by Jonathan Farrell
Richmond District movie goers were sad to hear the news that the Bridge Theater, located at 3010 Geary Blvd., closed just after Christmas.
Built in 1939 in honor of the Golden Gate Bridge, the single-screen theater has been operated and managed by Landmark Theaters since 1991. The San Francisco Examiner reported that the City once had an abundance of neighborhood cinemas, estimated around 74 at the peak of local cinema and “district theater” attendance. But the growth of multiplexes in recent decades has forced closures.
The Huffington Post noted that the trend of local theater houses closing is also due to the fact that the motion picture industry is transitioning from traditional 35 mm film process, which became the standard around 1910, to a digital format. Many small theaters not just here in San Francisco but across the nation have suffered similar fates as this expensive shift is making an impact.
While the use of digital is much more cost effective for movie producers, the cost of upgrading a theater’s projection system is considerable, especially for a family-owned theater. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, the cost is about $70,000 per movie screen.
Landmark continues to operate the Clay Theatre, Embarcadero Center and Opera Plaza Cinema.
Steve Indig, a representative at Landmark, would not say why the Bridge was closed on Dec. 27.
However, an anonymous source close to the Bridge Theater noted that the contract Landmark has with the theater owners is not being renewed. Whether or not the theater owners will find another management company to run the theater is not known.
Indig would neither confirm nor deny any information about Landmark’s lease arrangement.
Supporters of the theater, like Lawrence Gordon, are trying to get a petition signed to keep the theater open.
Murray Lubisch also wants the theater re-opened.
“The Bridge is a marvelous single-screen theater on a well-traveled corridor,” Lubisch said. He is among the dozens who have signed the petition so far.
“In 2010 Landmark had planned to close the Clay Theater on Fillmore Street,” noted Gordon. But he said “a deal was struck with the landlord” and the theater remained open. But that was a very arduous process as reported by Thomas Reynolds of the New Fillmore newspaper. The small theater, which has been showing films for more than 100 years, was set to be shut down in August of 2010. A neighborhood rally was organized and the SF Film Society and Clay Theater’s owner, Balgobind Jaiswal, negotiated an agreement at almost the last moment, which resulted in the society helping with renovations and paying rent. As to whether or not the SF Film Society or others are willing to step in to help keep the Bridge Theater open, no such information has been made known.
“I am hoping to gather 1,000 signatures to urge Landmark to reconsider their decision,” Gordon said.