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Century-old SF movie theater for sale on Craigslist

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Clement Street classic without a buyer for 18 months, still screening films

Exterior of 4-Star Theater Photo by Nicholas Boos

Back in June of 2015, the owners of the venerable but oft overlooked 4-Star Theater on Clement and 23rd put it on the market, hoping to net at least $2.8 million.

The offer was a transparent bid to developers, highlighting the locale’s “huge development potential for mixed use with condos."

As anyone who caught a screening there in the past 18 months will testify, the 4-Star Theater is still around, and it appears buyers have not been eager.

In fact, the property even popped up briefly on Craigslist this week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, in a seeming last ditch bid to increase the visibility of the offer.

The ad has since expired and doesn’t appear to have been relisted today. There was no specific price, and the original $2.8 million figure has vanished from other advertising.

The 4-Star opened in either 1912 or 1913 (records seem to vary), making it of course one of the city’s oldest operating movie houses, though it did close its doors briefly between 1990 and 1992.

The original facade in 1919.
Courtesy Jack Tillmany

It was first christened “La Bonita,” the “home of high-class pictures,” and then became simply “The Star” in the ’20s.

By then it was apparently a second-string place, specializing in second releases of movies that had already left bigger Richmond theaters.

It picked up the “4-Star” moniker right after World War II, apparently an attempt to improve its image.

Note that it’s still easy to tell that the numeral four was a late addition to the old sign, although it’s now remained there for over 70 years in its own right.

Despite the sale bid, the theater remains operational—they’re showing Sing, Moonlight, and Mifune: The Last Samurai tonight.

The business and building have separate owners, the aged structure trading hands half a dozen times between 1990 and 2006, most recently to the tune of $1.45 million.

The Western Neighborhoods Project notes that the theater’s Clement facade is a false front, a late addition made in the ‘60s to compensate for the building’s famously narrow confines.

(Apparently regulars used to call it “the fleahouse” on account of its small dimensions.)

All told, it’s a weird, cobbled together piece of work after all these years, so it’s only appropriate that the still ongoing sale should be an ungainly process in itself.

Honestly, it’s hard not to root for the 4-Star to stick around in its present form in spite of everything, if only because it’s remarkable that it’s endured this long despite its limitations.