Two nickelodeon theater lobbies

Our nickelodeon closed just recently. Aardvark Books in San Francisco was the site of a nickelodeon ca 1917. Note the ornate pressed tin ceiling. We visited the silent film museum today, a nickelodeon from 1913, in Niles, near Fremont CA.

“The nickelodeon was the first type of indoor exhibition space dedicated to showing projected motion pictures. Usually set up in converted storefronts, these small, simple theaters charged five cents for admission and flourished from about 1905 to 1915.” wiki

The historian here gave a really nice talk but he started by asking if I knew what vaudeville was.

You know you’re getting older when you’re really familiar with something that’s a hundred years old.

We knew vaudeville because it was the variety show format of early tv, and the performers were all vaudevillians. Especially Red Skelton and Mickey Rooney and Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, Ed Sullivan. All the corny jokes, the pantomime and pratfalls, the song and dance- straight from vaudeville a hundred years ago.

It’s interesting to see a cultural memory fade, although internet preserves a history, it’s probably a reach for people of this century to think about entertainment in 1913.

The brilliant cartoons we saw as kids also drew from vaudeville, expanding on themes and jokes and stereotypes of the era. Bugs Bunny was very vaudevillian.

Nickelodeon’s that exist:

A trip to the silent film museum in Niles reminded me of another nickelodeon that almost made it to now: The Blue Church at 28th and Church St.

It took me a minute to remember this one.

“The Rita Theatre was a little neighborhood theatre on the northwest corner of 28th Street and Church Street.”

“A theatre was constructed at 28th and Church Streets in 1916, and was known by the names Rita, New Rita, and the Princess. It was the old type nickelodeon, with piano playing to accompany the silent films.”

Mae Silver ( Foundsf)

The SF Examiner’s Thomas Gladysz provides more details:

“The Searchlight Theatre opened in 1916. Admission at the time was 10 cents for adults, and 5 cents for children. Its August 5th Grand Opening advertisement (reproduced in Tillmany’s book) boasted a “New Theatre, Good Pictures, Latest Music.” The ad went on to state “We are installing one of the latest models of the AMERICAN PHOTOPLAYER, with all the Orchestral effects at a cost of $5000. Be sure to see and hear it.” That was big money during the early silent film era.”

“It opened as the Searchlight Theatre on August 5, 1916, and changed names rapidly the next few years. It was variously known as the Empress Theatre (1918-1927), the Lux Theatre, the De Lux Theatre, the Isis Theatre, the Princess Theatre, the Church Theatre, and, finally the Rita Theatre (1945). That name seemed to stick, but in 1961, entrepreneur Ward Stoopes took it over and ran it for about four years as the Del Mar Theatre.

Never successful as a neighborhhod theatre, its only means of survival seemed to be as an outlet for “ethnic” films, i.e. foreign films WITHOUT English sub-titles, usually German or Russian. Its last days as a film theatre were in May 1965. It became a neighborhood church, painted a bright, bright blue, and known as the ‘Blue Church. It was demolished in October 2009. Condominiums and retail will be built on the site.”


“I remember all the food lines outside the blue church and how the nuns all in white contrasted so sharply and beautifully with the paint. It was clear it hadn’t always been a church.

I’m going to share this post with Theater Architecture.”

-“I remember the free bread on tables outside on Sundays.”

on an unrelated note:

Farewell to the wash and dry at Cole and Carl across from The Other Cafe. I was apartment hunting in the bulletin board there 40 years ago and someone told me there was an apartment on Upper Downy St top of Ashbury. Rent was $210 /month for a railroad flat with five rooms and a kitchen with garden backlots. Split it with my best friend. 2 hippies in a five room flat. Now that fateful laundromat is gone forever and so is reasonable rent.

Right across the street was the Other Cafe. Our hangout. Saw Kate Wolf and Nina Gerber, Cheap Suit Serenaders without R Crumb, Ducks Breath, Dana Carvey as John Denver. Jane Dornaker hung out there too. The neighbor in the flat upstairs used to make big pots of gumbo.

Echo of Vaudeville

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