The Golden Gate Bridge! The Palace of Fine Arts! Golden Gate Park! The row houses from Full House! Bi-Rite! All landmarks that make San Francisco the best city in the U.S. (yep, I said it). But, above all the beautiful spots in this town, there is one that holds the key to my heart: the Castro Theatre. About a year ago, some jerk spread a rumor on the internets about how the Castro might be closing down for good. My reaction can be best expressed through this animated gif. It was almost as bad as that time I was 11 and stayed up until 5am crying and trying to communicate with Anne Frank's ghost.
Suffice it to say that this particular movie palace is an important part of my life. When I first visited SF in April 2006, the hills and the vistas and the gentle people made me start considering a permanent move, but a viewing of The Shining at the Castro sealed the deal (I had never seen it 'cause I used to be a hopeless philistine). Beyond Shelley Duvall's spastic, knife-flailing dramatics, I was taken by the architecture, the murals, the organ player, and that intergalactic-looking chandelier. Since then, I've experienced many a Sound of Music sing-along, taken refuge in the theater for a nap during a storm, and unexpectedly cried into my smuggled-in burrito at the end of Lost in Translation (get over it, Sofia haters). I treat the Castro like my living room: a perfectly acceptable forum in which to sing off-key about wayward nuns or get narcoleptic or showcase my best ugly cry.
During construction in 1922
Pre-1937 interior shot with original chandelier that was destroyed in a fire
source: Collection of Steve Levin
And now this heaven on earth is celebrating its 90th birthday, starting this weekend! But before we get to the special events they have in store for us, let's crack a history book and learn a thing or two about this crown jewel.
1. The Castro Theatre originally was located at 479 Castro Street when it opened in 1910, before moving to its rightful place at 429 Castro in 1922. The first location is now a retail store you might be familiar with by the name of Cliff's Variety (whoa).
2. When the Castro Theatre we know and love opened on June 22, 1922, a silent film called Across the Continent starring a morphine-addicted Wallace Reid was screened. As I've never heard a thing about that movie, I'm just going to pretend it was a Buster Keaton short.
3. The Castro's architect, Timothy Pflueger, was self-taught and also designed Oakland's Paramount Theatre, the luxurious cocktail lounge Top of the Mark, and some of the leading skyscrapers in San Francisco. Who needs college?
4. The Nasser brothers, sons of Lebanese immigrants, built the theatre at a cost of $300,000 and it has remained in their family to this very day!
5. The iconic vertical neon sign and marquee weren't added until the late 1930s. The neon on both was restored in 2008 for the filming of Gus Van Sant's biopic Milk. Side note: I almost was an extra in that movie, before being deemed too skinny for the era by a casting director. How rude!
Now that you're a lot smarter, you've earned some anniversary intel! Kicking things off tonight is Jesse Hawthorne's fantastic Midnites for Maniacs series with a "Disco 4eva" triple bill of Roller Boogie, Xanadu, and Car Wash (Linda Blair and Olivia Newton-John and Richard Pryor, oh my!). On Saturday, bring your parrot umbrellas or chimney brushes for a chance to win the costume contest at the Mary Poppins sing-along. Then, on Sunday, watch curtains become gowns and Clark Gable not give a damn at a screening of Gone with the Wind at 2pm, as well as a 30-minute concert by David Hegarty on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ at 7:30pm right before the (recently-dethroned) favorite of film snobs everywhere, Citizen Kane. Later this month, on August 11th, don't miss The Poseidon Event-ure with '60s icon Carol Lynley and a Shelley Winters look-alike contest! There are countless other offerings throughout the month so do yourself a favor and check out the theatre's calendar.
And next time you visit the Castro Theatre, take a moment to really look around and appreciate the space, the history, and the 90 years worth of people who felt the same love we feel for this marvel of a landmark.