Welcome to Curbed's new series, The Landmarks. Once a week Curbed will take a look at one of the many San Francisco landmarks, listed either locally or on the National Register of Historic Places. Landmarks will be chosen at random, but if there are any that you're particularly interested in, drop a line to the Curbed inbox.
From temple to movie theater, the Alcazar Theater has been a flashy staple on Geary since its construction in 1917. Full of crazy Byzantine arches and colorful terra cotta, the building was listed as San Francisco Landmark #195 in 1989.
The building was constructed in 1917 for the Shriners, and was officially called The Islam Temple, Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of Mystic Shrine. Designed by local architect Thomas Patterson Ross, it was inspired by the Alhambra in Granada.
Ross was known for his exotic revival styles, as he did a few of the pagoda buildings in Chinatown. Even though the temple was a modern building constructed with concrete, it was decorated with traditional Arabic motifs, Arabic sayings, and Shriner emblems.
In the late 19th century, Moorish art and architecture was extremely popular in the United States. Persian smoking rooms and parlors became fashionable among the upper crust. Middle Eastern and other exotic styles extended to commercial buildings (think Egyptian-themed Alexandria Theater and Moorish Alhambra Theater), while at the same time fraternal organizations like the Shriners built huge and elaborate meeting halls. The Shriners used the Islam Temple on Geary for meetings and ceremonies from 1918 to 1970.
It then functioned as the successeor to the original Alcazar Theater (it also had a Moorish theme), which was originally located on O'Farrell Street but was torn down in 1963.
The whole thing was gutted in 1982 but reopened in 1993 with new theater facilities. The building was listed as Local Landmark #195 in 1989 as "one of the most unusual downtown buildings, [an] elaborately eclectic fantasy reflecting the cultural interests of its original occupants who utilized Moorish motifs in their ceremonies."
· Landmark #195 - Alcazar Theater [SF Planning]
· Islam Temple - An Example of Arabian Architecture [Architect and Engineer via Internet Archive]
· Original Alcazar Theater [Cinema Treasures]
· Who Knows About 650 Geary? [City Guides]