The new incarnation of the Presidio Theatre will be part movie house and part community theater, and its fall season includes the SF Mime Troupe, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, and a 1915 silent movie that was actually shot in the Presidio.
When the Presidio was shut down as a military base in 1994, the place was transformed into a national park, and its former army barracks buildings were transformed into offices, museums, cultural centers, and cafés. But a few of those buildings have quietly just sat there and lain empty. One such rotting husk has completed its transformation into an apparently “classy” and “gorgeous” community theater, as the Chronicle reports the Presidio Theatre reopened this weekend to rave reviews — including that the theater’s $40 million remake has left the venue “spectacular.”
Marina residents are likely to have a “wait, what?” moment because there’s another Presidio Theatre on Chestnut Street just a half a mile away. That Lee Neighborhood Theatres venue also spells the word “Theatre,” so there’s likely to be some Google Maps mishaps among visitors who confuse that with the newly remodeled Presidio joint at 99 Moraga Avenue (within the Presidio grounds).
But the new, fancy Presidio Theatre has been thoroughly renovated with $40 million worth of Levi-Strauss family money. “The theater is happy to be alive again,” family heiress Peggy Haas said at Sunday’s open house, showing off the 600-seat venue’s new larger stage, fancier interior, and outdoor plaza.
The place was built in 1939, and its original Spanish Colonial style architecture remains intact. It was the on-base movie house for enlisted soldiers for about 60 years, and KQED notes the place also hosted USO-style shows with Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Marlene Dietrich. But according to the theater’s history page, it has not been used at all since its final screening of the crappy Mel Gibson-James Garner western Maverick on August 28, 1994. Until the big-money remake courtesy the Margaret E. Haas Fund was announced a few years back, the theater was abandoned and badly dilapidated.
"The ceiling had partially collapsed because the roof was leaking," architect Mark Hornberger told KQED.
Local history buffs will be very interested in the theater’s first movie screening, the 1915 romance flick Jane’s Declaration of Independence, which is the earliest surviving movie shot in the Presidio. That show, regrettably, is sold out and at waitlist status. But you might have better luck getting tickets for this weekend’s first show with the Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco, the following weekend’s Sintonía dance show, the San Francisco Mime Troupe 60th Anniversary Benefit on October 7, or ODC/Dance October 11.
Image: The Presidio Trust