The fate of the 4 Star Theatre in San Francisco's Richmond District is looking up, after 18 months of sitting dark — and Victor Bergeron, the guy behind the successful cinephile reinventions of the Vogue and Balboa theaters, will be doing the programming.
The 4 Star Theatre (Clement and 23rd Ave.) has been operated by the same husband and wife team since 1992, and now, as the Chronicle reports, it's been sold to an unnamed new owner who intends to maintain it as a neighborhood theater showing special programs and non-first-run films.
The new owner is putting Bergeron in charge, and he says he intends to maintain the theater's longstanding reputation for showing Hong Kong and Asian cinema in general — Frank Lee, who took over the theater in 1992 and bought the property in 2006, took pride in having introduced Jet Li to the Bay Area, and in getting first-run films within days of their release in Asia.
But the theater will primarily host rotating special weekly and monthly programs, curated films, and one-off special events. And Bergeron tells the Chronicle that the next few months will be used to renovate the theater's two screens and bring in new 35mm and 16mm projectors.
Lee tells the paper that he hopes to continue bringing Asian film programming to the Presidio Theater.
Fans of the 4 Star lamented back in 2015 when the theater property was listed for sale as a potential development site for $2.8 million. It didn't sell then, and Lee says that he and his wife, now in their 60s, had been discussing retirement plans before the pandemic hit and shut down theater operations altogether.
The Lees had previously won out in a battle to own the property a decade earlier, after a Lutheran Church in the neighborhood owned it for five years with the intention of converting it into a church space. The threat to the theater inspired the Board of Supervisors to pass a new law that requires any project planning to remove a neighborhood theater get conditional use approval.
While some small cinemas around the city have reopened — including the Vogue and Balboa, which reopened earlier this summer — the 4 Star had remained closed the past 18 months, leaving people in the neighborhood wondering again what would happen to it. As the Chronicle notes, posters for Parasite and Uncut Gems, two of the last films to screen there, were still on display out front.
Bergeron tells the paper that the 4 Star has "done a great job of holding that neighborhood and being a focal point" there.
"These little neighborhood theaters — if you have one in your neighborhood, it really sets that neighborhood apart," Bergeron says.