I have seen this theater being built over a year ago and was interested in seeing what a new theater in San Francisco might be like. I got the chance to experience it when my company held a night out there to see of all things, Back To The Future which came out before most of the employees were born.
It’s a lot different from other movie theaters where you walk up to a ticket booth and buy your ticket then give the ticket to someone standing at the door. You can actually walk in and the ticket seller is off in the back past the stairs up to the theaters. This seemed very odd to me at first because you could easily walk into a theater to watch a movie without paying.
As it turns out this theater is a theater where watching a movie is second place to the experience. When I first walked in there were several retro video games and a record store which going with the retro theme only sold vinyl. There was a bar in the very back and when I got up to the theater we had rented Each seat had a table with a menu. You can write your own ticket up for food or drink you’d like to order and a server will sneak by and grab your ticket and deliver your order. Kind of a cool idea since theater food wasn’t always known to be the best.
Because we were a private affair they offered up popcorn which had truffle butter [don’t worry, it’s not a link to the Niki Minaj song], garlic parmesan or kimchee coatings] as well as draft beer and champagne. After walking around a bit I noticed that they had tables set up in between the rows filled with pizza and sliders. Being an old school native these were not the classic theater foods I expected. I have to say the chicken sliders were pretty tasty and the pizza was of the thin crust California style with lots of veggies and I assume the pepperoni came from pigs who were masturbated and washed daily. In short, I wish I hadn’t eaten lunch that day because the food was really good. The popcorn was pretty addictive even though the the whole truffle thing is lost on me as I am one of those 30% of the population where truffles taste like dirt.
The New Mission is owned by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema which is a chain of all things that started in Austin, TX. Austin is a lot like San Francisco with a bit of a drawl so it fits with our culture here. The idea of getting real food and having a seriously well stocked bar on site actually made this an even better evening. I kind of felt like I was sitting at home watching a movie on my own big screen TV, but didn’t have to worry about cleaning up after my drunk friends when home. While the prices seemed a t0uch high to this old guy they aren’t really that bad compared to other places in San Francisco. Hell for today’s working class it’s down right affordable. Definitely check it out and make sure you walk all over the place to get the full experience. Stop by the bar at the end for a cocktail before you leave and don’t worry about anyone checking your ticket.
For some reason this popped into my mind over the weekend and I had to see if I could dig anything up on this, but back in the late 60’s/early 70’s when I was a young pup the elementary schools at the end of the school year would sell matinee tickets to your local movie theater for a Tuesday or Wednesday showing and each movie ticket cost 15¢. You would buy enough to cover you for the summer and once a week your parents would cart you off to the local theater and dump you there for the day. Life was good back then.
I’d like to say 15¢ was worth more back then and I’m sure it was, but this wasn’t breaking anyone’s bank that I remember. A small box of candy, which would be considered large by today’s standards, at my local Parkside Theater was 16¢ [the extra penny was for tax], so getting rid of your kids for a day each week in the summer was worth the price of a candy bar. I don’t know about other theaters at the time, but the Parkside also served ice cream and sandwiches which was a bit odd for back then as they weren’t pre-packaged, but hand scooped and hand made.
As I remember the movies started at around 11am or so and ended around 4-4:30pm. They’d show a cartoon movie and then a live action movie, all kid oriented of course. You could go in and watch Jungle Book followed by Treasure Island and for a little kid having the big screen to share with his friends and not having your parents around was great. Before every movie they showed a few cartoon shorts for the kids with short attention spans to help hold them over through the movie. In between movies they had an intermission which meant time to buy more candy so you could properly fuel your sugar rush for when you came home. I would be sent off with a dollar in my pocket and always get candy, popcorn and a soda and come home with change.
While I only went to the Parkside, I think the summer movie thing was done all around the city. I seem to remember using my tickets at a theater in the Richmond District once or twice because my Mom’s best friend lived there and I’d sometimes go with her kids. It’s kind of hard thinking back to those times because today you’ve got entertainment available from so many different sources. Back then we didn’t have channels to change, I don’t even think we knew what movies they were going to show. I believe the tickets just had the day and the date and 15¢. Maybe the school name was on it because it was probably a way for the schools to add to their coffers.
Now here’s the funny thing, I found out that the Parkside Theater back in those days seated 1329 people, so on a sold out matinee they would make only $199.35 from ticket sales. You couldn’t buy them at the door, you had to get them from your school. Anything extra they got was from selling foods at the snack bar. I’m sure minimum wage was awful back then since the first real job I got was in 1977 and paid $2.20/hour and at that price I bet they could barely cover the cost of the staff if they weren’t selling lots at the snack bar. Working then wasn’t too much fun because if you did something incorrectly they could cut your pay for the day and I’m sure that was over used because in the mid 70’s they made it so you had to be paid for the hours you worked. No one seemed unhappy working at the theaters back then though, but I was only 7 so what did I know.
Those days are gone now with most of the small neighborhood theaters disappearing [the Parkside was a first run theater that got the movies as they came out] and I’m sure we’ll start to see some of the larger theaters disappear as the home screens keep getting bigger and people like to eat less over processed crap that they can make cheaper at home. It’s kind of sad though because it was a very memorable time for me. I haven’t been to a movie theater now in close to ten years, mostly because I can get close to the experience for a fraction of the price without having to walk across sticky floors to sit in an uncomfortable seat and eat junk food that everyone says today will take 10 years off your life, but when you’re a kid you don’t notice those things.
I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised when I read this. The Red Vic Movie House, not to be confused with the Red Victorian Bed and Breakfast in the next block has always had trouble defining itself and attracting customers.
I’ve never been to the Red Vic, but do remember it becoming the last place to show midnight screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. This was not a place for first run movies. They were always fifth or sixth run movies with the occasional independent film from a local that was a first run because no where else would show it. When I was younger and we were far more superficial we didn’t like the idea of going to the Red Vic because they didn’t have typical theater style seating, but couches. Yes, couches like you have at home. Why pay someone money to see a movie that you could probably see at your own home for free on your own couch that you at least knew what had been spilled onto?
All of this is based solely on speculation because not only have I never even seen the inside of the Red Vic, but I can’t even find pictures of the inside so what it was like can only be conjured up in my head. My friends and I always thought of it as a movie theater for hippies because we thought at the time that hippies who thought television was bad for your brane would have to go out of their house or tent to see moving pictures. Maybe I’m right, or maybe I’m not, but I do remember the various hippies I’ve encountered over the years it was rare to see a television in any of their homes.
The Red Vic was at least a symbol of counter-culture cinema for San Francisco even if it never attracted the customer base to keep it alive. Part of me is sad to see it go, but I can’t exactly demand that it stay if I was never interested in offering any monetary support to keep it open in the first place. I’ve lost my love of movie theaters when the prices reached $10 a ticket and $20 for snacks. With our widescreen, high def, flat screen TV’s of today it kind of makes you glad to be able to watch a movies without your feet sticking to the floor and wondering what substance is making your feet stick to the floor. The Red Vic closes at the end of the month with Harold and Maude being the last movie it shows. I have to admit, that’s also a movie I’ve never seen.
It’s time for me to get back to the 49 mile drive and today, it’s all about J-Town as we called it in high school or Japantown. The Japanese who mostly lived in Chinatown in the 1800’s after the 1906 earthquake needed a new place to live and moved to the sandy, crappy, yet spacious Western Addition. In this area near Geary and Gough street started a Japanese community that came together to hold their own.
Starting in 1960 and finishing eight years later the major investing Kintesu Corp. of Japan’s American branch finished building a unified Japanese Culture and Trade Center that we know today as Japantown. At the time of it’s opening it was the largest collection of Japanese culture for Japanese ex-patriots and others to experience. I remember it was a cultural stop for many of us as school kids to learn about Japanese culture that had been previously overshadowed by Chinatown.
During this time sushi wasn’t common place and about the only Japanese food people actually knew of in San Francisco was probably teriyaki of one form or another. Japantown opened up to the non-Japanese people who visited it a chance to discover yakitori, sushi, sashimi before they were common place. There was also the Kinokuniya book store where you could learn more about the culture and history of Japan in English or Japanese. It offered a wide selection of materials and is still one of the largest Japanese bookstores in America.
Most of us today think of Japantown and think of the Cherry Blossom Festival this month or the Nihonmachi Street Fair in August. I think of the Cherry Blossoms a lot at this time because you can see them around the city, not just in Japantown springing to live with their pink to lavender blossoms bringing color to the streets. Then there is also the Japantown Queen that is crowned at the end of the festival that make all the men in San Francisco drool.
Sadly though, Japantown hasn’t changed much since it opened. There are still great things to see there, but most of the stores within it for the most part sell very cheap looking trinkets that look like the stuff most people complained about in the 70’s as “Made in Japan” crap. The Kinokuniya book store is still there and while it hasn’t changed either, is still an good place to go. The food is still good, but it really isn’t anything to set it off from the tons of other Japanese restaurants around the city. What IS a great find is the Japanese grocery store there the Nijiya Market which will show you some things that you won’t find in your average grocery store even if it’s in a largely populated asian part of the city. There is also the Asakichi Incense Store that will show you that not everything that burns needs to smell like sandalwood and patchouli.
While it does need an update, there is a great deal of things to offer people who want to feel like they’ve taken a trip to Japan without having to pay the airfare. Check it out.