A FUNERAL OF SORTS

I went to a funeral a week ago, although nobody died. Rather, Carolyn and I attended a showing of The Perks of Being a Wallflower at San Francisco’s Bridge Theater. It was the Bridge’s last day. I didn’t cry. But I will mourn.

The Bridge’s death was no surprise. Landmark Theatres decided it could no longer make a go of the Bridge, which opened in 1939. The transition for old single-screen theaters from film to digital projection is expensive. But our farewell viewing—the film is wonderful, by the way—brought back memories.

As a kid, my friends and I spent many Saturday mornings at the Drake Theater on Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park (Queens). The kiddy matinee cost maybe a quarter. We’d see cartoons and serials and sometimes a feature-length film. My biggest memory? Casey the matron, with her gray hair in a bun and huge flashlight. The Drake fell on hard times, became a porn house then was incorporated into a popular next-door Italian restaurant, Joe Abbraciamento’s.

Manhattan had loads of single screens. My parents took me to the Criterion on Broadway to see Disney’s Bear Country and, if memory serves, Ben Hur. Maybe The Ten Commandments. And quite possibly The Robe with Victor Mature—a Christian picture for some but a Roman epic to me. I love Roman epics. Not the Romans. Just films about them.

At Alfred University in Western New York, we had movies three nights a week in Alumni Hall, an ancient auditorium. I saw Bond flicks and lots of others. I even saw a movie or two at Fort Benning when I was in OCS. And stationed in San Antonio (Fort Sam Houston), I went with a friend to North Star Mall (a single screen, I think) to see The Graduate and later with Carolyn to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. We spent lots of time at the drive-in, too. They’re a shrinking breed, as well.

San Francisco had lots of neighborhood single-screen theaters after most closed down—except for a few porn houses—on Market Street. The most unusual was the Surf near the beach. It had a coffee bar. Unheard of.

Blockbusters meant the late and still lamented Coronet on Geary. I remember fondly waiting on block-winding lines to see The Godfather and Star Wars. The theater seated over 1,000 and was electric for both. And Darth Vader’s entrance—it doesn’t get any better. The Alexandria, only a few blocks from our house, went from one screen to three but never had that multiplex feel. Alas, it has been closed for some years. The Richmond District’s Four Star and Balboa—now two screens each—hang on.

Then there was the North Point where we saw Apocalypse Now. My favorite memory there is of taking Seth, our oldest, soon after he was born to a re-release of Gone With the Wind. When he needed both a diaper change and nursing, we retreated to the cushioned bench seats in the back (never saw those anywhere else), spread out and enjoyed.

So farewell, Bridge. While my kids think I always long for the good old days, I recognize that time marches on. As do I. But I’m keeping my memories close.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

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5 Comments


  1. Tracy
    Jan 04, 2013

    The City recognized the loss of this valuable historic resource about 15 years ago when it enacted an amendment to the Planning Code to require Conditional Use Authorization to convert a neighborhood movie theatre to another use. As late as the 60s, there were over 50 of these in SF. Now, sadly, very few remain. My childhood was filled with trips to the Fox Theatre on Taraval to see Disney Films, there was a theatre at Haight and Belvedere which ran Bruce Lee films (the Red Vic hadn’t been opened yet). There was the Mission Theatre, and several that you mentioned (the Surf, the Balboa, the Alexandria, the North Point, and the grandaddy Coronet).

    Interestingly, I was listening to an interview on NPR this week with Quentin Tarantino who has purchased a small cinema in LA and is showing all 35mm films there. Teri Gross asked him if he could have his “dream movie house” what it would look like. His response: the Castro in San Francisco.

    Life does indeed march on, but I miss the old cinema palaces.


    • David
      Jan 04, 2013

      Tracy: I am remiss for not mentioning the Castro, although it seems to exist in a category of its own. The Castro is a marvel with its screenings of classics, various film festivals and mighty organ. Indeed, it’s a treasure—a true landmark.


  2. Ira
    Jan 04, 2013

    As I remember it I saw the Wizard of Oz at the Kingsway on Kings Hwy Brooklyn trying to hide under the seat during the tornado transformation. Then there was Irma La Douce and hoping to see skin at the same theater 1963. My favorite was The Longest Day, same theater. Then there was the Midwood and the Kent theater. We still have the Vogue and there is a group raising money to preserve these theaters.
    Ira


    • David
      Jan 04, 2013

      I saw Skyfall at the Vogue a few weeks ago. Amazing how many single-screens are still left. Don’t know Brooklyn theaters at all but did see Cinderella at the Elmhurst Theater not too far from where I lived as a kid.


  3. Carolyn Perlstein
    Jan 05, 2013

    The movie that closed The Bridge is The PERKS of Being a Wallflower. Very sad to be there closing day. The give-away china from the 1950’s was
    on display. And the popcorn was great!

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