429 Castro Street
San Francisco CA
The Castro Theatre was built in 1922 by pioneer San Francisco theatre entrepreneurs, the Nasser brothers, who started with a nickelodeon in 1908 in the Castro neighborhood.The Castro was built at a cost of $300,000. The Castro's designer was Timothy L. Pflueger (1894-1946) who went on to become a famous Bay Area architect. In 1977, the Castro was designated City of San Francisco registered landmark number 100. It is one of the few remaining movie palaces in the nation from the 1920s that is still in operation.
Timothy Pflueger chose an exterior design reminiscent of a Mexican cathedral. The large windows, the shape of the roof line of the front wall of the building and the plaster wall decorations all combine to convey a look of grandeur in keeping with the large scale of many theatres built in the 1920s. The marquee and the vertical neon sign are additions from the late 1930s, but the glazed tile street foyer, ornate tent-like box office and the wooden doors are all from the early 1920s.
The Castro's interior is very diverse. One can sense Spanish, Oriental and Italian influences. The auditorium seats over 1400 in a fantasy setting that is both lavish and intimate. Both side walls of the auditorium are covered with classic motif murals which were created in a wet plaster process called scrafitto. This type of wall decoration is rare.
On either side of the stage and screen (the small original screen has long ago been replaced with a large screen) are large organ grills. The Art Deco chandelier dates from 1937 when a small electrical fire destroyed the original parchment fixture.
The mezzanine and balcony above it are reached from the lobby by two dramatic staircases which are highlighted by large mirrors framed in gold. Hanging on the walls of the mezzanine are rare film posters. The mezzanine with its elegant older pieces of furniture is often used for film-related receptions and other parties.
From 1922 until 1976 the Castro showed first and second run mainstream films. Then, in 1976, the theatre was leased to Surf Theatres and later to Blumenfeld Theatres. These two chains proceeded to change the exhibition format to repertory cinema, foreign films, film festivals and special first run presentations.
In 1982 the theatre's old Conn organ was replaced by a mighty Wurlitzer organ. Ray Taylor and his sons Dick and Bill began assembling the all-Wurlitzer pipe organ in 1979. The Taylors had to obtain parts for the organ from many different sources. For example, the console came from a theatre in Detroit. The organ belongs to the Taylors.
When the last lease expired on July 31, 2001, the Nasser family again took over operation of the theatre. Under their direction substantial improvements were made to enhance and preserve the beauty and functionality of the theatre.
Some of the improvements include the installation of new, larger and more comfortable seats on the main floor, the seats in the balcony were refurbished, the stage was expanded to accommodate live performances, a new curtain and a new screen were installed, the entire theatre was recarpeted, the walls were painted and the candy counter was updated.
Additionally, sound quality was improved with installation of new speakers behind the screen, new stage lighting was installed, the theatre received a new PA system and the auditorium was wired to accommodate modern audio and video presentations.
This article appears on the Castro Theatre website at: https://www.thecastrotheatre.com/history.html