David: Yes.

Woody: Right.

David: So, they do their big run downtown. Everybody gets their white gloves on and their hat and coat.

Woody: That's right.

David: Takes a streetcar down there. Go to the movie in the fancy movie theater.

Woody: And then go jitterbugging all night long at the… Yeah, exactly. So those are those days. But lots of movies came through. And there was a big change that, you know, it's funny, this is what I was talking about, when the sign changed in ‘65, Fox, the West Coast, had this experiment they wanted to do. Which was, [00:06:00] they said, we're going to make the Parkside a first run theater.

David: Huh.

Woody: So, we're going to make it a big fancy thing that we're going to release our movie there, nowhere else in San Francisco. If San Franciscans want to see this new Fox movie, they have to go to the Parkside. And we're going to have reserved seats.

David: Wow.

Woody: So, like you're going to a…

David: Innovative.

Woody: A live theater.

David: And now there's reserve seats in movie theaters again.

Woody: Right.

David: They tried, they're trying that in other places.

Woody: Right. Well, I have to tell you, this was a bad idea. It failed miserably and they basically backed off it and it really did a bad, a number on business at the Parkside.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, before that it was like, you know, you went and saw the second run movies. They came in every three days. The kids, they had these summer movie festivals.

David: Sure.

Woody: Which I remember. Did you have those down the Peninsula?

David: Yeah, yeah. The El Camino Theater. I used to go El Camino, 50 cent Theater.

Woody: Right.

David: And you would go in on Saturday and you could watch like five movies

Woody: Right.

David: For 50 cents.

Woody: And you'd [00:07:00] get these little program, not these programs, this sort of package deal. Where you could buy all the movies for the month for, I don't know what, $5 or something.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And you could go every day. And we would. We would go every day and they'd have a different movie. They were old, bad Disney movies.

David: Sure.

Woody: And serials and all sorts of odd things. But it was to keep the kids out of trouble during the summer. And we have on our website a couple of these calendars from the summer, I think in the early ‘60s, of a Parkside…

David: With the repertory schedule before the… Yeah.

Woody: Yeah.

David: Those are cool.

Woody: Yeah. So, here's a memory. That's the other thing on our message board, we got tons of memories of the Parkside. This is Frank Grant, and he was writing, this is in the ‘30s, his, “brother and I, used to go with the Lane Brothers just about every Saturday up to the Parkside.” And it was right in the middle of the Depression. The price was 15 cents admission. Seems kind of steep for a kid.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then 10 cents for a small [00:08:00] box of candy that kept them going. And they, he remembers all the, or remembered all the serials like Flash Gordon and Tailspin Tommy?

David: Yes.

Woody: You know Tailspin Tommy?

David: No.

Woody: Okay.

David: I don't.

Woody: Tom Mix.

David: Sure.

Woody: Yeah, I know Tom Mix, and other Westerns. And, so, every weekday the serial just would have, it was like an episodic thing, right?

David: Right

Woody: And most theaters…

David: Well, you used to go back. That would keep people coming back.

Woody: Right.

David: Every week because it's like…

Woody: Cliffhanger.

David: You know, it's like today when we're all waiting for the next episode of The Sopranos to come out. Or whatever.

Woody: You're behind man.

David: I was going to say something like House of Cards, but House of Cards gets dumped all at once.

Woody: Yeah, anyway. We know what you mean, David.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And a lot of places, they would, this was common in most these neighborhood theaters, is they'd have a sort of like a soda fountain or a candy store right next to the entrance.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, you get it inside too. But they [00:09:00] would try to get the after-movie crowd. And the guy, Frank remembers, the guy who worked there next to the Parkside. He says, “A rather bulky man with curly hair, while making milkshakes, always had a cigarette dangling out of his mouth and there always seemed to be half an inch of ash on its tip.”  So anyway, Roy Thomas remembers when the war was over, they lit up the marquee for the first time in years.

David: Oh wow.

Woody: Because they had sort of a blackout, he remembers.

David: Yeah, I didn't really think about that.

Woody: Right. So, it was a big deal for the neighborhood when they lit up the marquee.

David: I'll have to look for a picture of that.

Woody: Yeah. So, like I said, in ‘65, they changed the marquee, they changed that model of having first run movies, business goes down and then it was so bad it closed in the mid-‘70s.

David: Huh, that's weird.

Woody: Why?

David: Because I remember going there.

Woody: Well…

David: And I didn't go in the ‘70s.

Woody: Here's why: they decided, they said, look, business is bad, we don't need this whole [00:10:00] theater. So, they just had the balcony for the theater.

David: Ah, yeah.

Woody: You remember that?

David: I do remember that.

Woody: And down…

David: And I used to look down and there was a nursery school in the bottom part.

Woody: There still is. It's like, Parkside Nursery School. So…

David: Oh, there you go.

Woody: You'd sit in the balcony to watch the movie and downstairs would be all these like kids' toys.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And little trucks and stuff.

David: Like a little play area.

Woody: Yeah. A nursery school opened up in the building on the ground floor and, but the funny thing is the juxtaposition. Because the movies that people remember from that time, was they had midnight movies and…

David: Yeah.

Woody: The Song Remains the Same and other things.

David: Sure.

Woody: And Gimme Shelter and Jimi Plays Monterey.

David: I’m trying remember what I saw there, but I don't remember.

Woody: Like Christine Miller remembers, she said “The Parkside had many different smells. Everyone can remember at least one. I remembered smelling like hot dogs, disinfectant and cigarette smoke. And on nights when they were playing these movies or any other rock concert, it totally smelled like marijuana. The whole balcony would be engulfed in marijuana smoke.”

David: What do [00:11:00] you know?

Woody: And down below are preschool toys.

David: Doesn’t surprise me. And then we would just throw our beer bottles over the balcony, and into the, smash them on the floor with the kid toys.

Woody: Yes?

David: No, I never did that.

Woody: Good.

David: I never did that. That would be terrible.

Woody: So, this setup of just the balcony for the movies lasted until July of 1988 and then it closed for good. Then…

David: I know I went there a few times.

Woody: After? Not after ‘88 though.

David: No.

Woody: That was it. So, now it's still there. Like you said, the building's still there and they built these condominiums inside it. The preschool is still on the ground floor, you enter on 20th Avenue.

David: Do the condominiums have windows out to look at the, look at the preschool?

Woody: Look at the kids playing? No, no, thankfully they don't. They filled up the whole balcony area and everything. And it's funny, we have some pictures on our website of the old days and movie theaters would always renovate every few years to stay modern.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And we have one picture that shows the [00:12:00] interior and you see these 1930s-era murals on each side.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And they look like something out of a Coit Tower or something. Or like miners and farmers.

David: WPA sort of thing.

Woody: Yeah. And I wonder what happened to those. I wonder if there's… They just got dumped when they put the condos in or something.

David: I don't know.

Woody: Anyway, so...

David: Well, they, I mean, they were painted on the walls though, right?

Woody: Maybe they could have been panels. I can't tell.

David: Well, so we're looking for pictures of the renovation of the Parkside Theater.

Woody: Yeah.

David: The late ‘80s.

Woody: Yeah, that would be good.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And now on the 20th Avenue side, they have this strange rainbow they painted on the…

David: Yeah.

Woody: Around one of the windows. And, but they just repainted the building. It used to be kind of an ugly gray, and now it's kind of yellow, so it looks a little better. But, I don't know, that's the story of the Parkside Theater, David. I'm sure a lot of people out there remember it and I'm sure if they don't, they remember their own neighborhood movie theater.

David: Yeah.

Woody: If they are certain age.

David: So, get on our website [00:13:00] and send us a message about your memories of your neighborhood theater. Hopefully it's the Parkside. If it's not, we'll listen anyway.

Woody: And speaking of listening, we got some listener mail, I think.

David: Really?

Woody: Yes, we did. I wrote it down for you here. It says, “listener mail.” I wrote it down.

David: Yeah, I know. I see.

Woody: It says it.

David: I'm just trying to play along, you know? Yeah, we got listener mail from longtime Western Neighborhoods Project member and contributor, and great mentor to us, John Freeman.

Woody: Yeah. And he writes in, I forget, he listens at all to the podcast, but then I remember when he writes in and goes, “Great podcast. Let me correct some of your mistakes.”

David: Yes.

Woody: And this was one of them. It was about Monarch the Bear. You know, we had the…

David: Oh yeah.

Woody: The podcast on the grizzly bear, and he basically points out, maybe we didn't make mistakes but, there's so much mythology wrapped up in Monarch.

David: Yes.

Woody: That it's hard to figure out what's real and what's not. So…

David: I mean, he, so one of the things he says is the first [00:14:00] version of the Bear flag dates from the Bear Flag Revolt.

Woody: Which is like 1846.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Long before Monarch.

David: Sonoma, yeah. Long before, long before Monarch. And the flag was lost, but supposedly the bear was so poorly rendered it looked more like a pig.

Woody: Right.

David: And I’ve seen kind of pictures of it. There's a replica of it at Sonoma, I believe.

Woody: Yeah. And then the flag we have now, you know, was created in 1911. So…

David: Yeah.

Woody: Is that Monarch? You know, so…

David: I think, I think that's closer to the truth.

Woody: Yeah. Anyway, we're not sure. And the other thing he points out, which something I've always wondered too, but was too scared to bring up: is that stuffed bear you see at the California Academy of Sciences?

David: Yes.

Woody: That's supposed to be Monarch?

David: Right.

Woody: It looks tiny.

David: It looks pretty small.

Woody: It doesn't look like a grizzly bear to me. It looks like a little tiny, looks like a big dog.

David: Doesn't look like a giant 1,100 pound, I mean, maybe they lost some of the, they got some liposuction, they lost some of his [00:15:00] hide when they wrapped it over him.

Woody: It could be when you do taxidermy, you don't get all the fat in there or something. Anyway, it's not quite, it didn't quite, it seemed strange that it's such a small looking bear, so.

David: He does mention one good thing, one real inconsistency that we had in that podcast.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And that is Willis Polk’s Association with the bear pit at Golden Gate Park.

Woody: The architect Willis Polk.

David: Yeah. He only submitted a design and when you have a picture of the design, it's beautiful. It has stairs. You can go up on top and look down and, you know, throw garbage down on him. If you are…

Woody: Throw beer cans.

David: That sort of person.

Woody: Down on Monarch.

David: Beer cans, yeah.

Woody: Gosh, David, I don't like the…

David: Anyway, he submitted a design, but it was never built as designed. “The thing to note is that Polk’s design shows stairs along the grand facade where the visitor could climb up above the Monarch and look down on the bear.”

Woody: Yeah.

David: “Thus, having a pit [00:16:00] effect. The bear enclosure at Golden Gate Park was never really a pit. It was built on the ground where a visitor was more eye to eye.”

Woody: Yeah. It wasn't really a pit.

David: Yeah.

Woody: We called it like “a bear pit.”

David: Yeah.

Woody: But it's a cage.

David: Right.

Woody: Essentially.

David: And they didn't build the fanciful Willis Polk design.

Woody: Right. Well, thanks John, for writing in and telling us. And if anybody else out there has a correction or something to amplify our podcast subject, please write in. We want to hear from you. You can send us email, use our contact form on our website, review us on iTunes if you like.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Anything. But: if you just want to make sure you get mentioned on the podcast, we have another way for you to do it.

David: That's right, Woody. It's called “Get a Shout Out on the Podcast.”

Woody: Oh, is that what we're calling it? I like that.

David: That's what it's called. That's what it says on my, you wrote the notes!

Woody: I call it “Get a Shout Out?” You're right, I did. Okay, we'll call it that. “Get a Shout Out on the Podcast.” For $50 we can read your hundred-word message. [00:17:00] All you have to do is go to outsidelands.org/podcast. And you'll see the little form there, a PayPal button. You could wish somebody a happy birthday. Tell David how great he is, I'll read that one. Advertise your bubble tea restaurant.

David: Yes.

Woody: Anything you want to do, 50 bucks, a hundred words. Let's see if it happens. Anyway.

David: I don't think anyone's going to take us up on this sponsorship idea.

Woody: Why?

David: I don't know.

Woody: It's great! I would do it.

David: Okay.

Woody: But now David, it's time for events. So, if you go to our website, outsidelands.org/events, you could see all these, but…

David: Yeah, you probably look at, on the, right on the front page, we have the most current upcoming events.

Woody: Right. So, like we said last week, we're going to be at the Nightlife, the California Academy of Sciences Nightlife on April 6th, which is…

David: Coming up.

Woody This Thursday.

David: Yeah.

Woody: 6:00 to 10:00 PM, [00:18:00] $12 if you're a member, $15 if you're not. And we're going to show photos, collection, old stuff, and you just have to be 21 and over. You get a cocktail. It's a great event.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So come and do that.

David: This is a nice way to see the Academy in a different setting than you normally do.

Woody: Right. So we'll be there. What else? Anything else we're doing?

David: Well, April 19th, that's a couple weeks from now, we're going to be out in Bernal Heights.

Woody: Yay!

David: At the Library.

Woody: Library.

David: With the Bernal History Project. And we're going to be talking about 1906 earthquake shacks.

Woody: Yeah. We know a lot about that.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And it's free!

David: And it is free.

Woody: Totally free.

David: And it's right after the anniversary of the earthquake.

Woody: The day after. The night after.

David: The night after, yeah.

Woody: I guess the fire…

David: The City will still be burning!

Woody: That's right. It'd be the anniversary of the fires still happening.

David: Yeah.

Woody: April 19th, Wednesday night, 7:00, Bernal Heights.

David: It's a three-day party.

Woody: It is. Now, you know, David, we [00:19:00] also talk about. all the benefits of membership. Well, we have a member walk coming up at the end of April, April 29th.

David: Right.

Woody: And it's a special thing. It's totally new. We're going to have a Bird Life History Walk.

David: Wow.

Woody: Yeah. You never, we've never had that. We're talking about birds, you know.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Fowl. Brian Turner's going to lead it, and it's going to go through the Eastern end of Golden Gate Park. And I think, I can't believe you could just find birds, but I guess people can do that.

David: You can find some birds in the Eastern end of Golden Gate Park probably walk through the oak woodlands, no doubt.

Woody: Maybe, but kind of like how birds, what the history of birds is in the area and what it teaches us about history.

David: Okay.

Woody: The birds and their things. So, it's free, but it's limited to thirty WNP members.

David: So, if you're not a member, you better join right away.

Woody: Right. And their guests, we usually let them bring a guest.

David: Yeah.

Woody: April 29th, which is a [00:20:00] Saturday morning at 8:30. So go to the website, you can read more about it, and you can RSVP if you're a member, to sign up and get on the Bird Life History Walk.

David: Well, what if you're not a member?

Woody: Well, David, you know what they can do? They can go to our website and click the “Become a Member” link, which is at the top of every page.

David: And fill out the information.

Woody: And?

David: Send us in a donation.

Woody: And?

David: RSVP for the walk.

Woody: Yeah. And they basically get the benefits of membership, which is, it's tax deductible.

David: Yep.

Woody: You get to go to events like the Bird Life Walk, you get our quarterly newsletter, and you just go, “Man, I love supporting these guys.”

David: Yes.

Woody: And the women who do all the work, so…

David: Yes.

Woody: I don't mean that the women just do the work. Anyway, you could support us. So become a member of Western Neighborhoods Project. We'd be happy.

David: Yes. And Woody, I would be remiss, if I didn't talk briefly about our progress at opensfhistory.org. [00:21:00] We've got almost 13,000 images online right now.

Woody: Wow!

David: And they span the entire City.

Woody: Wow!

David: And you can see them, and download them, for free.

Woody: “And you can see them.” Okay. I think that's great. Thank you for doing all that.

David: We work really hard on that project, and we're not even close to being done.

Woody: No, it'll be great. We're just going to keep going forever and people are going to love it. So, for a little, one line preview of next week's subject, David?

David Yes, Woody?

Woody: We're going to visit a place in the City with vistas so fabulously beautiful that the developer said, “It's like a page from the Arabian Nights.”

David: Hmm.

Woody: Where could that be?

David: Is it looking over the Sunset District?

Woody: You'll find out next week. I'll see you then.

David: All right, Woody.

Ian: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media [00:22:00] production at ihadley.com.

Woody: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history, go to outsidelands.org.

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