People say there's nothing going on in the Outer Richmond. For the most part, they're right. I live out there and I'll be the first to tell you that there are a lot of houses, a lot of dogs, and a lot of people walking their dogs. Sure, we have a few small neighborhood bars where you can watch a ball game, a couple cool cafes, bakeries, and restaurants, and we even have a beachfront Safeway! (which is more than the folks in fancy Noe Valley can say) but who's counting beachfront Safeways? I admit, the Outer Richmond can sometimes feel like San Francisco's moldy spare bedroom, but one thing we do have out in this sleepy land of perpetual foghorns is the Historic Balboa Theater.
The theater opened as "The New Balboa" in 1926. Originally a single screen theater, it split into a two-screen "Miniplex" in 1978. The building was designed by the Reid brothers, who also designed The Cliff House, the Spreckels Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park, and several other old San Francisco theaters, including the Balboa's Inner Richmond counterpart The Alexandria, which shut down in 2004 and has since become somewhat of a haven for crackheads and bums.
The Balboa itself faced closure in 2001, but was spared the same fate as the Alexandria when new owner Gary Meyer took over and vowed to keep the Balboa in operation. He said “I just can’t let another old theater close. This is an incredible neighborhood of family restaurants and businesses and our audiences appreciate the personalized attention we provide.” I guess he’s right; it is an incredible neighborhood.
I love the Balboa for a lot of reasons. One, it feels like an old theater, even on the inside. When you walk through the big glass double doors into the lobby, there’s no arcade room off to the side buzzing with snot-nosed kids playing Duke Nukem. Save that stuff for the bars and billiard halls. Instead there are old and new movie posters lining the walls, a wide carpeted lobby, and an old bar with a snack stand. The Balboa is classy.
Also, the Balboa just looks great. In the darkness when the nighttime fog settles over the houses, it's always good to know that on Balboa Street between 37th and 38th the big red sign will be blinking, incessantly spelling out its own name. B-A-L-B-O-A. Incessantly at least, until midnight when the last movie lets out and they close up shop. But that's the nature of the Outer Richmond. You can't leave the bedroom light on all night.