Marina Theatre

2141 Chestnut Street,
San Francisco, CA 94123

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Showing 1 - 25 of 31 comments

rivest266 on August 19, 2018 at 9:24 am

Reopened May 2nd, 2008. Small grand opening ad posted.

rivest266 on August 8, 2018 at 5:06 pm

This reopened as Cinema 21 on December 23rd, 1965. Grand opening ad posted.

paulnelson on February 23, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Interesting news about this theatre. Good it still exists anyway. Time marches on. Few new theatres have elaborate curtains over the screens that are used anymore. Presentation is not considered. Example of a newer theatre that installed a new elegant waterfall curtain is the Majestic Bay Theatre in Seattle. Stadium seating, handmade crystal lighting and elegant presentation. Carpeting under the seats would be the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. An elaborate 1920’s movie palace restored in the 1980’s. Check them out. Just saying. LOL.

loosecharm on November 4, 2011 at 11:26 am

Scott, the Marina is a twin screen theater.

Scott Neff
Scott Neff on October 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I believe it is also a single screen — not a twin.

terrywade on June 24, 2008 at 8:06 pm

Jim**Thanks for the up date. I will go visit the Marina Theatre again and check out some of my suggestions I made to the Lee’s. Glad they made the adjustments. Now when the Walgreens downstairs goes bust the Lee’s can take over the whole building and put in a grand BIG Marina Theatre under the two they run upstairs.

JimC on June 24, 2008 at 7:25 pm

I don’t know how you can consider a 260 seat theater “small”.
Yes, it’s not the Paramount or Castro, but more than adequate for that neighborhood, and the screen size is proportionate to the auditorium.

As with any business opening, there were some less-than perfect temporary compromises that were made in order to meet promised opening day dates. Almost all these issues and a few you didn’t mention, have been addressed and corrected by now.

The auditorium entranceway has been re-done to eliminate the light leakage. A curtain was always in the plans, but not possible to have in place by opening day.

A screen curtain would have been nice, but when is the last time you saw a curtain installed in ANY new theater? A simple curtain installation can cost a minimum of $15,000 these days and most cost twice that much.

The lighting above the screen has been changed to include colored lights.

It was not possible to have the projection ports sealed by opening week, which is why there was some sound leakage from the booth. This has since been resolved.

As for the comment about the “linoleum” flooring in the theaters someone made- – The area in front of the screen area and all the aisles are carpeted. The seating area under the seats is covered with acoustically neutral (for the Dolby sound) artificial wood-finish tile flooring. No theater in their right mind would have carpeting in the seating areas due to beverage spills, drunk teenagers puke-ing, etc. Go to to any theater and find ONE with carpeting under the seats.

The Lee’s did an excellent job on this project, given the physical space and budget they had to work with.

Or would have preferred they put another Starbucks there?

terrywade on June 20, 2008 at 5:00 pm

A group of us went the day it opened and IronMan was on the bill. The bigger theatre up stairs is very small. No curtains and the worst part you enter the Cinema from the screen right. So when the previews are on you see everyone who comes into the theatre plus the light from the lobby. I told the Lee’s about this problem and sugg ested they put a small curtain to block the door from being scene from every one in the theatre. Also they have boring white lights above the screen. They reflect on the screen when the previews are on. I told them if they don’t have a curtain put in some blue lights above the screen so when you come in you don’t look at a white screen. The Dolby Digital® sound was good, but the projector was loud. I did not go into the tiny cinema across from the main theatre. Has anyone been to this theatre in the last few weeks. Did they add color lights to the screen or block the door view with a small curtain? I can’t believe the Lee’s ran the same movie ‘Sex City’ at the other theatre they run just a few blocks from the new Marina. Turn the Marina into a small art type cinema. Give Landmark Theatres in SF some competition. At least the Marina is larger then the small Opera Plaza Landmark shoebox. Good Luck to the Lee’s!

stefanyoungs on June 20, 2008 at 11:40 am

I heard they put linoleum flooring in the theaters. Tell me that’s not true. I drove by it today and I don’t like the marquee either, but I am going to check it out. I wish we could get the photo postings working on this site or figure out a standard shared location for posting photos – I would be happy to post them.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on May 8, 2008 at 12:38 pm

brucec… You are SO RIGHT about the City and its lame efforts in “theater preservation.” And I thought Gavin Newsom (now Mayor) was all for it a few years ago at a specially hearing I attended and spoke at.
Yes, in deed, San Francisco really lives up to its well known tradition of being “The City That Knows How”… starting with the “fabulous” Fox and numerous others… Need I say more?

bruceanthony on May 6, 2008 at 11:30 am

Im glad at least the facade was saved but the theare is gone. Im not very happy with the plastic marquee and no attempt at neon. The front of the Presideo looks like a theatre the Marina doesn’t. This is not historic preservation of a theatre no matter how you slice it. I hope the Metro receives a better fate. The City who had many of there neigberhood theatres intact through the 1990’s has done very poor job in recent years. The East Bay has done a better job of theatre preservation than San Francisco. Oakland will have the restored Fox along with the Paramount and Grand Lake. The City of Alameda is restoring the Alameda and bulding a muliplex next door. The Castro is the best preserved theatre in the City from the Marquee to the Auditorium. San Francico’s theatre district on Market Street is worse now than it was 40 years ago. The Orpheum was renovated and restored and altered but looks great inside. The marquee has been improved but not what it once was.The United Artists from “The Sound of Music” to porn. The Golden Gate has never relit the marquee and the interior is blah. The Warfield has a terrible marquee and a beautiful interior. The St. Francis is waiting for the wrecking ball. The City has done a terrible job reviving the theatre district its quite dangerous at night. Any preservation of any of these theatre has come from the private sector.brucec

SFLee on May 5, 2008 at 11:31 am

A super-heroic effort revives Marina Theater
G. Allen Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008

Much like the comic-book superhero who will grace the screen within, the Marina Theater is back in business, with a serious makeover.

Closed since 2001, when it was called the Cinema 21, the former Chestnut Street staple reopens as a two-screen theater today under its original name with “Iron Man” in its main 264-seat auditorium.

“We’re trying to make it a homey, neighborhood-style theater,” said Lee Neighborhood Theatres owner Frank Lee, who, with his wife, Lida Lee, also operates the 4 Star and the Marina’s Chestnut Street neighbor, the Presidio.

“The neighborhood wanted this theater, so it’s been a long time coming.”

The Marina, 2149 Chestnut St., originally opened in 1928 – to see what it looked like in April 1956, check out the big black-and-white photo of it at Bechelli’s ‘50s-style diner next door to the Presidio – and eventually became the Cinema 21 in the 1960s and was bought by Century Cinemas. The theater seemed doomed when Century joined United Artists, Regal Cinemas and other corporations in dumping their single-screen neighborhood movie houses to focus on multiplexes.

Walgreens wanted the space, but met opposition from a Marina neighborhood association, Chestnut Street merchants and the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation headed by San Francisco Giants executives Alfonso Felder and Jack Bair. By 2004, a compromise was worked out between Walgreens, the community groups and property owner Ray Kaliski. The drugstore chain agreed to give up half of the building, and the rest would become the theater.

The result, unfortunately for classic-theater lovers, was that the original Marina building had to be razed. However, the San Francisco architecture firm MK Think was commissioned to evoke a retro feeling in its exterior design for the new building. The Lees had to wait for it to be built, and then for Walgreens to occupy the property, which it did last summer.

Theater construction began last fall, and today’s opening ends the four-year process. The new facility includes an 86-seat screen; both auditoriums are upstairs, with the concession stand on the ground floor.

So the theater that, in the Bechelli’s photograph, was showing a double bill of the Bing Crosby musical “Anything Goes” with the James M. Cain potboiler “Slightly Scarlet” starring John Payne, is now a two-screen theater outfitted for “Iron Man,” “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” and its ilk (for tickets, showtimes and other information, go to

It has Dolby Digital Surround Sound, high-backed seats, movable armrests and, among other concession offerings, fresh caramel popcorn.

“I picked everything – the colors, the lights,” said Lida Lee, referring to the chandeliers hanging above the refreshment-stand area. She was the driving force behind interior restoration of the Presidio, which the Lees reopened in 2004, augmenting its original Art Deco design, and now the Marina.

“Took me a long time to find those lights. … We built this one from scratch, so it was more fun,” she said.

With their eight screens – two at the Marina, four at the Presidio and two at the 4 Star – the Lees now own the most independent screens in San Francisco.

It’s part of a tradition that dates back to 1964, when Frank Lee Sr. opened the Bella Union in Chinatown. The tradition might continue into the next generation – the Lees' sons, 17-year-old Will and 12-year-old Alexander, already are proficient in many aspects of theater operations.

With the neighborhood theater foundation purchasing the Vogue in 2007 and fighting to keep the shuttered Metro Theater on Union Street from developers, can the Lees be persuaded to perform another neighborhood theater resuscitation?

“This is the last one,” laughed Lida Lee. “Three is enough!”

E-mail G. Allen Johnson at

Pictures and Original Article:
View link

This article appeared on page E – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

uptownjen on May 5, 2008 at 10:35 am

i meant think. sorry.

uptownjen on May 5, 2008 at 10:35 am

i’d be interested to hear what people thnk after going to a show there.

from where i am, it seems to be another example of preserving a building by keeping perspective on what is realistic in today’s society. while we would all love to see our movie houses from the past preserved as the movie houses they have been in yesteryear, i’d say this is an example of good creative reuse.

congrats to all involved.

JimC on April 26, 2008 at 11:29 am

Eric (and all)
The Marina is scheduled to open May 2nd 2008.
There were some last minute construction and permit issues that delayed things for an additional month or so since I wrote the previous post.
The layout is basically like this:
As you probably know, most of the ground floor is occupied by Walgreens.

The theater entrance is at the east end of the building.

Once you enter, all that’s on the ground floor is the box office and concession stand.

A long stairway leads up to the 2nd level. There is also an elevator for those who can’t handle the stairs.

The 2nd level has the two auditoriums, (which are situated at right-angles to each other, and the restrooms.

I was inside again yesterday assisting with making last minute adjustments to the projection and sound systems. They’ve really done a nice job on the place.

Eric on April 21, 2008 at 8:18 pm

The Marina Theatre will open on May 02nd.

I’m curious to know the lay-out and set-up of the two auditoriums inside the current exisiting theatre. In other words, how did they “twin it”?

JimC, can you elaborate?

JimC on February 4, 2008 at 10:30 am

The Cinema 21 (now re-re-named THE MARINA THEATER) is scheduled to open very soon. I got a tour of the inside a couple of weeks ago. They’ve done an extremely nice job. There are two auditoriums. ONe seats around 250, the other around 90. (appxromate) The two auditoriums feature comfortable staduim style seating. The seats have retractable arms and cup-holders. The screens are proportionately sized to the auditorums and the theater features both Dolby Digital and DTS sound systems.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 27, 2007 at 11:25 pm

MKThink, the architectural firm that did the plans for the renovation of this theatre, has this page about it on their website. It says that the former balcony will contain an auditorium with 264 stadium seats, plus an 86 seat screening room.

Of course it also says that the theatre will reopen in 2006, so maybe things have changed. In the photo Lost Memory linked to in August it looks as though the Walgreen’s on the main floor was already open. I wonder why the delay in getting the theatre open?

terrywade on August 22, 2007 at 8:36 pm

I went past the New Marina Theatre last week. The new marquee is on the right side. A very lame looking thing in the same style as the drug store sign that San Francisco has so many of the same name. No neon or title banner. Bring back the big old Marina Theatre neon marquee, long gone I guess.

terrywade on August 18, 2007 at 7:54 am

Soon the Cinema 21 opens up with it’s real name The Marina Theatre. With a tiny twin up in the old balcony. How small will it be? I hope Mr Lee has kept the old San Francisco black light walls upstairs. Gone will be the giant curved screen that was downstairs and curtains. Will the Lee’s put curtains up in the new Marina? The big grand opening is coming soon.

jcarrerow on June 4, 2006 at 6:35 am

I worked at the Cinema 21 (San Francisco) during the premier of “Hello Dolly” and Marianne McAndrew was the celebrity who attended. I also worked at the UA on Market St. and the Esquire on Market (my first theater job). My first day at the Esquire was during a janitor’s strike so I was asked to stay until all hours trying to clean the theater (Gag).
I grew up in San Jose (Land of a million drive-ins) and remember the Moonlight, the Winchester, Frontier Village, El Rancho and Alma.
The first multi-screen drive-in was the Tropicaire Twin-Vue. It had two screens but no barrier.
This allowed you to watch the double feature on one screen and then drive over to catch the second showing of the main feature on the other screen.
Admission prices were about $1.50 a person or, if you went on special nights, $5 a carload and we almost always brought our own food, especially on dusk to dawn horror movie nights.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on September 25, 2005 at 5:35 am

Here is a link to a recent San Francisco Examiner article on the renovation of Cinema 21.

Coate on May 8, 2005 at 8:18 pm

“The Cinema 21 also had the six month moveover run of "Star Wars” from the Coronet after a legal dispute between United Artists and 20th Century-Fox. United Artist’s Coronet had one of the most successful “Star Wars” run in the country when UA decided to bump it for “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.”

The move-over run of “Star Wars” began Dec. 21, 1977, one week after the Coronet run ended. The Cinema 21 engagement included a 70mm blow-up version of the “Duck Dodgers In The 24th And A Half Century” cartoon short.