entertainment

Richmond’s Beloved 4 Star Theater Renovated, Reopens

By Judith Kahn

The 4 Star Theater, among the oldest movie houses in San Francisco, has been a cultural and entertainment treasure in the Outer Richmond and surrounding neighborhoods since 1921.

Opened when Warren G. Harding was president of the United States, the 4 Star lasted 99 years until it closed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Residents and movie fans wondered what the building’s destiny would be. It left people with lots of questions.

The 4 Star Theater closed in March, 2020, when the onset of the COVID-19 virus halted indoor gatherings. Recently remodeled, the theater has reopened. Photo by Michael Durand.

What features of the old theater would remain and what new features would be added? Would it resurrect as a theater when so many small theaters have been supplanted by streaming services? If it did survive, would it revert to screening films on one screen instead of housing three theaters in one building? What genres of films might be featured? Might it still feature Asian films as it did under the former owners? Will it have other uses besides films?

Well, the answers to all these questions have arrived; the 4 Star has reopened. The new owner of the theater, who prefers anonymity, describes his vision for the place.

“The (concept of) four stars now represent a place for film, fine arts, performance and community,” he said.

Adam Bergeron did not purchase the 4 Star, but he is the operator and programmer for its new incarnation. He moved to San Francisco in 1977, bringing with him a big love of small movie theaters. Over his years in the City, he has kept other neighborhood theaters alive, believing strongly in their importance within the urban landscape.

“These theaters are places where communities can gather together in a thoughtful way,” Bergeron said.

The 4 Star Theater has now joined Cinema SF, along with the Balboa and Vogue theaters. Bergeron, owner of the Balboa Theater, now leases the 4 Star and is its event programmer and operator. For his part, the mystery owner (not Bergeron) of the new 4 Star has been involved in the San Francisco art and music scene for decades. He is a graphic designer and appreciates the craft of the original architect of the 4 Star Theater. The renovation detail speaks for his love of the design work in the building.

Those renovations were many, expensive and striking. The original wood floors were kept, as well as the pressed tin ceiling and red velvet draping on the walls in the theater. The lobby area has been expanded, and the original lobby lights – plaster-molded fixtures discovered behind the drop ceiling – were restored. Vestibule archways are an homage to the original architect, with dimensions taken from his screening room entries. An all-new projection booth boasts projectors that will accommodate 16mm and 35mm film, plus a modern digital projector for alternative media, such as VHS, laser disc and Blu-ray.

The screening room renovations include a single screen theater that holds 140 guests in refurbished seats, a change from the 188 seats of the former large screening room. The two smaller theaters have been converted for other uses. One of them is now an art gallery, presently featuring prints of Clam Lynch. The other theater has transformed into a café serving beer, bagels and pizza, There are plans for adding wine offerings in the future.

The renovated interior of the 4 Star Theater. Photo by Michael Durand.

Bergeron says they will continue to show features from Asia, or Asia-themed movies, as they did before, but he plans to expand the programming to include more eclectic and classic films. He doesn’t see the 4 Star going for immediate first-run features. However, the digital projectors will allow programming to accommodate smaller distributors and more diverse programming, so the orientation of the resurrected 4 Star leans toward art house or repertory theater. Bergeron will be looking for niche movies, but from an expanded field that can include both older and more modern technologies.

Bergeron seems to know that the residents of the Richmond are excited about the return of the theater.

“We love the Outer Richmond. It’s such a gem of a neighborhood, and this is a neighborhood that really, really went out of their way to support the Balboa Theater during the pandemic,” he said. “We are really excited to help save another theater in the Richmond. For us, it’s the best neighborhood in the whole City. We’re excited to have this opportunity.”

The 4 Star Theater is located at 2200 Clement St., on the corner of 23rd Avenue. For more information, go to its website at 4-star-movies.com. For direct access to what is happening at CinemaSF, including its other theaters, go to cinemasf.com.

1 reply »

  1. I grew up at 18th Avenue & Balboa during the 1950s/1960s. Going to the 4 Star and Alexandria movie theaters was always such a treat. The photo included in this article brings back such memories. What lingers in my mind is narrowness the auditorium that sloped downward toward the movie screen. Some visits with my family included pizza at John’s Pizza or a burger at Bill’s Place as both restaurants were on Clement Street within a few blocks of the 4 Star. What great memories!

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