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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 248: Bridge Theatre

From Charles Boyer to Peaches Christ, the Bridge Theater on Geary hosted it all.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Oct 27, 2017

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 248: Bridge Theatre Outside Lands Podcast Episode 248: Bridge Theatre

(above) Bridge Theatre, Nov 2005

Bridge Theatre, which opened in 1939 and closed in 2012, as it looked in 2005.
WNP photo


Podcast Transcription

248 - Bridge Theatre

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: Shhh, Woody, I'm trying to concentrate!

Woody: On what?

David: You're interrupting the podcast that I'm paying attention to.

Woody: I think you're trying to give some clue about what our podcast is about this week. I think. Although I'm not even getting it and I know what the podcast is about!

David: All right. It's very obtuse, I know.

Woody: I said last week, I was obtuse though, because I said last week we were, “going to go to the Bridge, but not the one you’re thinking about.” I was assuming that people would think of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Bay Bridge or…

David: Yeah.

Woody: Lefty O’Doul Bridge.

David: The Lefty O’Doul Bridge or the Islais Creek Bridge.

Woody: Yeah, but we weren't going to any of those places.

David: No, we're not. We're talking about the Bridge Theatre, [00:01:00] so, shhh.

Woody: Right, “Be quiet. The movie's starting.” That's what you're doing, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Yeah. So, David, you know, people probably, even if they've recently moved here, are maybe familiar with where the Bridge theater is. Because even though it's not a theater anymore, the big old marquee blade, the…

David: Yeah.

Woody: Sign that says “Bridge” is right there.

David: Still there on Geary Boulevard at Blake Street. It's kind of, you come through the, through the tunnel there.

Woody: Going West.

David: Under Masonic, and you, and it's right there on the right as you come into the Richmond District.

Woody: Yeah, it's big old blade sign, beautiful marquee. It's still in great shape on the outside. Thanks to a restoration project. But the funny thing about it is: it looks like a movie theater.

David: Yeah.

Woody: All set up. But it's not a movie theater anymore.

David: It’s not a movie theater anymore. Nope. It's the home of the San Francisco Baseball Academy, I think.

Woody: Yeah. They [00:02:00] actually teach kids how to play baseball.

David: I think adults can go there too.

Woody: It's like batting cages, right?

David: I think they, well I, I had a friend who was on my softball team, I've been on a softball team for Park and Rec league, and he needed a little help. And so…

Woody: Oh, really? So, you sent him to the San Francisco Baseball Academy?

David: So, he went over there and he was like, “Oh, it's great.” They don't have pitching machines or batting cages where you put in a coin. A guy actually will pitch to you.

Woody: Really?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Like…

David: And give you some pointers on your batting stroke.

Woody: I'm still flabbergasted that this movie theater, which I think at the time was for sale for like $3 million.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Because they thought it'd be developed into condos or something.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Was bought, saved, and the exterior restored to its movie house glory.

David: Right.

Woody: And then turned into something as profitable as a baseball academy inside.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Anyway, but we're…

David: I [00:03:00] don't, I don't know much about the Baseball Academy other than that story where…

Woody: That's a good one.

David: Are you going to ask me if he improved?

Woody: Did he improve?

David: No.

Woody: That's a rousing endorsement of the Baseball Academy.

David: He was good to start with.

Woody: Alright.

David: He didn't need any help.

Woody: So, let's go back to the beginning when it actually was a theater. David, do you know when the Bridge theater opened?

David: Woody, I happen to know.

Woody: Yes.

David: Because I have a note in front of me that says it opened on July 21st, 1939. And the first film was called Love Affair.

Woody: Love Affair. Love Affair, well, I could talk about that movie later, but the date is interesting. 1939. So…

David: Right. As we know, the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937. And two years later, trying to cash in on that amazing Wonder of the World…

Woody: Yeah.

David: This theater named itself the “Bridge.”

Woody: [00:04:00] Yeah. It was built by Attilio A. Zerga. So, a lot of the neighborhood theaters were kind of owned by the Levin family.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And this is more of an independent one, owned by Zerga. And it opened as the New Bridge, they were calling it. I'm not sure if there was an Old Bridge, but it said Bridge on the marquee.

David: Right.

Woody: On the blade sign, rather. And Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne were both in Love Affair. And our good friend, the theater historian, Jack Tillmany, wrote into us, this is a few years ago, and he said that basically the Bridge was a low-price, late run neighborhood theater. So basically, it played films which had first opened on Market Street.

David: Sure.

Woody: And that happened,

David: Which is where movies opened, right?

Woody: Right.

David: I mean, new movies were always down on the big theaters on Market Street.

Woody: And then the movies would move to neighborhood theaters.

David: Which is kind of a shock because it would move to places like the Alexandria or the Coliseum, which were pretty big theaters too.

Woody: They [00:05:00] were, they were big theaters. But the Bridge wasn't even in that second run.

David: No.

Woody: It was after that.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, Love Affair had already been out like three or four months, by the time it opened up the Bridge as the first movie. And it had already been out, people had probably already seen it.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, these movies would go from Market Street to say the Alexandria on Geary, and then they would eventually end up at the Bridge. So, it's like, “last chance. See this movie.” But things changed and that's mostly through the war and late ‘40s. In the mid-‘50s, the Bridge was upgraded to, what Jack calls it, being an “exclusive first run art theater.” So, in other words, if you had a big blockbuster that, like Oklahoma or something.

David: Yeah.

Woody: It wouldn't open at the Bridge. But if you had something very prestigious or artsy, some kind of Fellini movie or something, and it might open at the Bridge. So, it became, that sort of theater and it was from then on.

David: Yeah. [00:06:00] I mean, when I remember going to the Bridge starting in the ‘80s, you know, I would come up from San Bruno and we would go see movies at the Bridge. And they, and I went through the newspapers and I saw that almost every movie that played the Bridge was like exclusive at the Bridge or it was a West Coast premiere. But there were typically smaller movies. Not big blockbusters.

Woody: Right.

David: I saw that, like 1981, Melvin and Howard, do you remember this movie?

Woody: Uh-uh.

David: It was about Howard Hughes.

Woody: Oh.

David: And his supposed heir,

Woody: Yeah.

David: Melvin.

Woody: Right.

David: Anyway, that thing. that played there for like four and a half months, five months.

Woody: Well, when I was, I was in high…

David: It was an Academy Award winner.

Woody: Yeah. I think it was those kind of movies that would get those sort of nominations. But when I was in high school…

David: Yeah.

Woody: And I was in a play at St. Rose, which was a girl’s school, I went to an all-boys school. I took a young lady out on a date and [00:07:00] we went to the Bridge to see Das Boot. Which is about a German submarine.

David: I bet there was a lot of snuggling going on during that.

Woody: During the battle scenes. It also was subtitled, so it made me look really classy, like, “Oh yes, I go to the foreign films all the time here in the Richmond District.”

David: Oh, yes.

Woody: So, it was excellent for, I don't know, making me seem like I was more sophisticated than I was.

David: Yeah.

Woody: As a 16-year-old.

David: And I think all through the ‘80s it played international movies, Ingmar Bergman, and different sorts of foreign films and smaller, critically acclaimed films.

Woody: Yeah. And another thing, it was known for, like a lot of these small repertory theaters and kind of independent showing places, is it had a sort of underground, what would you call it? Counterculture thing that would happen. Like midnight movies, it would have.

David: Right.

Woody: So, did you go…

David: Well what midnight [00:08:00] movies started with, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or something, and I don't think, did that play at the Bridge?

Woody: I think it probably did.

David: Yeah.

Woody: But we were actually on the bill at a talk with the performer, Peaches Christ.

David: Right.

Woody: Who did sort of a gender-bending, you know, midnight…

David: Midnight movie drag show.

Woody: Series, yeah.

David: Yeah.

Woody: At the Bridge.

David: That went on for years and years. It started in the late, mid-‘90s, maybe.

Woody: Maybe even earlier. But yeah, you're right. It went on for a long time and it was very counterculture.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And kind of crazy and drew this crowd that you really wouldn't expect to see on that side of the hill.

David: Right.

Woody: You know, in the, almost in the Richmond District.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And I think we should make a shout out to that, because a lot of people probably do remember that.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And have gone to that.

David: And if you have memories of that, send us a message.

Woody; Yeah. And…

David: I never personally attended one of those shows.

Woody: Yeah.

David: I wasn't really a midnight movie person.

Woody: I went to bed too early. [00:09:00]

David: Yeah.

Woody: But Peaches Christ, the person who ran it, is still around.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Like I said, we were on a bill with him and he's got quite a following.

David: Continuing to do shows all over the place.

Woody: Yeah, the nation.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Like does these sort of like, pick certain movies and hosts the night and all that.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Yeah. So, I remember, I think I went to the Bridge the last week it was open. The, all the movie theaters, the neighborhood theaters, all suffered through the years and there are always rumors that each theater was going to close. And the Bridge finally at the end of 2012, they announced it was, that was it. They were going to close it. And they had tried some very kind of fun and crowd-friendly stuff in the last year or two, where they were, they advertised they had the best popcorn in the City.

David: Yeah.

Woody: They had it on the marquee, almost above the movie, “Best popcorn in the City.” And they, somebody would come out and talk before the movie and kind of make you feel welcome, and it was really good. [00:10:00] And I went there because I knew it was going to close the last week and it, the last day was December 27th, 2012. And the last film was Perks of Being a Wallflower.

David: Good movie.

Woody: Yeah.

David: I saw it on DVD.

Woody: Oh, you're the reason!

David: Oh, I'm the reason the Bridge closed!

Woody: The Bridge closed. And I think the good thing is, you know, our friends over at the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation…

David: Yes.

Woody: Who are, their mission is to really champion…

David: Right. They own the Balboa and they own the Vogue, I think.

Woody: They own the Vogue. They have a long-term lease at the Balboa.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Yeah. I think, you know, they worked really hard to see if the Bridge could somehow be salvaged and, or, saved. And the, what was good out of all this is, it's still possible it could return to being a movie theater.

David: Yeah.

Woody: It has the shell, it has the marquee, it has the blade. You just have to really put in seats and the equipment. I think you could do it if you wanted. So…

David: Yes.

Woody: And as far as like the [00:11:00] infrastructure, I know the box office used to be, Jack told me this, in the center.

David: Okay.

Woody: Like those old movie theaters.

David: Yeah.

Woody: With the little booth, the person stuck in the booth.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And then they had moved it to the side. But other than that, everything is pretty much still there. You could put it all back together. If neighborhood movie theaters make a comeback.

David: Yeah. Yeah. They don't.

Woody: Weird things have happened. If you have memories of the Bridge, please let us know. We want to hear them. we want to talk about them. If you have corrections or clarifications, you can do it through our little part of our podcast we call, Listener mail!

David: We have some mail, Woody!

Woody: Already?

David: Yes.

Woody: On the Bridge?

David: No, not about the Bridge.

Woody: Okay.

David: No. Arnold wrote in, and he said, “Hey in your recent City College podcast, you're speculating what the college football division City College is in.”

Woody: We made up some answers, I think.

David: We made up the answers?

Woody: Yeah, what the athletic conference they were in. [00:12:00]

David: Yeah.  He says that it is in the CCCAA, California Community College Athletic Association. And it's, “and that conference made up of seventeen community colleges located from San Francisco down to Monterey.”

Woody: And that's just the Coast Conference. So, does the CCCAA have, like, conferences all over? Probably.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So anyway, City College had a great football team and that's the, I guess, the association that they were a part of. And thank you, Arnold, for telling us. I'm very happy about that. We also got a letter from Heather who writes, “David! Woody!”

David: Heather, do you want a job on the podcast? You've got a real, you've got a real affinity for it.

Woody: Yeah. And then she writes, “I just listened to your podcast on the art at City College of San Francisco. I'm so glad that you, as usual, brought this hidden gem to light. [00:13:00] There are so many in San Francisco, including the Museum of Ancient Civilizations at San Francisco State University.” Did you know about that?

David: I don't know about that at all.

Woody: I think their Sutro mummies is part of that.

David: Oh, I've been, well, I've been there, I've seen the Sutro mummies.

Woody: I think it's the same.

David: I didn't know that it was the Museum of Ancient Civilizations though.

Woody: Yeah. Heather says, she discovered this art collection when she was living in San Francisco while searching for all of the Benny Bufano sculptures in the City. And she got a brochure at City College that had a map of the locations of the art on campus and descriptions. And she didn't know if they still printed it, but there's an online version. Which I'd like to figure out a way to get this link to our podcast listeners, David.

David: Yeah.

Woody: But she, it's out there, so. And then, she made a little slideshow on her YouTube channel to show the people the great art of City College. Which I'd like to also share with our listeners.

David: Yeah.

Woody: If we can figure out a way. Thank you, Heather, for telling us.

David: Well, I mean, I think if you search, [00:14:00] here's the title, right? “Art of City College of San Francisco.” So, if you searched on YouTube for that, you should be able to find it.

Woody: Find her thing, yeah. Thank you for writing in Heather. See, we got to hear about sports and art in the same listener mail section.

David: Wow. We just, we cover everything.

Woody: That's right, or our listeners do. So, write in, send us mail, review us on iTunes, and thank you. It's really great to hear from people. And now, it's time for events. David.

David: Oooh [making ghostly sound].

Woody: Today's the day. Today's the day, we're going to be at the BalBOOa Fright Fest.

David: I think we're there right now, maybe.

Woody: Well, yeah. By the time people listen to this, yes, we're probably there.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Yeah, but it's 11:00 to 4:00 on Balboa Street out, we're like 35th and, between 35th and 39th.

David: Like where the Balboa Theater is.

Woody: Yeah, near there.

David: Between 35th and 39th.

Woody: Yeah. So, we’ll have a booth, we have pictures, we have magazines. We've got, [00:15:00] maybe, a special gift.

David: Will there be any candy?

Woody: There will be, I'm sure somewhere in the area, candy. I don't know about our thing. And the gala is sold out on November 4th.  Next year, I hope, well we don't know if we're going to do it next year. Next eleven years, maybe you can get a ticket. But thank you to our big sponsors, Outerlands Restaurant, Wells Fargo, Recology, Lighthouse Public Affairs, Barbagelata Real Estate, and…

David: The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Source System Improvement Program.

Woody: That's right.

David: I've gotten pretty good on that.

Woody: You have. And, this is going to be a tight fit but, I'm doing a talk on the Inner Sunset and Sunset Heights on November 27th. A little bit ahead of now, it's going to be on a Monday night. But it's at the SHARP Clubhouse, which is 1736 9th Avenue.

David: That's a small space.

Woody: It's small [high pitched voice]. It looks like a house, but it's like, takes up the whole garage.

David: And it's also their normal meeting, isn't it?

Woody: Yes.

David: So, they're going to be there.

Woody: Sunset Heights [00:16:00] Association of Responsible Peoples.

David: SHARP.

Woody: SHARP. So, go to the events page, events link, essentially, at outsidelands.org and you can read more.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And David?

David: Yes, it's time to pitch the membership part.

Woody: That's right, what else can people do on the website?

David: They could become a member by clicking the “Become a Member” link, which is at the top of any page. There's also, I think it, now it's underneath the “Donate” button. And if you're looking at this on mobile, it's probably not there at all.

Woody: What!? We don’t have…

David: I think I messed up my, I think I messed up my mobile.

Woody: Oh no!

David: My mobile website and the “Donate” and “Become a member” link is not there when you're just on a little tiny phone.

Woody: Oh no. All these people are trying to donate and they can't. David, you got to fix that.

David: I'm going to fix it.

Woody: You do it.

David: Because, you know why? People should become a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project, Woody.

Woody: They can't, they can't.

David: They should do it!

Woody: Well, I'll give you a one [00:17:00] line preview of next week and hopefully by then we'll have this fixed.  David, it's time we let the people speak.

David: Amen brother!

Woody: That's going to happen next week. See you then.

David: I’ll see you then.

Ian: Outside Lands, San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media 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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