Balboa Theatre operator calls it quits
The Balboa Theatre has been a fixture of the outer Richmond District since 1926, but now the future of the independent movie house is up in the air following operator Gary Meyer’s announcement that he will quit in mid-August.
Meyer told the San Francisco Chronicle that a combination of factors led to his decision to stop operating the Balboa, including his work as a co-director of the Telluride Film Festival and the likely need for a $200,000 renovation to allow the theater to show digital movies instead of the traditional film.
The movie theater at 3630 Balboa St. has played first-run mainstream movies as well as classics and independent films, including “Remembering Playland,” a documentary about Playland-at-the-Beach.
The shakeup at the Balboa Theatre follows the announcement earlier this month that the Haight-Ashbury’s Red Vic Movie House would close July 25.
The uncertain future is a special concern for moviemakers who depend on the theater’s dedication to eclectic programming. Filmmaker Tom Wyrsch is finishing a documentary about the Sutro Baths, which he wants to screen at the Balboa.
“I hope it stays and I hope it continues to serve the community,” said Wyrsch, whose “Remembering Playland” documentary enjoyed a successful five-month run at the Balboa two years ago. “It would be a shame if they’re not there … turn it into a damn Laundromat or something.”
The Balboa opened in 1926, and was operated until 2001 by the Levin family, which still holds the lease, which, in turn, they granted to Meyer. The theater was remodeled after fires in the 1940s and 1970s. After the latter blaze, the single-screen theater was split in two. Meyer, who had co-founded the Landmark Theatre chain before leaving in the 1990s, took over the Balboa in February 2001.
Meyer said that if people really want neighborhood businesses such as independent movie theaters, they need to support them with more than words:
He’ll run into people who say they love the Balboa, and then acknowledge the last film they viewed there was “The Best of Youth” – which screened several years ago.”If there’s a message for people, it’s ‘Don’t take your neighborhood theater for granted,’ ” he said. “They really need you to be paying attention to them if they’re going to survive.”