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**All Marina Heritage posts** + Upcoming Town Hall meeting

Oct30th

Kerri and Woody introduce the history of the Marina District in this webinar.

And just like that, our month spotlighting the people, history, and places of the Marina District for Heritage in the Neighborhoods has come to a close. However, our conversation will continue with YOU!

To follow-up on our #MarinaHeritage month, we will host a virtual town hall on November 12th, 6:00 PM PST to discuss potential preservation projects in the district. You don’t have to be a preservation expert to join the conversation, just a neighbor or someone who loves the district and wants to help protect its special places.

For some first project ideas, take a look at our full list of Marina posts produced throughout the month of October below.

If you’d like to join the Town Hall, send me an email and I’ll send you the Zoom login details: kyoung@sfheritage.org

We look forward to seeing you there!

Kerri Young
Communications and Programs Manager

Clockwise from upper-left: The Presidio Theatre on Chestnut Street, the historic wharves at Fort Mason Center, the San Francisco Gas Light Company building, and the Art Deco entrance of one of the Marina’s many apartment buildings.

Architectural Resources and Local Landmarks 
    • After the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) closed in December 1915, many proposals were made for the use of the 330-acre site. Richard Brandi talks about the growth of the Marina into a residential district.
    • Video: Woody looks at the birth of the Marina, and how plans for a new residential district took almost a decade to form.
    • Our coverage of the Marina District would not be complete without mentioning the iconic Palace of Fine Arts.
    • “Despite its country-club appearance and location […] the Marina Library is designed to supply two things in abundance—books and light.”
    • Video: Woody looks at some of the wonderful Art Deco facades and businesses on San Francisco’s Chestnut Street.
    • The Richardsonian-Romanesque style brick structure on the corner of Buchanan and North Point streets was built in 1893 as the office of the San Francisco Gas Light Company.
    • For 96 years, the field house at George R. Moscone Recreation Center has hosted community meetings, parties, children’s’ programs, and innumerable volleyball and basketball games in San Francisco’s Marina District.
    • Video: The Marina’s fantastic apartment buildings that take you around the world in different styles.
    • The Marina’s first public school was Winfield Scott Elementary, which is today Claire Lilienthal School.
    • Funded by a 1933 bond measure and grants from the federal Public Works Administration (PWA), Marina Middle School is one of several Marina District projects created with help from the New Deal programs.
    • Fort Mason, at the edge of the Marina District, began in the 1860s as a Civil War gun battery site, and in 1882 was named after Richard Barnes Mason, a former military governor of California.
    • The Marina has two standout theaters on the Chestnut Street commercial corridor, the Presidio Theatre and the Marina Theatre.
    • Video: Woody picks out a few favorite examples of Modern architecture in San Francisco’s Marina District and tosses out some ideas for future preservation projects.

**Note**All of our video pieces can be found on this Marina playlist on our Youtube channel. Please subscribe to make sure you don’t miss any new videos!

Clockwise from upper-left: Marina Supermarket on Chestnut Street, Marina Motel on Lombard, pandemic dining at Izzy’s Steaks and Chops, and Books, Inc. on Chestnut Street.

Marina Legacy Businesses and Legacy Candidates
  • Since the 1980s, the Marina’s commercial corridors of Chestnut and Lombard Streets have shifted to meet the interests of its growing numbers of young, single people, and the district is now known for its fashionable restaurants and cocktail lounges. But many old-school legacy food spots live amidst the Marina’s trendier scene. Kerri takes a look at Izzy’s Steaks and Chops, Lucca Delicatessen, and Marina Supermarket.
  • We also dive into the histories of some of the Marina’s legacy shops, from Books, Inc.’s Gold Rush origins, Fireside Camera’s evolution from portrait studio to photo retail destination, and FLAX art & design’s humble beginnings on Kearny Street in downtown San Francisco (the business is now at Fort Mason).
  • While not yet on San Francisco’s Legacy Business Registry, Kerri covers a few beloved Marina businesses deserve recognition: Marina Motel, Home Plate, and Horseshoe Tavern.

**Note**: Each post includes information for how you can support these businesses during the pandemic!

Clockwise from upper-left: Two women wearing yoga pants on Chestnut Street – a Marina stereotype?, Joe Dimaggio entering his home on Beach Street in the Marina, Winifred Black’s home (designed by Julia Morgan), and the Wave Organ.

Fun Stuff!
  • At the start of Marina month, Kerri asked, What is the Marina Stereotype?
  • Many will always associate Baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio with San Francisco’s North Beach, but the Yankee Clipper also has roots in the Marina District.
  • Surrounded by stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, the Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture created in 1986 by former Exploratorium artists-in-residence, Peter Richards and George Gonzalez.
  • Facing the Marina District’s Palace of Fine Arts Lagoon stands the former home of one of the best-known and most colorful journalists of the early twentieth century: Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils (1863-1936).

 

Mike Buhler Moves On After Transformative Decade at SF Heritage

Oct29th

Photo: Juan Pardo, SF Examiner

Mike Buhler, who has led San Francisco Heritage since 2010, will leave for a new role as President and CEO at the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture in January, the San Francisco Heritage Board of Directors announced today. At the Fort Mason Center, Buhler will focus on preserving and programming one of San Francisco’s most iconic historic landmark districts.

“The Heritage Board of Directors is deeply grateful to Mike for the extraordinary accomplishments made at the organization during his tenure,” said Courtney Damkroger, Heritage’s Board Chair. “At the helm during Heritage’s most significant period of growth, Mike doubled the organization’s budget, oversaw Heritage’s first major capital campaign, stewarded the restoration of the Haas-Lilienthal House, and initiated the planning process for our newest property, the Doolan-Larson Building. Mike established enduring relationships with members, advocates, elected officials, city staff, and a range of donors. On behalf of the board, staff, and Heritage community, we thank Mike for his many contributions and wish him every success in his new role.”

The board is committed to finding another passionate leader to guide and advance Heritage’s mission to preserve and enhance the city’s unique architectural and cultural identity.

As San Francisco Heritage prepares to launch a national search for a new President and CEO, Stephen “Woody” LaBounty, current Vice President of Advocacy and Programs, will step in as Interim CEO in December.

“I am extremely proud of the work San Francisco Heritage has done to elevate and protect the city’s diverse historic places, legacy businesses, and cultural districts,” said Buhler. “As Heritage prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021, we are more prepared than ever to make this leadership transition. I know that our dedicated staff and board will continue Heritage’s crucial work throughout the city’s recovery and into the organization’s next 50 years.”

During Buhler’s tenure, San Francisco Heritage achieved a number of firsts, helping to enact the first Legacy Business Registry in the country in 2014, completing a $4.3 million capital campaign in 2018, and experimenting with highly successful arts collaborations at Heritage’s historic properties, the Haas-Lilienthal House at 2007 Franklin Street, and the Doolan-Larson Building located at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets. Heritage is currently collaborating with Haight Street Art Center to transform the Doolan-Larson Building into a cultural destination interpreting the counterculture movement in San Francisco.

Mike will continue to work at San Francisco Heritage through December 8 and can be reached in the interim at mbuhler@sfheritage.org.

Cinema Treasures in the Marina

Oct28th

The Presidio Theatre at 2340 Chestnut Street.

The Marina District has two distinctive movie theaters, both dating back to the birth of its commercial area in the 1920s and 1930s. Each have had a range of owners, remodels, and revitalizations, but today continue to serve their original purpose. Both the Presidio and Marina Theatres remain closed temporarily, but you can visit the website of Lee Neighborhood Theaters, their operator, for further updates. For an extensive deep-dive into the histories of both theaters (and others across the city), we recommend Bill Counter’s San Francisco Theatres blog.

Alfonso Felder, Founder, San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation on both theaters:
“The Marina and Presidio Theatres have been neighborhood anchors for almost 100 years.  Generations of Marina residents have been entertained within their walls and they’re great gathering places for the Marina and adjacent  neighborhoods.  They’ve outlasted just about everyone on Chestnut Street.  Let’s hope we can get popcorn at the Presidio and sandwiches at Lucca for another 100 years.”

The Presidio Theatre (1937)
2340 Chestnut Street

El Presidio Theatre, San Francisco, California, c.1939. Displayed on marquee: NINOTCHKA, 1939; Selected Short Subjects; and Cosmetic Night, featuring Constance Bennett Beauty Aids. Tom B’hend and Preston Kaufmann collection, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Sciences.

Originally known as El Presidio, this Marina District theater opened in 1937 as a third-run neighborhood house and remained a single screen theater until 2003. Designed by W.D. Peugh and John H. Ahnden in the Streamline Moderne style, its initial purpose was to supplement the nearby Marina Theatre which, at that time, was strictly a second-run outlet for major titles. Two sets of existing blueprints show that Presidio’s builders chose between two architectural visions: one in a “High Deco” style with with panels and moldings of either geometric borders or stylized floral patterns, and the Streamline Moderne version that exists today.

Two blueprints from the Gary Parks collection, both created in 1936, show two visions for the theater. The High Deco vision (bottom) was structurally similar to the theater that ended up being built, but was slightly taller.

In 1951, Gerald Hardy bought the theater and shorten the venue’s name to the Presidio Theatre. When he retired in the 1960s, the Art Theatre Guild became the new operator. During this time, the Presidio starting running pornographic films, running films such as “I Am Curious (Yellow)” and “Deep Throat.”

(click image to watch) KPIX Eyewitness News report from December 2nd 1970 by Mike Lee and Ben Williams featuring the first San Francisco Erotic Film Festival. Includes scenes of people arriving at the Presidio Theatre for a premiere, Hibiscus and Tahara from The Cockettes singing ‘By a Waterfall’ and interviews with organizers and Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, who states: “The thing that I regret … is that this whole field is jeopardized right now because of the irresponsibility of certain money hungry people … who are capitalizing on sickness to sell their very depraved wares.” Bay Area Television Archive, San Francisco State University.

Century Theatres acquired the lease for the Presidio in the mid-1990s. In addition to giving the theater a remodel, the chain also shifted the Presidio to a first-run cinema. After Century’s lease expired in 2003, the Presidio remained closed for nearly two-years, and groups such as The San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation successfully advocated for its preservation. Frank Lee of Lee Neighborhood Theaters bought the Presidio in 2003, and undertook a half-a-million-dollar remodel before reopening the theater on Christmas Day 2004. The theater reopened as a four-screen, first-run cinema.

The Presidio Theatre prior to its renovation in 2003. Photo from the Syufy Enterprises collection.

According to Bill Counter’s San Francisco Neighborhood Theatres blog, the auditorium’s original sunburst chandelier was removed to accommodate the triplexing (a fourth screening room was created from space not part of the main theater). The large downstairs auditorium still features the theater’s original large screen and the original proscenium (the structure that frames the screen). Two auditoriums were created in the former the upper-tier seating area of the theater, each seating around 100.

The theater building today also houses two neighborhood businesses, the restaurant Causwells and optician Ocularium. Its neon sign remains in good condition.

The Marina Theatre in 2020. Heritage photo.

The Marina Theatre (1928)
2141 Chestnut Street

The Marina Theatre opened on September 21, 1928 as a 1,050-seat cinema. At the time, many of the city’s first-run theaters were found along Market Street, and neighborhood theaters like the Marina were second or third-run (like the nearby Presidio Theatre). It was designed by architects the O’Brien Brothers and Wilbur D. Peugh in the Moorish Revival style.

A 1928 project rendering from the architects, from the Jack Tillmany collection. The facade ended up more ornate than in the rendering. There is no photographic evidence suggesting that the ornate roof billboard was ever built.

A Marina Theatre calendar from March 1931 featuring films from stars such as Gary Cooper, Jackie Coogan, and Harold Lloyd. Bruce Goldstein/Film Forum Collection. 

A view of the auditorium after the 1952 renovation. The new murals are visible along the walls.

After being sold a few times, in October 1951 Gerald Hardy bought the Marina Theatre and proceeded to undertake extensive renovations on the property (the same year he purchased the nearby Presidio Theatre). This included enlarging the theater lobby, improving the acoustics, reinstalling the floors (the floors had settled significantly due to the fact that the Marina was built on filled-in marshland for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition). The auditorium was painted in deep orange and chartreuse tones, and artist Ashby Eckels painted murals depicting various stages of San Francisco history, from the Barbary Coast days and the Palace Hotel during the Gold Rush to the modern fishing industry and Golden Gate Bridge.

The exterior of the theater was rebuilt in a simple, modern design, with a new stainless steel marquee.

A look at the Marina Theatre’s marquee after the 1952 remodel illustrates its transformation from revival-style picture house to a modern theater. From the Jack Tillmany collection.

The Marina Theatre’s new CinemaScope screen in 1954, which was placed in front of the original proscenium. Jack Tillmany collection.

The Marina Theatre was also one of the first neighborhood cinemas off of Market Street to get the CinemaScope treatment. This included installing a new screen that sat in front of the original proscenium, with the sides of the image cropped slightly to fit the auditorium space.

The Marina Theatre, now Cinema 21, on March 3, 1968. OpenSFHistory / wnp5.50558.jpg

Those who remember The Marina Theater in 1965 say that this was the year the theater ceased being a strictly neighborhood theater. It was at this time that the Syufy chain acquired the theater, renamed it Cinema 21, and began running exclusive first-run films. Jack Tillmany recalls the problems that arose from this change on Bill Counter’s San Francisco Neighborhood Theatres blog:

“Gerald Hardy who was getting along in years, began selling off his theatres, and Marina fell into the hands of the Syufy chain, who changed the name to Cinema 21, raised the admission prices, and instituted a policy of exclusive first run attractions. This meant that anyone in San Francisco who wished to see a film playing at Cinema 21 had to travel there to do so; it would be shown nowhere else in the city. But there was no parking provided, and so visitors to the neighborhood circled blocks in search of parking places, much to the chagrin of the locals, who, in turn, deserted the theatre almost entirely because it now showed the same film for weeks, even months at a time, at uncomfortably higher prices, rather than change weekly as it once did.”

A look at the theater in 2002, a year after it had closed. The marquee was removed in the the theater’s 2008 renovation. Patrons are encouraged to “Please Visit The Presidio Theatre.” John Rice photo.

Under these circumstances, it is surprising the theater held on as long as it did; it finally closed on September 20, 2001. After a long battle to prevent the loss of the theatre, the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation developed a compromise plan with the building owner to preserve the theater while adding a ground-floor retail use. After a successful campaign and remodel, the theater re-opened in 2008 as a second-floor, two-screen, first-run theater with 350 seats, with Walgreens becoming the ground-floor retail tenant. Its name was also restored to The Marina Theatre, and, like its fellow Presidio Theatre, it is owned and operated by Lee Neighborhood Theaters.


Thanks in part to:

Counter, Bill. San Francisco Theatres, 26 Oct. 2020, sanfranciscotheatres.blogspot.com/.

San Francisco Neighborhood Theatre Foundation, 26 Oct. 2020, https://sfntf.squarespace.com/.

Moscone Field House: One Mayor’s Playground

Oct26th

For 96 years, the field house at George R. Moscone Recreation Center has hosted community meetings, parties, children’s’ programs, and innumerable volleyball and basketball games in San Francisco’s Marina District.

Moscone Field House, 1800 Chestnut Street. (Daniel Kim photograph, special to the San Francisco Examiner)

Built in 1924, the building at 1800 Chestnut Street and the park in which it resides were renamed in honor of the San Francisco mayor just months after his assassination in November 1978. (The earlier names for the park between Bay, Chestnut, Laguna Streets, and the extended line of Webster Street were Lobos Square and then Funston Playground.) Moscone habituated the park and its gym as a boy and later worked there as a recreation program director.

Moscone Field House, then Funston Field House, circa 1930. (OpenSFHistory/wnp27.6472.jpg)

Architect John Reid Jr. was responsible for the Tudor Revival design. The prolific and able Reid had a massive impact on San Francisco’s built environment. He served as City Architect from 1918 to 1930, when city mayor James Rolph, Jr. (Reid’s brother-in-law) spearheaded extensive building projects across the city. Reid designed libraries, hospitals, firehouses, police stations, many public schools, and was one of the consulting architects for the Civic Center and City Hall.

Although many of his designs are now City Landmarks and some are on the National Register of Historic Places, the distinctive Moscone field house building has no designation. It would be a deserving candidate and a complimentary one to its neighboring landmark, the midcentury Marina Branch library.

Entry to the Moscone Field House, 1800 Chestnut Street.

In 2008, the building received an $8 million restoration. Despite a sensitive expansion of the original floor plan, the cozy gymnasium is still known for some of the tightest sidelines of any court in the city. As any pick-up player will attest, going out of bounds means colliding with one of the historic walls.