The Golden Gate Theatre—MidMarket’s enduring playhouse turned movie house turned playhouse again—celebrates its 96 this year. But thanks to a 13-month renovation, which will conclude next week, it doesn’t look a day over, say, 35.
That’s how old the Golden Gate was the last time it got a major overhaul, after production company SHN—which these days specializes in enticing big money Broadway touring musicals to San Francisco—bought the space and restored it to its Gilded Age glory.
The theater first opened in 1922 (side note: the National Registry of Historic Places cites the building’s inception as 1921, but SHN defers to the 1922 date these days) as a vaudeville venue and became a mainstay of what was then San Francisco’s hustling Market Street theater district, hosting the likes of Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters, and the Three Stooges.
By 1954 there wasn’t much of a market for vaudeville anymore, so owners RKO leased the place out as a movie house instead.
Unfortunately, this meant the first of the Golden Gate’s many renovations, with the 1954 revamp being the most damaging to the original Gustave Lansburgh 1920s design. Gracie Hays wrote in SHN Magazine in June in 2014:
There was a strong effort to stamp out its seemingly outdated vaudeville past in hopes of appealing to a wider audience. Consequently, much of Lansburgh’s interior work was torn down in favor of giving the theatre a more modern appearance. The grand marble staircase was replaced with an escalator, and the walls were covered with neon signs.
Is nothing sacred?
Like most MidMarket theaters, the Golden Gate fell on hard times during the 1960s and closed in 1972. SHN moved in seven years later and made a bid to restore much of the Lansburgh look.
Photos from recent years, however, reveal that the ’70s luster had dimmed again by the 21st century, and increasingly the Golden Gate appeared dated and dingy compared to the likes of the dynamic new Curran Theater (which complete its own renovation in 2017) or even the nearby Orpheum Theater (which last benefitted from a renovation 20 years ago).
After 2017’s tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time wrapped up, the theater went under wraps and tapped ELS Architecture (the same firm behind the restoration of Oakland’s Fox Theatre) to try to turn back time again. SHN refers to the work only as a “multimillion dollar” renovation without citing a specific figure.
The resulting photos look pretty sterling, but, as always, opening night will serve as the final test of the work done. The Golden Gate Theater reopens to the public on September 11.