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Let's Break Down the History of the Market Street Cinema

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(original photo: Imperial Theater, 1919) [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]
The Market Street Cinema at 1077 Market Street has been sitting vacant since its notorious strip club closed down earlier this year. Both SF Appeal and SFist have ruminated on the theater's future, but perhaps more interesting is the building's past. What was most recently a Mid-Market strip joint traces its origins back to one of the biggest names in California theaters (and may even harbor a few ghosts of seedy pasts).

The massive theater started its life as Grauman's Imperial Theater, created by prolific California theater patron family David Grauman and his son Sid (of the famed LA Grauman's Chinese Theater). The Graumans got their start in entertainment charging Yukon gold miners to watch boxing matches, eventually building a theater in Klondike. The family settled in San Francisco in 1900 and first opened a vaudeville theater on Market Street near Mason called the Unique Theater. Soon they added motion pictures and began to expand to additional theaters throughout the city, eventually relocating to Southern California in 1917.


Interior of Imperial Theater, 1919 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

The Imperial was built in 1912 by SF architectural firm Cunningham and Politeo. It opened on December 22 with a performance of "A Society Circus Tragedy", billed as "depicting the thrilling and sensational plunge to death of Hans Von Harten, the Nobleman Equestrian" - sounds like a blockbuster. The theater was heralded as an innovation, designed in the English music hall type (complete with 12 piece orchestra) and featuring a promenade balcony that was unique on the West Coast. The interior was painted blue and gold, and seated 1,600 people.


United Artists theater, 1967 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

In 1919 the Imperial, and the rest of the Grauman's San Francisco theaters, were sold to owner and founder of Paramount Pictures Adolf Zukor. The theater changed names a few times, and in 1931 became the United Artists Theatre with a remodel by LA architects Walker & Eisen. It operated as a Loews from 1967 to 1972, when it became the Market Street Theater. The regular movie showings turned to the XXX variety and eventually, uh, "live" entertainment.


Market Street Cinema, today [Photo: Google Maps]

The place is supposedly crazy haunted. Travel Channel ghost hunters from the show Ghost Adventures did an episode there, and people have some wacky stories of the goings-ons. Now that the strip club has closed down, everyone's wondering what will go in its place - especially with the all the mid-Market revival action going on. Supposedly the strip club only occupied a small portion of the theater and most of the original space still remains, so folks are hoping a project in the same vein as the Strand/A.C.T. or New Mission/Alamo Drafthouse will come along and restore it to its former (ghost-free) glory.

· Anybody Want To Buy An Historic (Possibly Haunted) Market Street Theater? [SF Appeal]
· What Will Become of the Historic, Quite Possibly Haunted, Market Street Cinema? [SFist]
· The Market Street Cinema, Paranormal Flophouse? [Before It's News]
· Imperial Theater is an Innovation [SF Call via Library of Congress]
· New Play and a New Playhouse Will Open [SF Call via Library of Congress]
· Grauman's Theaters [SF City Guides]
· Market Street Cinema [Cinema Treasures]
· Previous coverage of Mid-Market [Curbed SF]