Bella Union Theatre
825 Kearny Street,
825 Kearny Street,San Francisco, CA 94108
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Mid to late
60s photo added courtesy Mark MacDougal. It had an overhang built over the entrance with a totem pole on top in front of a vertical Bella Union sign. Appears to have still have been a live theatre venue, as mentioned it had been in the early60s.
The Bella Union Theatre is seen several times in background scenes in “Impact” (1949) which caught my eye and I researched its identity. See our photo gallery.
And reopened again as the Kearny cinema on June 14th, 1974 showing adult movies. Ad in the photo section.
Reopened as Kearny on September 11th, 1943 showing adult movies. Ad in photo section.
Jack Tillmany’s thorough listing of SF theaters at http://home.earthlink.net/~minhnghia/theater.html is undecided as to the address of the Bella Union, née the Shanghai. Either 825 or 821. Anyone with photos of the building when it was known as the Bella Union (1949-1985) should post to clear up the address conundrum.
I google street viewed the address (825 Kearny). After enlarging it the numbers 825 are visible above the entry doors of the World Ginseng Center.
Confused about which one of the two buildings was the Bella Union. the one housing World Ginseng Center (825 Kearny) or the building to its left with the semi-circle window? Any insights appreciated.
Hmmm. That photo from ‘72 is of course the theater ( I remember the sign w/ Chinese characters so well), so my recollection of someone shouting down to 'Johnny" from an upper window to open the theater must be wrong. Or the person could have been shouting down from a window in the apt. building 2 doors to the right. At any rate, the mid-week matinee unspooling of Black Sunday was sparsely attended to be sure, but probably cost a buck & change and it was one of my favorite movies at the time so I had a great time. 'A Moment in Time’ sounds really cool. I spent a lot of time roaming the streets of Chinatown as a kid and remember some Chinese theaters, one on Grant Ave. (Sun SIng?) and Great Star on Jackson. Also the Grandview & the Palace. Never saw a movie inside these theaters but wish I had.
From the above posted 1972 photo, was that arched front building on the left also once a movie house? It certainly looks like a nickelodeon facade.
In late 1960 and 1961 the theater was not showing films, but was home to a theater group that presented three-act plays on the stage. Performances were on weekends for several weeks. Then the theater was dark while a new play was rehearsed and new sets were built in the cellar. I was stationed in San Francisco in the Coast Guard at the time and worked on the stage crew for several productions.
I remember seeing Frankenheimer’s BLACK SUNDAY here in the summer of 1977. The owners were Chinese then and may have lived above the theater itself as I arrived for the first showing one day to hear an elderly Chinese woman shouting up to “Johnny” (her son?) to come down and open the theater’s doors for the patron (me) waiting to see the film.
It looks like it did show “adults only” films in the early-mid 1960’s. I saw an SF Chronicle ad for this theater in a scene from the 1964 film “The Erotic Mr Rose” and it showed the theater playing “Nudes on Credit” (an earlier film done by the same director as Mr Rose). This may have been brief, as it did not show “adults only” films in some 1965 ads that I have.
I remember stumbling across this theatre in the early 1980s while in San Francisco. I had no camera that day, so didn’t take pictures of the wonderful facade. The theatre was closed and remodeled very soon after, because the next time I came—with camera—it was remodeled. It wasn’t that the facade was particularly unusual, or even beautiful—it was the fact that it was obviously that of a well-preserved example of “late nickelodeon” style theatre architecture—with a high foyer open to the street, and a little box office in the center of a row of doors. There was either pressed tin or some kind of plaster paneling on the walls and ceiling of the entrance. Today, only the general shape of the roofline remains from the original look.