One of San Francisco's last standing neighborhood movie houses, the Clay Theatre on upper Fillmore, is reportedly screening its final film on Sunday, January 26 after 110 years in Pacific Heights.
The theater that has been best known in recent decades for midnight screenings of The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show has repeatedly been in the news regarding its possible demise. But this time it sounds definitive, and the staff was just informed of the closure on Thursday. Projectionist Michael Blythe relayed the news on Facebook, saying he is "heartbroken" and adding, "It is a super hard situation for me as I love the building so much, and untimely have little control of what is going to happen."
SFist is taking the news with some slight caution only because the theater has had a couple of closing scares in the last decade. A full ten years ago, in August 2010, there was a notice posted in the box office window announcing the cinema's closure, but it was apparently saved by activists who appealed to the landlord. Back in 2016, the Clay announced that it was renovating and trying to add beer and wine sales, in an effort to stay afloat. As of Friday afternoon, no one was answering the phone at the theater's box office to confirm the closure.
Since 1991, the Clay has been managed by the Landmark Theatres chain.
According to Blythe, the staff has been aware for years that the landlord had plans for the property, which may or may not include razing the single-screen theater.
The Clay has some serious history with the midnight-movie set, having screened San Francisco's very first midnight movie, John Waters' Pink Flamingos, in 1972. As the New Fillmore blog explains, Waters' muse Divine attended a screening at the Clay in 1985, when the small theater, curiously, hosted the world premiere of the Western spoof Lust in the Dust, in which he costarred with Cesar Romero and Tab Hunter. The movie later became a cult classic.
Many of SF's historic single-screen movie houses have closed or been converted for another use in the last couple decades. The Alhambra on Polk Street and the Metro on Union have both been transformed into gyms. And while the Castro, Roxie, Presidio, Vogue, and Balboa theaters soldier on as independent houses, we lost the Bridge Theatre on Geary back in 2013, and the long-shuttered Alexandria Theater in the Richmond was approved in 2019 to become a private pool and recreation complex.
Blythe said that the final film to be screened at the Clay on the 26th has not been decided. SFist will update this post with any further developments.