The Red Vic Movie House, the landmark theater that helped bring a revival to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the early ’80s, will shut its doors for good July 25, its 31st birthday.
The last showing? “Harold and Maude.”
“It’s kind of the perfect movie. Maude makes the decision there is a time to end,” said Betsy Rix, one of the original founders who owns the building with her husband, Jack. “Harold goes on to do great things ... we think. I’m sure he does.”
The theater’s four owners have been holding fundraisers all year in an attempt to stay open, but the support just wasn’t enough, so it will go the way of many other single-screen theaters in The City. The Red Vic opened in 1980, before Netflix and DVDs — even before VCRs.
“Around the time we opened, I remember hearing the word video for the first time and wondering what it meant,” Rix said.
Rebecca Solnit, local writer and author of the book “Infinite City,” found that San Francisco had 74 single-screen theaters in 1958. Come July 25, the rough count will be down to four — the Castro Theatre, the Roxie, the Vogue and the Clay Theatre — which have adapted to survive in their own ways.
“I think you pay much closer attention to a film in a cinema, and many movies are much more beautiful and compelling seen big,” Solnit said. “If we talked about things like that more, maybe more people would actually go to the theaters.”
Theater owners and local film officials don’t think there isn’t a lack of interest for independent movie houses, but they said with so many other events in The City and a tough economy, the business model just doesn’t pan out anymore.
“People are very nostalgic for movie theaters, and bookstores also,” said Claudia Lehan, one of the Red Vic’s owners. “But they need to come out and frequent these places if they want them to be around.”
In 2004, San Francisco voters decidedly struck down Proposition L, which would have provided $10.5 million from a portion of the local hotel tax to allow a nonprofit called Save Our Theaters to run the troubled single-screen businesses. But the nonprofit’s legitimacy came into question by local film officials who said it wasn’t equipped to get the job done.
Without public help, the Red Vic considered trying a nonprofit model like the Roxie’s, but it was just time to let it go, Rix said. Years down the line, she said she will always remember opening night.
“It was the best night of my life,” Rix said. “I realized you could take an idea and make it a reality, with a lot of hard work. We schemed this up and made it happen, and I’m so grateful for that part of my life.”
Single-screen theater closures in San Francisco:
|1993||New Mission Theatre||Mission|
|1998||Alhambra Theatre||Russian Hill|
|2004||Alexandria Theater||The Richmond|
|2006||Coronet Theatre||Inner Richmond|
|2006||Metro Theater||Marina and Cow Hollow|
|2011||Red Vic Movie House||Haight-Ashbury|