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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 416: Levin Family Theatres

The neighborhoods of the West Side would not be the same without their local movie theatre and we have the Levin Family to thank for them, from the Alexandria to the Coliseum to the beloved Balboa and many more... Nicole, Arnold & David tell the story of this arts-devoted family. Plus an all-star live audience Listener Mail.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Feb 6, 2021

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 416: Levin Family Theatres Outside Lands Podcast Episode 416: Levin Family Theatres

(above) Coliseum Theatre, Nov 22, 1918

Opening night of Coliseum Theatre on Clement Street and 9th Avenue. 'Johanna Enlists' playing.

Podcast Transcription

416 - Levin Family Theatres

Nicole: [00:00:00] It's Outside Lands, San Francisco. podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project, I am Nicole Meldahl.

David: And I'm David Gallagher.

Arnold: And I am Arnold Woods.

Nicole: Hello fellows.

David: Hello, Nicole. You're sounding very sultry, and deep voiced. And hey, Arnold!

 Arnold: Hey David, hey Nicole.

Nicole: I'm trying out my FM radio voice. How am I doing?

David: Good, it sounds good to me but I'm, as you know, I'm a poor judge of sound.

Nicole: We got some feedback that my voice was a little shrill, so I'm going to try and correct that.

David: Oh don't, you know, don't listen to the haters, Nicole. You're doing great. And I want to say that today, we've returned to our live podcast [00:01:00] audience format. So, we have a nice, big audience watching us with our absurd hats and our eye rolls and all that. So, Nicole don't go searching for a hat now, it's too late. So, what's the podcast about tonight, Nicole?

Nicole: Oh, well, this week we're talking about the Lavon, the Lavan, gosh! Oh, the Levin family that owned what seems like most of the neighborhoods, most of the neighborhood theaters. Okay, I'm going to start that over again, that was brutal.

David: Cut!

Nicole: Cut!

David: Now this is great for the studio audience. You get to see us warts and all.

Nicole: Okay!

David: Let's start over.

Nicole: This week, David, we talk about the Levin family that owned, what seems like, most of the neighborhood theaters in the Western neighborhoods.

David: Wow. I mean, we've, we've heard a lot about them. And, and just to be clear, we're not doing a deep dive into the individual [00:02:00] theaters owned by the Levin family, because we've already done that on other podcasts. You know, we're, they, it, the list goes on and on. It might be every, it might be almost every theater in, on the West side. We have the Coronet, the Surf, the Parkside, the Coliseum, the Bridge, you know, the El Rey, Alexandria and the Balboa Theatre, which is last one that's still around. And we're going to, we're going to talk a little bit about those, and all those are represented by their individual podcasts. So, you can listen to any of those.

Arnold: They can find them on the podcast page of our website.

Nicole: Yes, you can.

Arnold: So, who are these Levins? It all started with Samuel Levin, a native of Russia. He was born in St. Petersburg. He immigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1899 and moved to San Francisco in 1903. [00:03:00] His first business was a penny arcade and shooting gallery in the North Beach area. After that, he moved into Nickelodeons. Then around 1910 or so, he got into a moving pictures business with a partner named Gordon. They called the firm “Gordon and Levin.” That year, 1910, was also significant in his life because he got married to Sadie Leah Kirschner. And this is important because you can't have an empire without someone to inherit it. They had two sons, Irving and Robert, who later joined the family business. And they also had a daughter named Jewel and a third son named Richard.

Nicole: Yeah, and Samuel strikes out on his own. He kind of dabbles in real estate but he also purchases his first picture palace, the Haight Theatre, at 1700 Haight Street in 1916. Which if you're wondering if it's still there today, it's not. It's where the Goodwill is. And he remodels the theater extensively, he doubles the seating capacity [00:04:00] and reopens it with great fanfare and this becomes kind of a trademark move for him. And after this, he's primarily in the movie business and, to be honest, the rate at which he opens and sells theaters is absolutely astounding.

David: Yeah, so right, so he got right to it and opened the second theater, the Coliseum, which we've talked about in the past as we noted, on Clement and Ninth Avenue in 1918 with his brother Alex. It would, later he sold the Coliseum, but, but, and this part I'm not really clear on, he took back a ninety-nine-year lease, but bought it back in 1926. So, I'm not sure, what does that mean, Nicole?

Nicole: Well, what it means is that he builds this thing and then he sells it to another party, but then he leases the property back and [00:05:00] manages the theater. And I'm sure someone in our illustrious audience will correct us or, or update us on this. But he ends up buying it back, and I have a feeling this is because the Coliseum was really, really one of the most gorgeous neighborhood theaters. When it was built in 1918, it was the most prestigious and grandest theater here. And I think he, I, this is a personal opinion, but I think he had a soft spot for the Coliseum. He actually had his offices here when he built it, he moved from downtown and installed his office here. So, anyways, I think he has a soft spot for this.

Arnold: I think it's also a money-making thing. Where he'd sell the building and get a lot of money for that, lease it back, and then make a lot of money showing pictures there and then using that money to buy it back.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. He, because he continues to expand, right? He, like, builds these things. He makes it beautiful, makes every theater feel like a home, so you want to come and hang out there and then he moves on to the [00:06:00] next one. The next after he opened the, well he opened…

David: Let me just say that the Coliseum Theatre building is still there. There's a Walgreens and there's condos upstairs, but the facade of it is still the same. Still has theater motifs along the, along the top and everything. People walk, newcomers walk by it today and they say, “What, what the heck is this building?” And it was, it was the grandest theater in the, in the Richmond District at one time.

Nicole: Absolutely. And so, he just keeps on going. He opens the Balboa Theatre in 1922, although not the Balboa Theatre we know today. This was the original one on Ocean at Faxon. And then he and…

David: In Westwood Park, right?

Nicole: Yeah. And then he moves on and opens the Alexandria Theatre, which is my personal favorite, in 1923. And then he goes and, and moves on and, in 1924, opens the Metropolitan Theatre on Union Street. And…

David: So, we know that, we know that one from modern times as the [00:07:00] Metro, right? I mean that's, I never heard it, I went to, I went to movies there at the Metro, that's over on Union Street, and I never heard it called The Metropolitan. But we have pictures of the giant vertical sign saying, spelling out “Metropolitan.” It's kind of cool.

Nicole: Yeah. And so, with the Alexandria Theatre and with the Metropolitan, he also builds around it these, like, business blocks. And this, this kind of becomes like a trademark move, if you will. And if you're starting to get a feel for how he became this sort of movie king in San Francisco, it's kind of what we described earlier, right? You buy, you build, you expand, you diversify your business around, and then you sell it back, or you lease it back. He was also well known for, he would revamp these movie theaters, the interiors, constantly to keep it fresh, to include new technology. And we'll get into that a little bit more in a second.

Arnold: Yeah. I think when he, his first theater was the Haight Theatre and that was an [00:08:00] already existing theater that he extensively remodeled before reopening it. But anyway, we have, as David mentioned earlier, we have podcasts on a lot of these theaters that we've been talking about. But one we have not covered in a podcast yet is the Portal Theatre.

David: I was shocked by this.

Nicole: I know, me too.

Arnold: The Portal Theatre was opened in 1925 and, as you might guess from the name, it was in West Portal. And…

David: It’s still there today.

Arnold: Still there today.

David: As the Empire, right?

Arnold: Well, it's gone even further than that since then, but we'll get into that in a sec. Commissioned in 1923, this theater was unlike most of Levin's other projects. Most of the other ones were designed by the Reid Brothers, but this one was designed by Irving Morrow, of the Morrow and Garren firm. Fun fact, Morrow also designed the Golden Gate Bridge. His wife, Gertrude, was an [00:09:00] accomplished architect, and later, a partner in his firm.

Nicole: So cool.

Arnold: Original plans had an open courtyard in front of the entrance to the theater. And featured a Moorish style for the building and connected commercial shops. For our live audience, they're seeing a drawing by Morrow of what the plan was supposed to be for the Portal Theatre.

David: It didn't really get built that way though, did it?

Arnold: It did not. They scaled it back. They eliminated the courtyard and the business block around it. And the theater entrance was pushed up to the sidewalk. The facade was also changed, more of a Mission style tower with some arches.

Nicole: Yeah, so this was, oh, go ahead David.

David: And over the years, of course, as we say, he was always revamping it. So, at a certain point it got a, it got a beautiful neon marquee. That, that, multicolored and all that. I mean, West Portal's not a big street, right? I mean, so you can imagine, and we're looking at [00:10:00] a picture now that's off the website of this, of this big three, three-panel marquee with giant letters and bright colors. And it's, like, that thing probably really lit up the street. I think the, and this is a, we're looking at a picture from 1970 and I think that this was just as they were about to remove that neon.

Nicole: Oh, never remove the neon! Yeah, and the photo we're also looking at, it says “Empire Theatre” because it was renamed in October 1936. And not long after the 1940s, it gets a fancy upgrade, and they redo the interior. And like you said, David, around the ‘70s, things start to change a bit. So, it was actually, the theater was actually purchased from the family by Century Theaters in March of 1974. And that's when they transformed it into a triplex. So that brought the seating capacity down and I guess since [00:11:00] like, since 2003, it's been managed by Cinemark, which is why you now know it as “CineArts at the Empire.”

Arnold: That wasn't the end of Levin's building. Following the opening of the Portal Theatre, he continued to build. Next was the Harding Theatre at Divisadero and Hayes. And then the, what was then called the “New Balboa Theatre,” aka, the one we now know as the Balboa Theatre, right down the street here from our office, on Balboa between 37th and 38th. That opened in 1926.

David: And the Harding Theater has gotten a new life recently as, well, pre-pandemic it was reopened as something called “The Emporium,” which was kind of a big bar and event venue. So it was, it was coming back to life.

Nicole: Yeah, I think they had a bunch of, like, games you could play, like video games. [00:12:00] God, I sound so old while saying that. But the Harding Theatre, if you look at photos on our website, like our live podcast audience can see right now, I go to the Independent a lot, and so, I would walk by this building constantly and I was blown away by what it used to look like because it's been such a derelict space for so long.

David: Well, the terrazzo is still intact on the, on the sidewalk, which is kind of cool.

Nicole: Yeah, so anyways, all the while Samuel's constantly innovating, like we were talking about before. He began experimenting with other entertainment at his theaters. Like, he had vaudeville acts on Saturdays at the Harding Theatre and he, ever expanding orchestras at the Alexandria Theatre. Tons of advertisements for Eddie Harkness and his orchestra, that while they were performing there. And, of course, the Coliseum as well, had standing performances on Sundays. In the early afternoons, you had Ben Black's orchestra there and then Max Dolan's orchestra there. [00:13:00] And then my favorite part is he installed Vitaphone equipment in his Richmond District theater so he could show the new talkie motion picture, The Jazz Singer in 1928.

Arnold: He had sold the Richmond District theaters at one point and then had bought them back like within the same year. But it was when he bought them back that he started renovating them to include the sound system for talkies.

Nicole: Yeah, so around this time, so okay, we're moving on through theaters with the Levin family. He's now planning his grandest theater yet, which is the El Rey. He purchased a large plot of land, about five adjacent lots on Ocean Avenue near Lakewood, from Fernando Nelson, who we also have a podcast on, if you're interested. And this is in 1928, but what's coming right around the bend in 1928? [00:14:00] It's the stock market crash of 1929. So, we think that may have delayed the project a little bit, but construction does get going again in 1931. And he gets the, you know, the peak of architects in the city, Timothy Pflueger, to design the building. And it does open in November of 1931 with a whopping seating capacity of 1800 people.

David: That's big. And I mean, it's still a landmark of Ocean Avenue and of the, you know, of the Ingleside really. I mean, you could see the tower from just about anywhere. It was a, it's been a church for a long time and now it's kind of shuttered and, and we don't know what the future holds for it. It's a crazy story, right? I mean, we did a, we did a Ingleside history night there, history day there, probably fifteen years ago and the [00:15:00] church that owned it went into default, this is a crazy story, went into default and the El Rey was sold on the City Hall steps in an auction for a million dollars. This is like five years ago.

Nicole: Oh!

David: And I know Nicole is house shopping and she knows that she can't get nearly that amount of space for a million bucks.

Nicole: Nope, not, doesn't exist in San Francisco anymore.

Arnold: And David, you said it was a landmark of the neighborhood, but it's also officially, I believe now, a San Francisco Landmark.

Nicole: Oh, bing!

David: And I'm told by our all-live audience, Katherine Petrin, that it is for sale again, but not, probably not, for a million dollars.

Arnold: Anyway, about the time that he's opening the El Rey, while he is working to get it opened, he also got serious about the business side of the movie theater business, and he incorporated a new company [00:16:00] called “San Francisco Theaters Inc,” which became official in April of 1930. Again, we wonder what role the stock market crash played in all this. Whether he is trying to protect himself if the movie theater business went bad, so that he, personally, wouldn't be liable for any big problems.

Nicole: Smart cookie.

Arnold: Anyways, the original incorporation pages, papers stated that the company could issue up to 10,000 shares, but, at the time they began, only twenty shares were issued and they were all owned by Samuel Levin. It's seven-member board of directors included his brothers Alex and Joseph, along with four other men. This company, according to the Secretary of State's website, still exists today, still operating movie theaters, but it's run out of Knoxville, Tennessee, and obviously not managed by the Levin family anymore.

Nicole: Because when [00:17:00] I think of movies, I think of Knoxville, Tennessee for sure.

Arnold: Particularly for a company called the San Francisco Theaters, Inc.

Nicole: Well, so, okay. He achieves his dream with the El Rey.

David: No, Tennessee hate allowed, come on! So, what, what's next?

Nicole: So, okay, so he achieves his dream, right? His Timothy Pflueger picture palace, and then he just gets right back to it. He opens two more theaters in the city. He reopens what was called the Elite Theatre on Sacramento Street, which is now known as the Vogue, which is one of my favorite places in the city, to be honest.

David: That, I did not know that the Vogue was once called the Elite Theatre.

Nicole: It made me wonder if the Elite Cafe named itself that, which is also no longer there.

David: Not really nearby. I mean, you know, it's nowhere near there, Nicole.

Nicole: Well anyway.

David: Come on!

Nicole: Anyway, I'm sorry.

David: I can tell you, I can tell you [00:18:00] one thing that I remember from the Vogue Theatre is I saw The Gods Must Be Crazy there and I was so irritated that it played there for, like, two years. I was, and I hated that movie so much. I liked the Vogue, but I couldn't go back for two years or something because of Gods Must Be Crazy, a terrible movie, played there. That's my own personal feeling about the Vogue.

Arnold: Those views are not the views of the Western Neighborhood Project.

Nicole: I was going to say, I've had one of my best movie viewing experiences there, which is watching The Age of Adeline during, well, they gave us like snacks and cocktails. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had. Also, Chelsea calls that the unauthorized biography of Nicole. Anyways, no one cares about this, we're moving on. So, we owe…

David: Can I say, can I say something? Our live audience is chiming in, and we want to get this right: the family's name is Levin.

Nicole: Levin, Levin, Levin.

David: Right. [00:19:00] So let's get it right. We owe a lot, we owe this whole podcast to all the work they did. They deserve to get their name pronounced correctly, so.

Nicole: Absolutely. I'm trying my best everyone. B-minus effort, but I am trying my best. Okay, so we've got, we've, let's see, we've got the Elite Theatre now known as the Vogue, and then he moves on to the Coronet at Geary near Arguello in 19…

David: Oh, my goodness!

Nicole: No, come on, you got to give me the Spanish names!

David: No way, no way. Ar-GWEL-lo.

Nicole: Good grief.

David: You cannot say Ar-GWAY-oh.

Nicole: Anywhosit! Now Samuel's son, Robert, is getting into the game. He's the manager of the Coronet and this property was purchased in 1935. But again, he comes into another delay because of World War II this time. But when it does finally open after the War, Samuel's son, Irving, is running the family business.

Arnold: And this may or may [00:20:00] not be related, but in 1947, Samuel's wife, Sadie, passed away, and that may have caused him to pass the torch onto Irving to start running the business. At the same time, he's moving down to Palm Springs where he is having both a house and a hotel built. He commissioned modernist architect Frederick Monhoff to build both for him. The hotel was the Palm Springs Biltmore Hotel, which opened in February 1948. And in the newspaper descriptions at the time, it was called the “last word in informal elegance.” And he remained in Palm Springs for the rest of his life until he himself passed away on September 20th, 1969, in Palm Springs.

David: Yeah, well, fortunately there were, there, he had some sons still in San Francisco to run the, run the business. [00:21:00] His oldest son, Irving Levin, also known as “Bud” Levin, kind of, I guess, kind of took over the business and was the, was the mover and shaker in that, in the, in the theater empire, right? He started out early and he operated that, those business for many years and was connected to the Balboa until the very end, you know. Which is when our friend, who's in the audience right now, Gary Meyer, took over the operation of the Balboa. And Gary had, Gary had worked for the Levins for a number of years, booking a whole lot of the theaters. In the chat, here in the live audience response, Gary was like, “I'm sorry that I was responsible for The Gods Must Be Crazy, but it really was a real money maker for the Vogue. So sorry, not sorry.” [00:22:00]

Nicole: Yeah. before the, before we started recording, another local theater expert in our audience, Jim Cassidy, said that Bud was still getting junk mail at the Balboa up until like 2005, 2006, which was a full decade after Bud's death. The family was connected to the Balboa until 2001, when it was taken over by Gary Meyer. And by the way, shout out to Gary, co-founder of Landmark Theaters and a film consultant, and he took it on for many years. But what's going on with it now, Arnold?

Arnold: Well, the Balboa is the last remaining jewel of the Levin family theater empire. It's still hanging on. Hopefully it will be reopening at some point after this, we get through this pandemic. In October 2011, the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation took over the lease from the Levin family ensuring that the Balboa’s [00:23:00] survival, at least through 2024. In 2012 Gary Meyer announced he was stepping away from managing the Balboa, at which time CINEMASF stepped in. They are run by the husband-and-wife team of Adam Bergeron and Jaimi Holker. March 6th, 2016 was declared “Balboa Theatre Day” by the city of San Francisco in honor of its 90th birthday. And it is literally three blocks down the street from where I live. So, I'm really hoping to see a movie there again sometime soon.

David: I mean, Gary, and later Adam, have always been good friends of Western Neighborhoods Project. We've done a number of movie nights and collaborated with them on their birthday celebrations over the years. It's really, it's really, you know, a keystone of the, of the neighborhood.

Nicole: Yeah, and also, they've done [00:24:00] some, they just do such cool programming, now. It continues to be one of my favorite spots in the Outer Richmond. You can still go by and get popcorn and you can buy all sorts of amazing swag that they've been developing with local artists. I mean, truly inhabiting the role of being just a family friendly neighborhood icon.

David: Well, and one of the questions I have, and maybe we'll, we'll ask our experts during the, during the listener mail section, is: why did the family concentrate on the West side? I don't see anywhere that they had any downtown theaters. They were always a neighborhood, a neighborhood theater empire, right? In a whole lot of different neighborhoods, but really stayed out of downtown, and I think that's really interesting because that's what, you know, really, really grew those neighborhoods. Helped to grow [00:25:00] them and, and create a sense of place for so many San Franciscans.

Arnold: If I guess…

David: That's the question I have for, for our audience. Which hopefully we'll get an answer by the end.

Arnold: I will venture an answer right now.

David: Oh!

Arnold: And that is that Samuel Levin saw a niche that needed to be filled, and he saw people starting to move out that way and saw a chance to make money by building movie theaters out where the people were moving to.

David: Well with that…

Arnold: That's my guess.

David: We close the, we close the story of the Levin family. And thanks guys, I think we did pretty good for, for not really having any personal connection to them, which a whole lot of people do. If you have a connection to the Levin family and you know something we missed, then please write us a message and let us know.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely, we would love to read that listener mail. Okay, so now we're going to the [00:26:00] Pearl of the Podcast. Okay, who wants the Pearl today?

David: I'll do it. So, we talked a little bit about Irving “Bud” Levin, and, and he was more than just doing his own thing and running his own theaters. He founded the San Francisco International Film Festival and served as the director for many years. When he passed in October 1995, the Festival named its prestigious award for directors the “Irving M. Levin Directing Award.” So.

Nicole: And David you pointed out that the family has a really active presence in the art scene still. Isn't that right?

David: Yeah, I mean, and Bud's son, Fred Levin, has been an a, a really important arts patron and was recently [00:27:00] named the Chairman of the Board at the Asian Art Museum. So, and they support all kinds of different arts organizations. We need to get him supporting some local history organizations, I think.

Nicole: We’re going to have to pronounce his last name correct first on the podcast, I'm guessing.

David: I, I've been doing it.

Nicole: You have been doing great. I continue to struggle, as I always do, with pronouncing anything. Okay. Well, and now it's time for listener mail. So, David, first, how does one send us listener mail?

David: Well, it's very simple, Nicole. You send an email to podcast@outsidelands.org. That's a secret email that only comes to us that we don't publish anywhere. So, you have to have listened to the podcast or been a live audience member to get that [00:28:00] secret email.

Nicole: So, I think now instead of doing our traditional listener mail, we're going to open it up to our esteemed audience members who know far more about this subject than we do. David, I think we already, I think Gary already typed an answer to your question in there, but maybe we'll elevate them to panelists and let them answer themselves.

David: All right, Gary, we're going to allow you to talk. Gary Parks.

Gary P.: Okay. Am I hearable right now?

David: Absolutely, Gary. Thanks for coming.

Gary P.: Excellent! Gosh, there were several things that came to mind. The first one was when you were showing that beautiful nighttime neon shot of the Empire, and it is in the Jack Tillmany collection, but I do know that originally that picture itself was taken by a rather young Steve Levin, Ben Levin's son, because he knew that the marquee and the whole interior of [00:29:00] the theater were about to be remodeled. And Steve Levin he was a theater buff, founding member of the Theater Historical Society. He was into the architecture as well as the business side of it. And, of course, he and I many years later hit it off because that's my main thrust is, is the architecture. And so, he would take pictures of these things and collect historic photos and that's how the Ted Newman insurance photos of Northern California theaters came to be saved. Which myself and Jack Tillmany and all kinds of people have referenced in books and things like that. Is that Ben Levin somehow got a hold of these big photo albums from Ted Newman, who worked for Golden State Theaters. And during the war he photographed these theaters because there was the idea that they may get bombed someday, right? So, he took all these little photos with like a little brownie camera and put them in albums and those were about to be thrown out and Ben thought, “Well, [00:30:00] maybe my son would get, get a kick out of these.” Well good thing he thought that because those pictures were preserved.

David: It sounds like a wonderful collection we'd love to see it. Do you know what happened to those albums?

Gary P.: Well, those albums are in the collection of the Theater Historical Society, which is going through a period of transition, I will just say without getting political. But a number of those pictures are in Jack Tillmany's Arcadia books. And the one that I did with him on the Peninsula theaters and the one that I did on San Jose Theaters. Those use a lot of the Ted Newman photos. And they're around, a lot of them are on the San Francisco Theatres site that Bill Counter runs, that I'm an assistant admin for. A lot of Ted Newman stuff. Usually if you see shots inside and out of theaters, and down in the corner there's a little photographer's pencil or something on the print scrawled along the bottom. Those are usually a Ted Newman photo taken in [00:31:00] 1942 or 1945, yeah.

David: Well, we'll have to look for those. And…

Gary P.: Yeah, they're out there. You may have some of the images, actually, via Jack.

David: Yeah, absolutely. And we were very lucky to have Gary Meyers in the, Gary Meyer in the audience also. And I know that he worked directly with the Levins for quite a while. And I wonder, Gary, if you've got anything you'd like to add?

Gary M.: Well, I first came in the mid-‘60s, I was in high school, and I would come from Napa to San Francisco and go to the film festival. So, I, I met the Levins there and used to go to the Balboa quite a bit. They, I had typed something in the chat about it, the, I think in the late ‘40s, somebody else will correct me with this, there was a partnership between United Artists Theater Circuit and San Francisco theaters. And United Artist Theater Circuit, which was the Naify family, basically they took over the management and operation of all the theaters in [00:32:00] that group, except for the Balboa, because Bud and Irma wanted to keep the one theater for themselves. They had a particular love for that theater. There was an office space in the building that they could open a travel agency in. They loved travel and if they had a travel agency, they could get free trips if they sold enough trips to other people. Not that they, not that they couldn't afford it on their own, but that's sort of part what, they once told me that story.

When I went to work for United Artist Theater Circuit in 1972 out of college as a booker, I, you know, I learned, this is when I learned this history about the partnership. And they said, we need somebody to book the Balboa for the Levins. You should do it. It was just second run, double features. And so, then I got to know them better. When, when Irma and the family decided that they wanted to no longer be in the theater business, they had a manager for fifteen years who left, and Irma just couldn't imagine hiring, finding another manager that she [00:33:00] could trust. She went to the movies quite a bit. She loved going to the movies at the Balboa, but she was worried she'd never be able to find somebody that she could trust the way that that manager had been trusted. Little did she know, he was her partner, he was her silent partner, which happens a lot with the managers. He also ran a bookie joint in the bar across the street in Hockey Haven. He spent most of his time across the street doing bookie stuff. But his, he had a child who had some disabilities and his wife said, “You have to, you got to start coming home and, and taking care of the kids.” So, he left, Irma called me up, she said, “We're closing the theater. Unless you want to take it over. We know you, we trust you, so, if you want to take it over on a month to month and try it out, you can do that.” And that's what happened initially. And then eventually I signed a lease with them. Their lease was a ninety-nine-year lease, that goes through 1925 [ed. Note, 2025].

When I was kind of burned out, I'd turned the theater around, I'd done, you know, a lot of exciting things and people like [00:34:00] Jim, who were part of our team. Roger Paul was our great manager out there. I live in Oakland, it's a long trek going out to the Balboa. And, whether you're driving or taking public transportation, and I was starting to think maybe it's time to turn to turn it over to somebody. And I get an email from Adam and Jaimi saying, “We love the Balboa. If you ever think about getting rid of the theater, we'd love to talk to you about it.” And I wrote back and said, “We're having a town hall on the state of neighborhood theaters this Saturday morning at the theater. Are you by any chance coming?” And they said, “Yeah, we are.”  So, we met them and just fell in love with them. I said, “These are the right people.” They don't do anything the same way I did it. They have their own ideas and that's fantastic, but they've put so much tremendous energy and life into the theater. During the pandemic. I follow independent theaters all over the country, and they've been amongst the most creative of theaters anywhere in the country at finding ways of keeping their audience engaged with the theater, and that's really, really important. This is a tough time for theaters, all kinds of theaters, live and movie theaters. So anyway, that's a few things. [00:35:00]

David: Well, we, we hope they can, they can come back once, once we're all allowed to go back into the movie theater. Thanks a lot, both Gary and Gary. That's been some, some insights that we would never have gotten, you know, from our research.

Arnold: Can I just say, can we get experts in our live podcast audience every week?

Nicole: Well, yeah. We just have to email them.

David: And I'll want to shout out to Jim Cassidy. Also worked in the Balboa, who, who we worked closely with on our, on our movie nights there. Which were, I believe, I can't remember when exactly we did our movie nights. I think it was pretty much Adam's job by the time we started doing those annual movie nights at the Balboa and Jim was a, was a great help. And Jim, are you there? Any, any other [00:36:00] insight you want to share with us? I mean, I'll tell you my favorite, and this has, has really nothing to do with running the theater. Maybe a little bit. But I remember, I remember one time we were up in the projection booth and Jim showed me this, you know, 1930s beer bottle that he had retrieved from a, from an open space above the theater ceiling that he found by looking through this crack in the, in the projection room. And I was like, “Oh my goodness. What a treasure.”

Jim: Yeah, it was from right after when Prohibition had ended.

David: Yeah.

Jim: And as I say someday, I have a lot of pictures that I had taken. Some of them more than a decade ago and I'd love to put together a slideshow or a live presentation of, of some of the behind-the-scenes things at the Balboa that still exist. [00:37:00] That, you know, are in places that are really inaccessible to the public.

Nicole: Jim, that…

David: Yeah, that would be awesomely great. Nicole is shaking her head actively.

Nicole: Yes, I'm so in. That sounds amazing.

David: And, well, I guess that's the, that's the story of the Levin family for now. And we want to thank our, our live audience and those great insights from those experts who joined us. Let me say that all these experts, Nicole did you know all these experts, are actually Western Neighborhoods Project members?

Nicole: I did, and we're very honored that they are. Would you like me to tell you the benefits of membership and donating now?

Arnold: Please do.

Nicole: Oh, well, you got it! Well, if you sign up by going to any one of our websites, outsidelands.org or OpenSFHistory.org and clickity, clickity, clacking the big orange [00:38:00] button in the upper right-hand corner, you can donate and become a member today! And get our quarterly membership magazine, which is hot off the presses, and on its way out this weekend. You also get event exclusives and discounts, like access to the after party and the live podcast recording. But, you know, it also supports all of the work we do, including the podcast, also, all of those amazing images you scrolled through on OpenSFHistory, and everything else. It supports the local community history work that we're known for. So please donate today and become a member. Oh, now it's time for events!

Arnold: Hey, Nicole.

Nicole: Huh?

Arnold: I hear you have an event coming up.

Nicole: Whoa, we sure do. Chelsea Sellin and I are having another History Happy Hour on February 11th, at 5:30 PM. We'll be sitting down with one of our favorite folks in San Francisco archives, Katy Guyon, I hope I pronounced that correctly. [00:39:00] She's photo archivist for the SFMTA photo archive and we're going to nerd out over some awesome things she's bringing with her from the collection. And we're also going to talk about, just, some of the commonalities that our OpenSFHistory collection has with her collection.

David: Well, I could tell you that, that OpenSFHistory, the whole methodology that we use for scanning and, and doing metadata was based on the SFMTA archive methods that, that Katy uses today. Katy and Jeremy over there are fantastic. The collection that they have is unbelievable, if you haven't seen it, you know, do yourself a favor and seek it out. But come to this event and you can meet Katy in person, sort of, virtually in person. I'm even going to go to this one because I love, I love that collection and Katy's great.

Nicole: Yeah, and this is, by the way, it's a totally free event, but you do have to register to get into the room with us [00:40:00] on Zoom. So go to our webpage events, outsidelands/events to register today.

David: And then we're doing this amazing other collaboration with the with the Sutro Library, right?

Nicole: Well…

David: No, not the Sutro Library.

Nicole: Nope.

David: With someone, I don't, maybe somebody else should talk about this particular event?

Nicole: I'll do it, I'll do it. So, we are joining forces with the San Francisco State University Museum Studies crew and the Global Museum that they helped to run, down at the University to do two stellar events. Number one is this podcast live audience about Sutro the collector, and we'll be joined by Dr. Lissette Jiménez, Egyptologist and Assistant Professor for the Museum Studies program. And she's going to talk about Adolph Sutro's Egyptian collection, and a little bit about how they care for it down there. And this is all as a sneak peek for our super awesome event [00:41:00] that we're doing on February 17th with the Global Museum. Check out our webpage for more details.

David: That's going to be outsidelands.org/events, so go to that. Arnold, do we have a preview for next week?

Arnold: Well, as we mentioned, next week John Martini's going to be here in my place and he's going to be talking with you two and our special guest, Dr. Lissette Jiménez, about this Adolph Sutro’s collecting habits. We’ll be providing a sneak peek for that upcoming program that Nicole just told us about.

Nicole: Yep. So, I…

David: That's cool.

Nicole: Guess we'll see you all then.

David: Alright, byeee!

Arnold: Bye.

Nicole: Bye.

Ian: Outside Lands, San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley, content creation and media production [00:42:00] at ihadley.com.

Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook which is outsidelands with an “S,” at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a “Z,” and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a “Z.” And, check out our historic San Francisco images website at opensfhistory.org.

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