CineArts at the Empire
85 W. Portal Avenue,
85 W. Portal Avenue,San Francisco, CA 94127
9 people favorited this theater
Showing 1 - 25 of 38 comments
Now word on the street is the two new young guys that bought the former Empire Theatre in SF will try to turn the building into condos. I don’t think the city permits or neighborhood groups will not let this happen. The cinema just sits there with graffiti. Turn the place into one single event space for music shows, comedy club or rental entertainment with drinks and food. Take out the wall in the former loge area and make one large seating area. The new owners need to try to keep this cinema as is with a deco remodel and try to get permits and funding to build above like in NY on air space not condos but a movie themed motel. The pricy area has no motels or hotels. Parking can be rough.
CinéArts at the Empire
Sadly, looking at the photo’s listed here, I’d say this is no loss. Scope image letterboxed to a 1.85 screen, off-centre seating, no masking, no showmanship. Exactly the lack of care and presentation that has cheapened movie-going to the point of no-return.
And a follow up story Feb 12, 2021:
Empire West Portal
Here is the SFGate story on the Empire’s closing:
Rumor is in the neighborhood is that It may become a new sports gym like they did the Blumenfeld Alhambra Theatre on Polk St in SF now a fancy gym or the UA Metro Theatre on Union ST another expensive gym built inside a former movie theatre. They kept the neon marquee up outside at both of these former SF movie cinemas. The West Portal area that the Empire Theatre has been for many years has no nice large sports gym and is in a good money area. We hope It still remains a movie theatre in some way!
Lets hope they don’t bulldoze the Empire for more SF condos! May be time for the Vouge/Balboa Theatre group to get involved and save It. Take out the dumpy small twin loge theatres and make the place one large event/movie event space!
Cinemark has marked this as Permanently Closed on their website. Not surprising as Regal was building a 12-plex not far from here to replace their aging UA Stonestown Twin.
Reopened as CineArts @ Empire on September 12th, 2003. an ad can be found in the photo section.
Became a 3-plex on June 26th, 1974. Grand opening ad in the photo section.
1936 grand opening ad in the photo section.
I took the M Line almost daily down West Portal Ave in the late 60’s while I was attending SF State and remember a large Woolworth’s down a block from the Empire. I did find a 1960’s (exact year not specified) photo in the SF Public Library’s photo collection online showing the same building today at 200 West Portal as a Woolworth’s then so it may have been a Woolworth’s from the get go.
Thanks for your response, Joe Vogel. I could be mistaken; the building housing the current Walgreen’s on West Portal could have been something other than a theater. I don’t know the history of the ‘hood. I was only passing through. To me, the building had all the elements to suggest it had previously been a theater. Your link posted 7/15/2017 is a decent overview for the Empire. I’m not a local but if I’m on West Portal again this trip, I’ll snap a photo and post it here.
This web page has a drawing of the proposed West Portal Theatre project by architect Irving Morrow, dated 1923.
jordanlage: Jack Tillmany’s well-researched list of San Francisco Theaters doesn’t have a listing for a house at 200 West Portal, currently the location of Walgreen’s. I can’t find any evidence of a theater at that location, either. Do you remember one being there?
To me the building looks as though it might as easily have been built for an early supermarket or a bowling alley or perhaps a neighborhood department store of the sort once once fairly common in American cities. A lot of businesses other than theaters were housed in buildings with Art Deco or Streamline Modern details.
Passed by the Empire yesterday (July 14, 2017) and it looked like it was doing pretty well for a theater so maligned in the comments here, though I’m sure the criticisms are not inaccurate. Just sad to hear of theaters not taking pride in their interiors in order to give audiences the experience they deserve by going to see a movie outside the comfort of their living room. It should be something special. (Darquil’s blog gives some convincing insight on this – see his/her link.)
On the same day, I caught an evening film screening at the Paramount in Oakland. Thank god that palace still exists pretty much intact. What a glorious place to see a movie, even if the acoustics are not ideal. I could take issue with the 35mm print of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN that the Paramount screened – old, a little scratchy, colors not vibrant – but at least they were showing a great now-classic film.
One other point: I can’t seem to find any mention of the theater that was across and down West Portal from the Empire. It is currently a Walgreen’s but the deco facade details are still evident. Anyone know anything about this former theater? Or can direct me to its entry on CT? Can’t find it anywhere. PS, anyone who could do a thorough overview history of the Empire, please give a whack at it. As of this date, the Empire entry has no written overview, just comments.
As I recall the last time I was in the Empire (one of the upstairs theaters – Bad Education – that’s how long ago it was) the auditorium seating was cramped and the seats not aligned properly with the screen forcing you to look somewhat towards your shoulder to see the screen. The downstairs auditorium is fine. The theater is close to the West Portal Metro station which makes it fairly easy to get to.
This is listed as the CINÉARTS AT THE EMPIRE on Cinemarks Website. Maybe the name in the header should be changed to the same.
I feel the need to come to the defense of The Empire. Yes, it was triplexed at an unfortunate time for such things and it could have been done with a bit more sensitivity. The large auditorium remains a fine place to see a film. The smaller auditoriums are adequate, especially when not busy. Still, it’s a very comfortable, clean, well-run neighborhood theatre. I’ve been seeing films there for almost 50 years and I’m very grateful for a local cinema that retains a bit of character and serves the neighborhood well.
Actually, Century is operated by Cinemark.
I’ve posted information and photos from a recent visit here.
Per my visit today, maximum seating capacity for screens 1, 2, and 3 are 295, 158, and 152, respectively, totaling 605 seats.
The 1970 renovation mentioned by Slevin in a comment above was designed by architect Bernard G. Nobler, according to an item in Boxoffice of March 2, 1970.
Here is a photo from the opening in 1926:
The theatre is a hideous inside and out. The triplexing is a travesty. They might as well tear it down