1529 Polk Street,
1529 Polk Street,San Francisco, CA 94109
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I lived in the neighborhood in the 90’s. For some reason this wasn’t a regular movie stop for me. I did see “Blues Brothers 2000” there in Feb. 1998 right before it closed. There were only a couple other people in the theater and they were smoking cigarettes!
Eddie died in I believe in 1992, Russell worked there until the end. I was hired by Eddie, and worked as the assistant Manager until it closed.
Actually the screen was in front of the stage. There was a wall backstage that people had been signing for years. On the left hand side you could go under the stage.
Odd that the photo of the Royal shows Pet Sematary on the marquee and a new Pet Sematary has just been released. The theaters disappear but the product keeps being reinvented.
Perhaps my mind has gone bonkers but after I arrived here in 1976 it seems to me that in addition to its very sticky floors, that the screen had been placed at the back wall of the stage as everything else had been removed and this was the only way they could get a screen of the proper Cinemascope dimensions to fit.
O.K., so the Royal was demolished in 6/2003; does anyone know when Blumenfeld pulled out? I worked there as an assistant manager in the mid-1980s (Bob Blumenfeld was the STINGIEST boss I’d ever had!) and I’m wondering when Ed Lowelling and Russell Burke left.
For years this theater ran every James Bond film on the first day it opened. The manager had a little white poodle and the floors of the theater were covered in sticky soda residue while the ceiling was covered with hundreds, if not thousands of Mason Dots that people woul chew and through up to the ceiling. I saw every Bond film there hen it opened from 1964-1980.
It’s such a shame like so many torn down SF theatres they did not leave the giant red Royal neon sign on the front of the building when they turned the cinema into condos.
The Royal Theatre became a Blumenfeld property in the mid-1980s. The new operator refurbished the theatre at a cost of about $250K, and the place looked and smelled great, especially its huge lobby. Ed Lowelling (who reportedly died some time ago), who ran the Royal, was one of the best movie theatre managers in the Bay Area; the sad thing was the Royal’s location in the seediest stretch of Polk Street. Blumenfeld was unwilling to book the best movies into the Royal because so many moviegoers avoided that neighborhood due to its abundance of litter, homeless people and prostitutes (the Regency 1 got the Blumenfeld blockbusters). Due its unpopular status, the Royal mostly sat nearly empty and therefore always looked brand new.
SAN FRANCISCO, June 1, 1930 —(A/P)— A blast, believed by police to have been caused by dynamite, early today tore off part of the roof of the Royal theater, residential district motion picture house of the T. & D. circuit on Polk near California street. No one was injured. The explosion aroused the neighborhood for blocks and sent fire apparatus and police to the theater. A hole five feet across was found torn in the roof directly above the projection room. Police said the blast might have resulted from recent labor disputes.
The January 8, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World ran an item in its San Francisco column saying that plans for the Royal Theatre Company’s new house on California Street near Polk had been completed, but the architect the item named was Bernard J. Joseph.
Does anyone know why Joseph’s plans were abandoned for those of the Reid Brothers, or why the theater’s entrance was placed around the corner on Polk Street instead of on California Street?
The Royal Theatre is gone….
Here is a 1999 photograph I took of the Royal Theatre:
Here’s a view of the Royal from March 1996 – too bad there wasn’t a different film playing…
I finally saw the completed replicated Royal facade last night. It was a little early in the evening, and the lighting behind the stained glass was not on. A copy of what may have been the original marquee is now attached. There is at least one difference, and that is that it is held up by steel pillars. The marquee has geometric patterns where reader boards would be, backed by what appears to be translucent white glass or plastic. The design copies a marquee which was rendered in a color pastel presentation drawing produced by the offices of Miller and Pflueger. I saw this pastel during an auction preview of the John Pflueger collection at Butterfild and Butterfield in 1990. The marquee had two large metal and cathedral glass laterns at the corners. Not long after, I mentioned having seen the rendering to theatre historian Steve Levin, and he had seen the same illustration years before, and commented that he had never actually seen a photo of that first marquee design, and was unsure whether it had even actually been executed like that. A photo does exist of a rectangular marquee with geometric neon and traditional reader boards, which for a time coexisted with the tall Royal vertical sign added later. The wedge-shaped marquee familiar to all of us over the last several decades was added still later. Regardless of whether the present marquee duplicates something once there, or whether it was inspired by the pastel rendering from the Pflueger office, the result is quite impressive. The steel pillars may seem a jarring note to purists, perhaps, but maybe they were required by modern building codes. The lanterns employ the same vivid orange and gold-veined cathedral glass that was installed in the false window on the facade.
It’s been many months now since a visit to the recreated Royal facade subsequent to the one mentioned in my last post. At this last visit I beheld the facade complete, except for the marquee. All scaffolding was down, and yes indeed, they have made a perfect copy of Pflueger’s metal facade, with a rich bronze finish on all the metal, and red-orange and gold cathedral glass in the false window in the center. It looks so perfectly High Deco and of another time it’s almost hard to believe. They did it right! I only wish they had kept the terrazzo sidewalk that went out to the pavement, even though it had been added later, probably during A.A. Cantin’s remodel of the entrance and marquee. As for the marquee, I have little to report except that at the time of this last viewing, more framework had been added to it, and it hinted at a fine deco design. Sometime soon, I hope to get up there to see the whole thing in its completed state, and will do another post. I’m still hoping they incorporated some neon.
I have some very old photos of the Royal Theater. If you would like them e-mail me at
While the exterior and main lobby were nicely decorated, the auditorium had a depressing “stripped down” look. Always wondered what it looked like before all ornamentation was ripped out.
Don…Thank you so much for your photograph. This must have been a late evening shot as to the angle of the shaddows. Lovely!
If only the owner, Ted Nasser, had the brains to have leased the Royal to me some 7 or so years ago, the old lady would be still open today and looking a lot prettier.
My plans, along with over 3,000 signatures of support, not including every surrounding merchant, were to have turned this lovely place into an all British cinema.
Further in mind was the installation of a second procenium arch with curtains for moderate size stage ready for “live” performances by visiting Brits… Plus, added to the programme would have been openings of new films from Britain including Film Festivals and a British themed gift & food shop.
And the name ROYAL was perfect for my dreams but Ted was “blind” to the fact of allowing such a venture to come true!
Simon Overton, Long Beach, Ca.
The ROYAL has vanished….hope someone saved the sign……see my photo here.
Gary… I was in my favourite “city by the bay” in April ‘07 and was shocked to see a pile of boxy looking apartments being constructed on the site of the Royal.
I cannot recall seeing anything left of the Royal’s classic facade.
Perhaps a photographic update is possible from a local fan?
The reconstruction of the facade of the Royal is well underway, which seems to be the final touch to the apartment tower which has stood completed on the Royal’s footprint for some months now.
For a good year or so, a basic steel facade frame and marquee frame have been standing on the site, clearly indicating that some sort of aesthetic nod to the High Deco metal fascia designed by the Pfleuger office for the remodel of Reid Bros. original structure was forthcoming, but for months and months—nothing. Today’s observation revealed a different story entirely.
At this writing, a web of scaffolding and safety netting shrouds the facade, but through gaps in the netting, I could see men working on the installation of an EXACT REPLICA of the openwork metal scrollwork portion of the facade which featured cathedral glass, backlit at night. Structures for the octagonal pylons flanking the lacework metal and glass grille are in place. It is my presumption that the original sheetmetal Deco “fountain” structures which were carefully saved by crane before the Royal’s demolition will be set upon these pylons. Not much has been added to the rectangular marquee frame at this point, but several conduits snaking into it indicate an ample future use of lighting. One can hope for a touch of neon, can’t one? Stay tuned.
My photograph of the ROYAL.
Who managed the Royal at the end? Was it still a Blumenfeld property? I knew Eddie, Russell and all those folks. What became of them?
The Royal had one interesting note.
Somehow it managed to have the opening of every James Bond picture. My cousin and I saw every Bond picture there on opening day for years.
The theatre had a small snack bar and the theatre manager had a small scruffy poodle which he used to walk each night. On the other side of the theatre the dollar store was a Nationwide Bank at one time.
The inside of the theatre had permanently sticky floors from all the soda spilled there over the years and kids and adults used to buy Dots and Jujubes and chew them and threw them at the ceiling. There must have been thousands of the damned things up there !