Thursday, August 28, 2008

Deserted Movie Theaters

My friend who just turned 50 grew up near Mission Street and when he was a little boy in the 1960s this was an immigrant, working-class San Francisco neighborhood. Newly arrived Filipino families like his own, said my friend, would never dream of going to a downtown movie theater. Mission Street was their downtown, with half a dozen busy, lighted-up movie theaters. My friend first saw Ben-Hur on the wide screen at the New Mission Theater, one of the pivotal experiences of his entire life, he swears. He saw Valley of the Dolls at age 10 with two other children from the neighborhood. For a depraved movie like that, even in wicked 1967, they were supposed to be accompanied by an adult, but nobody questioned them.

My friend particularly liked the hot dogs at this tiny movie theater, which was called the Crown back in the sixties. He remembers when it transformed itself into Cine Latino and started showing Spanish-language movies. That strategy possibly delayed the end for a while, but not for long. To this day all up and down Mission Street there are mom-and-pop businesses and stores in great numbers providing all kinds of services and amusements, but the movie houses shut up shop decades ago, and linger now only as an interesting collection of wrecks.