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Yammer #11


The gallery is long
and portraits hanging there
in pride of ancient wrong
face us stare for stare.


Yini Yohans


The next hill


the word legacy
is gnawing at you
it has become
an all-consuming
the star
above the pyramid
has ceased
to be a beacon
and the valley
of silicon
is lining the streets
with fiber optics


we are
no longer the entities
we once thought
we might be
our eyes
have become translucent
like the green of jade
the facades
of our forefathers
take precedence
over the well-being
of our own


could still be
and compassionate


Philip Hackett



































coronet.jpg (18168 bytes)

Dull Jack and Jill

july 31, 2000. You can see it from blocks away — the marquee of the Coronet Theater, mauve against the pale blue sky. For more than 50 years, the self-proclaimed "crown jewel of the Bay Area entertainment sphere" has adorned the top of the hill on Geary Boulevard. But now, the newspapers tell us, the old jewel has lost her luster. She is to be plucked from her setting and replaced by the Goldman Institute on Aging.

Preservationists and powers-that-be are upset about her impending demise. Supervisor Gavin Newsom has called a special meeting of the Small Business, Economic Vitality and Consumer Services Committee for August 4, in an attempt to prevent the few remaining single-screen theaters from sharing her fate. The League of Historic American Theaters, meeting in San Francisco this week, will tour her premises.

Indeed, the Coronet deserves a moment of our attention. Built in 1949 as the "lucky seventh" in Samuel H. Levin’s San Francisco Theaters group, the theater originally accommodated 2,100 movie-goers in style: viewers enjoyed "more leg room plus larger seats," reported the Examiner, with a choice of "Venetian red plush-backed" loges or "opalescent green rocking chair type" seats. The auditorium boasted gold murals in Arthurian motifs and three layers of curtains in gold, silver, and burgundy. Elsewhere, concern for customers’ comfort created a 400-car parking lot and "a women’s powder room said to rank with I. Magnin’s and Seals Stadium for artistic décor."

The first movie in November 1949 was "I Was a Male War Bride," which had opened at the Fox two weeks before. San Francisco movie maven Jack Tillmany observes that "in the beginning, [the Coronet’s] place in the order of things was sort of an upgraded Coliseum, not the prestige house it later would become." The change came quickly. On December 26, 1956, notes Tillmany, "‘Around the World in 80 Days’ opened at the Coronet and played a total of 94 weeks, closing on October 19, 1958, during which time it played in no other theater in the San Francisco Bay Area; this still stands as the longevity record for any single film in any single theater" in the city. The Chronicle’s Peter Stack adds that George Lucas "includes the Coronet on his personal list of places to see films."

In other words, this jewel on the hill has served us long and well, and deserves our gratitude. Some of the outcry over its demolition resembles a campaign to turn an old workhorse out to pasture instead of dooming it to the glue factory. Some expresses a simple sorrow over the destruction of a once-beautiful building. But some mourns the loss of a meaningful element in people’s lives, and here the preservationists may be barking up the wrong tree. Or marquee.

Listen to people’s reminiscences about movie-going. For many decades in San Francisco — and the rest of the United States — the movie palace took center stage in community life. Inexpensive and local, it offered a safe place for children to amuse themselves. Part of the childhood experience was the kiddie matinee. Older kids used it as a place to socialize and be socialized. Families out on the town went to the movies as a matter of course. So did adults.

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Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-029495-D DLC


It’s easy to blame the decline of movie attendance on the advent of television, the monopolistic film distribution system, or the rise of multiplexes. But the same thing has happened to bowling alleys and skating rinks, which once served a similar function in American family life. The Japantown Bowl is only the latest casualty. They’re all disappearing.

The San Francisco phone book for 1949, the year the Coronet opened, lists eight skating rinks, including Winterland at Post and Steiner, "home of the San Francisco Shamrocks, with hockey Wednesday and Saturday nights"; today one rink in the city is listed. In 1949 there were thirteen bowling alleys in San Francisco; today most of the listings are for facilities in Daly City. Thirty billiard parlors have given way to ten.

What’s going on? The "theater" listings offer a clue. In 1949 the phone company lumped about 100 stage and screen facilities together, with the movie theaters predominating. Today movie listings, including porno theaters, number about 30, while the number of legitimate theaters has mushroomed. The message: entertainment is for adults.

Just as the construction of live/work lofts sends a signal of "No Children Wanted," so the organization of public leisure space says, "Families Not Welcome." Particularly families with little disposable income. How shortsighted to plan for a city with no future! How suicidal! How boring. ■