Powell Cinema

39 Powell Street,
San Francisco, CA 94102

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Additional Info

Functions: Restaurant

Previous Names: Edison Theatre, Powell Theatre

Nearby Theaters

Marquee Corrected Color

A second run, grind-run theatre on Powell Street near Market Street and the cable car turnaround.

It originally opened as the Edison Theatre in 1911. Re-named Powell Theatre in 1933, it was renamed Powell Cinema in 1955 and was playing revivals of classic movies, eventually moving over to X-Rated movies. By 1976 the Powell Cinema was operating as a gay porn theatre. It was closed in August 1977, and was converted into a Burger King restaurant.

Contributed by Gerald A. DeLuca

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

robertgippy on June 25, 2005 at 3:09 pm

The Powell was a wonderful theatre. i can still see the red walls. When you walked in, there were doors to your left to enter the auditorium, and to the right, a long hallway that led to the womens restroom, that had a nice little lounge inside, and the mens room at the end of the hall, that just had black walls and a wooden toilet booth. In the auditorium one aisle went down the middle and seats were on both sides. In the left rear, the area was called the “sin section because of sex that went on in there. The walls had murals of gold miners. The theatre had a interesting curtain, it went from left to right and was gold. The Powell did show main porn, then went to gay porn. The local businesses did not like that idea of tourists walking by and seeing "the magnificant cowboys” and “the experiment” on the marquee. The Powell then, managed by John Stefanelli, showed classic films, and the rocky horror picture show at midnight. “Tommy” the movie did well at midnight there. It remained classic movies until its closure. It was gutted out and a Burger King took its place. The old timers still call the rear left section the “sin section”. A very fine theatre.

davidkaye on June 26, 2005 at 10:24 am

John Stefanelli. That’s his name. He had what must have been the very best slogan ever for a movie theatre: “Where dreams are played.” I didn’t go to it much as a porn house, though I do remember seeing two Fred Halstead porn masterpieces “Sex Garage” and “LA Plays Itself” there. These stylistic films were recently purchased as part of the permanent collection of the NY Museum of Modern Art.

But what I most remember were the old musicals and the elderly fans who used to turn out to see them, along with those of us who really appreciated seeing the old movies in the old theatre that must have played them shortly after they came out the first time.

Few movie theatres do I miss as much as the Powell.

philbertgray on July 8, 2006 at 2:27 am

I arrived in San Francisco in 1964, a Texas green horn desperate to get away from the constraints of the bible belt mentality that still ruled the south.

My first job in San Francisco was at Tad’s Steak house up a block from the Powell Theatre. I worked a split shift from 10am until 2pm then back again from 6pm until 10pm. A steak dinner was a dollar for a steak, baked potato, small salad and garlic bread. Coffee was a dime. A bargain even then insured a substantial clinetelle of both residents and tourists.

The Powell Theatre became my afternoon refuge. There were 15 operating movie houses in downtown San Francsico showing everything thing from first run films to 2nd run double bills. Every theatre had daily matinees. The concept of “revival houses” hadn’t started yet but the Powell had a healthy dose of films of the 40s and 50s along with more current 2nd runs. For an admission of 25 cents I was introduced to Hollywood’s “Glory years” . I saw my first Jeanette McDonald Nelson Eddy film there and The Marx brothers sublime lunacy would pop up occasionally. The films changed three times a week so there was always a steady supply of new entertainment.

The theatre box office was a stand alone booth off the street. There was a short slanted walk up into the theatre with displays on either side for a posters of current and coming films. Inside there was a small room with vending machines. No real snack bar – no usher taking your ticket. . The back left of the auditorium still had the remains of a “cry room” a sound proof room with a glass front and side door where noisy infants and their parents could be isolated from the theatre and still watch the film. The glass front and side entrance door had been removed but a portion of the side wall still remained.

I was loyal to the Powell until it’s entrance into pornography. I knew the “end was near” when I went to a midnight screening of “ Beach Blanket Bingo” with two friends and we were the only customers. Shortly after that it switched to porn – then one day was quietly gutted and soon replaced with a “Burger King” which still operates there. No trace of the theatre or its facade remains except in my memory.

I miss it.

Phil Gray

kencmcintyre on April 4, 2009 at 9:49 pm

This site has a 1968 photo of the Powell:

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on March 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm

looks like “RACHEL.RACHEL” might be playing in the photo.thanks for the Picture KenMc.

coonyp on April 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I wandered into this theater back in the 70’s and without anticipating anything special, saw David Lean’s “Great Expectations”. There are few better experiences than being surprised by a great movie. I told my son about it tonight and he asked where I saw it. I said it was the Powell Theater and speculated that it was in the Burger King that we dined in a couple of years back. Sure enough.

robertcampbell on November 23, 2012 at 11:21 am

Added a photo of the Powell that I took, I believe, in 1975. I also found a flyer when the Powell showed all male porn films. It was a great theater.

6_steevee_9 on February 28, 2016 at 10:27 pm

While living in San Francisco the year of 1969, the Powell Theatre was my main movie hangout, I just loved that classic little theatre which played all of the classics rotating…‘plus new shows changing all the time.

robertcampbell on July 14, 2017 at 9:12 am

Two of my original photos were deleted and replaced with “color corrected copies” which I do not appreciate. My comments under the photos were also removed, and credit for these photos were given to the new poster. Please correct this from happening again.

DavidZornig on November 19, 2019 at 8:04 pm

Early `60s photo added via Mase Mason. Marquee still read Powell Theatre.

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