Grab Bag #012

Movie houses, monoku, and membership cards in one big Woody Grab Bag.

Montage of Alexandria Theatre
Movie theatres, monoku, and membership cards in one big Woody Grab Bag.

Me these days

for the moment in it for the long haul
—monoku by Outer Richmond resident Nate Tico. Check out his recent reading for the Haiku Poets of Northern California and follow him on Instagram at @naticohaiku

Sign of the Times

movie theatre
Down comes the Alexandria blade sign

I thought the sidewalk barriers and the rented boom lift meant the graffiti was finally going to be painted over. But I saw from a block away the worker cutting into the sign and I began jogging.

You can read about it on SF Gate or San Francisco Standard or the Richmond Review. Any change to the old Alexandria Theatre is newsworthy, as it has sat decaying since the last film showed in February 2004—yes, 19 years ago this month.

Me pointing the finger in a tweet...which is what Twitter is for.

Coincidentally, I was scheduled to give an illustrated presentation on theatres of the Richmond District the next week at the spiffed-up and reopened 4 Star Theatre in the Outer Richmond District.

Covid had been just the latest threat to the 4 Star and I was certain it was the one that would put the 110-year old cozy jewel box in its grave.

But thanks to an anonymous hero who purchased and restored the building, I am able to watch Michelle Yeoh, Robert Mitchum, and Angelina Jolie on a big screen again. Reclined in a comfortable seat in a wide aisle, I am transported not only by the stories, but by the shared experience of gathering with other people indoors for entertainment: a situation I wasn’t sure would ever happen again.

In the glow of this triumph for the 4 Star—rare good news for a neighborhood movie theater—the Alexandria five blocks away was having pieces hacked off it.

Egyptian Grandeur

movie theatre
The Alexandria about to open in 1923 (Jack Tillmany collection)

The Alexandria opened as the city’s first Egyptian-themed theater on the northwest corner of 18th Avenue and Geary Street (now Boulevard) on November 26, 1923. On the rounded façade six papyrus-topped columns rose above the marquee. A stepped pyramid on the roof sprouted a massive flagpole supported by sphinxes. The entry and lobby featured ankhs, palms, and winged suns.

Ben Black, leader of the theatre’s house band, teamed up with Neil Morét to write a commemorative theme song for the Alexandria’s opening. It’s a catchy tune, with Tin Pan Alley Arabian riffs. I was able to copy the sheet music from friend Jack Tillmany’s collection and had Lisa Sanchez and Doug McKeehan record it:

1923 theme music for the Alexandria Theatre's opening.

Over its life, the Alexandria received various cosmetic additions, minor make-overs, and modernizations to keep up with the times.