Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: From Classic Theater To Seven-Figure Homes

Sometimes a home listing furnishes a little extra neighborhood history and character–even when said history is actually no longer with us.

Case in point, a condo that just came up for sale at 741 Clement makes sure to note that the building was a onetime movie theater; this is actually quite obvious if you look at the building’s facade, but those who just came to the Richmond within the last 20 years might not know such a place ever existed on this corner.

Those with 30-plus years in the neighborhood will still recognize the onetime Coliseum Theatre, which boasted a cinema history stretching all the way back to the silent era.

(The towering Coliseum edifice on opening night. Photo courtesy SF Public Library.)

The Coliseum opened its doors in late November of 1918, screening a sentimental rom-com set in World War I, a war which actually ended only about a week earlier–hence the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time that all the proceeds from opening night went to the Red Cross.

Moving Picture World (one of the oldest trade magazines for the movie business) clocked the construction at about a quarter million dollars–the equivalent of over $4 million today–and credited the construction as a bid to bring downtown culture to the western neighborhoods.

(That trade writer also referred to the Richmond as “the high-class residential district between the Presidio and Golden Gate Park” but didn’t actually name it.)

The Reid Brothers, the same firm behind Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater, designed the building, and some shadows of their work are still visible in the edifice today.

There had been movie theaters in the Richmond before, but none had quite the cultural impact of the Coliseum in its heyday–San Francisco Heritage VP Wood LaBounty points out that at one time, Clement Street also boasted a Coliseum Bakery, Coliseum Beauty Shop, Coliseum Furrier, all named after the movie house.

A lot of these classic theaters fell on hard times over the decades as Hollywood changed the type and volume of movies it produced, multiplex theaters became more popular with the public, and TV and home video encroached on the repertory market.

(The abandoned theater in 1995. Photo courtesy of Gary Park, Cinema Treasures.)

Apparently it was the closure following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that really did the place in. A 1995 story right here in the Richmond Review reported that neighbors were puzzled and angry that the building remained abandoned after six years even though building inspectors deemed it structurally sound.

You know the rest of the story even if you don’t know the rest of the story: A 90s sale to developers yielded 14 condos and a downstairs retail space that until very recently was the neighborhood Walgreens.

The condos did good business but rarely come onto the market: Of 16 public sales since 2002, only three have been within the last ten years. (A fourth is currently marked “pending.”) This unit currently for sale last sold in 2002 for $780,000–a princely SF sum for the time.

Meanwhile, just as this home offering has provided us with a window into the block’s past, anyone who has ever been curious what the onetime movie palace looks like after it was converted to high living can take a peek at the listing–or drop by the place yourself.

(And in 2021.)

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1 reply »

  1. While the Alexandria theatre was the place I saw most of my Saturday movies during the early 1950s as it was but two blocks from my house, I vividly remember venturing down Geary or Clement to the Coliseum during the late 1950s/early 1960s where many double features entertained my family and childhood friends. Affectionately known by us as the “Col” this movie house represented our Richmond District neighborhood movie adventures along with the 4-Star and Balboa theaters. Aah yes, the memories are wonderful!


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