Moving Pictures of San Francisco

Red Vic Movie House, San Francisco, CA.

| By Veronica Dolginko |

San Francisco is the land of many movie theaters. Every neighborhood seems to have one displaying its own personal style. But in the past two years, some of the oldest theaters in the city have shut down. Nob Hill lost the Lumiere, the Richmond lost The Bridge and The Coronet Theater, and the Haight lost the famous and beloved Red Vic Movie House, known for its strange double features and events.

In a city like San Francisco where space is highly coveted, the question hangs of what will fill these openings. The Red Vic closed at 1727 Haight St. in July 2011 after more than 30 years of business. When the Planning Commission met with project sponsors in January 2012 to discuss the future of the location, the idea of a single-screen theater wasn’t even entertained.

Having such a limited purpose and venue had not been resourceful enough to keep a business operating, and Elizabeth and Jack Vic, the owners of the Red Vic, recognized that they were going to have to think more broadly to put greater utility into the finished product and to recreate an environment that had more than one function.

“We knew we were going to be doing something different,” said project sponsor Rebecca Ivans-Amato of Oakland’s Amato Architecture.

What was finally decided was novel: The space has been turned into 100-square-foot “incubator” stores for five retail and food stalls and a 49-seat performance space that can be rented for movie screenings as well as plays, bands and children’s shows. “Elizabeth and Jack came up with the idea [for the incubator space],” said Ivan-Amato. “There are a few set-ups that are similar in San Francisco, and it’s really a good use of space.”

The soon-to-be-open newly renovated location has plenty of foot traffic thanks to the city’s bustling tourist trade and residents from across San Francisco heading to Golden Gate Park. The new arrangement also allowed for the Alembic Bar next door at 1725 Haight St., where the Vics are co-owners, to expand its footprint by 1,800 square feet into the theater’s former lobby, said Ivan-Amato. The Red Vic was originally 3,100 square feet.

Jackie Doyle, a resident of the Haight-Ashbury area, said the Red Vic’s closing left her “heartbroken” and fearful that the replacement would change the neighborhood culture for the worse: “I jumped to conclusions and thought that there was going to be some fancy boutique here, but that’s not the case. They have a lot of people working together so that they can all afford to have their businesses on Haight Street. That’s San Francisco to me.”

Retail space in San Francisco is not cheap, and in an area like the Haight, which has been a tourist spot since the ’60s, storefronts are becoming highly sought. “We’re really a different beast than anything happening on Haight Street,” said owner Elizabeth Vic. “The rental spaces we’re dealing with comes to $10 a square foot, and we also take care of a lot of utilities for the stores. We want to be a positive influence on the neighborhood.”

The stores along upper Haight Street range from crazy costume shops like Costumes on Haight at 735 Haight to fancy food places such as Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery at 1398 Haight to out-of-the-ordinary specialty stores like Loved to Death at 1681 Haight, which sells estate articles from people who have passed on, such as taxidermy animals and Victorian tin-types of dead bodies. But some chic new eateries and clothing stores like Wasteland at 1660 Haight and Diamond Supply Co., a youthful clothing and skateboard accessories shop, have come in. Diamond Supply signed a lease in the first quarter for 2,400 square feet at 1560 Haight; but Haight Ashbury’s signature strangeness remains a draw that is alive and well.

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