When Was the Golden Age of Movie Theatres on the Peninsula?

Tell us in the comment section below what local movie theatre you most miss.

Although the technology has changed, the experience of going to the movies  really isn't all that different from that of our grandparents. Today's moviegoers anticipate the latest release, plan a time to meet at the theatre, buy a snack, and then sit in the dark waiting for the magic of Hollywood to transport them to another place and time.

So what's become of those original movie theatres and playhouses that graced the Peninsula during the golden age of Hollywood? And what's led to the current trend in mega-multiplex theatres?

This Saturday, Feb. 16, historians Jack Tillmany and Gary Lee Parks, will discuss their book, Theatres of the Peninsula at 1:00 p.m. at the San Mateo Couty History Museum in Redwood City.

Their presentation on the historic theatres of the Peninsula is part of the History Museum’s Courthouse Docket program, a monthly series of presentations held in historic Courtroom A.  

Beginning with the Peninsula’s early playhouses and storefront nickelodeons (5¢ movie theatres), continuing through the movie palace period, the golden age of drive-in theatres and clear up to today’s multiplexes, their book surveys the region’s many movie houses of the past and present.

What Peninsula movie theatres do you most miss? Tell us in the comments.

Gary Lee Parks has been specifically interested in the architecture and history of vintage movie theatre buildings since the early 1980s.  Even as very small child, he knew these places where people came to sit in the dark and watch drama unfold onscreen were special.  What began as a hobby of photographing old theatres eventually turned into an avocation, and occasionally a vocation.

Gary joined the Theatre Historical Society of America (THSA) in 1987, an archival organization dedicated to preserving information on theatre buildings and making it available to researchers, including architects, restorers, decorators and hobbyists.  A commercial and decorative artist by profession, Gary has aided in the restoration of several Greater Bay Area theatres, utilizing his skills as a decorative painter and etched glass artist.

Jack Tillmany, son of a downtown San Francisco movie theatre orchestra leader, has been a movie enthusiast all his life.  Early on, he began collecting photographs of Hollywood stars and movie theatres.  This collection ultimately grew into one with few parallels.  As a young adult, Jack started a career in movie theatre management, which began with theatres in the Central Valley, but then brought him home to the Bay Area managing Oakland’s Piedmont and Parkway theatres.

Jack is a founding member of the THSA and a San Francisco pioneer in repertory revival film exhibition.  He brought that experience to the Gateway Cinema in 1970 and the Richelieu Cinema in 1975.  He retired from the motion picture business in 1981.  Film research continues to be Jack’s hobby.

The 2013 Courthouse Docket Series is sponsored by Cypress Lawn Heritage Foundation.

For more information go to www.historysmc.org or call 650.299.0104.

Steve Hayes February 15, 2013 at 03:51 PM
It is interesting that the much of the Moorish facade is missing in this picture (taken sometime in the 50s?) - it was on the original building and it is there now. I am glad that some cities like RWC, SM and SF have figured out movie theaters (even if they are more modern looking) are critical to restore interest in "downtown".
Rick Eymer February 15, 2013 at 10:43 PM
I used to go to the Manor Theater on 25th Ave. in San Mateo, and to the downtown theater on Fourth Ave. There's also the Belmont Theater just across the border from San Mateo, the Starlight Drive-In that was near Ralston, the Drive-In theaters in Redwood City and Burlingame. I still enjoy going to the old movies at Stanford Theater and the Castro Theater in SF has maintained its glory.
TGD February 15, 2013 at 11:40 PM
There was the Laurel, Carlos and the Tiffany in San Carlos and in Redwood City there was The Lilly Theater (although maybe not the type of venue intended in this article).
Bob Hoffman February 16, 2013 at 10:55 PM
This picture was taken in the late 60's or early 70's from the cars on the street. It appears from the marquee the theater had already been closed as a regular movie house. In the 1950's there was a second theater in Redwood City, the Redwood, which was located across the street from the original train station.
Carolyn V. San Carlos resident since 1978 February 16, 2013 at 11:21 PM
My movie-going youth was spent at the San Mateo Fox on 3rd Avenue, the Palm, before it became an adult movie theater, the Manor, both the San Carlos theaters, the one on Laurel had the most comfortable seats, the Burlingame Fox. So many of those had the ornate look of what old, great movie houses should have had. And so many used to have an actual clock on the wall! You don't see that much any more.


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