Monday, September 14, 2009

Yet more ruins

Believe it or not, I still haven't completed my cataloguing of all the husks of old movie theaters that dot Mission Street, my neighborhood's main drag. I should also mention that all of these theaters, including the one that I'm going to be presenting to you today, can be found within one short, four-block long stretch. Obviously the Mission was quite an entertainment Mecca back in the early days of the mid-twentieth century. This is perhaps reflected in the monumental elements incorporated into a lot of these theaters' designs, which hint at aspirations to permanence that could only have been maintained in an age when television and home video's impact on America's healthy theater-going habits was far beyond the reach of the imagination. Anyway, today, The El Capitan:

The good news for the El Capitan is that its facade remains relatively well-maintained. Though the theater itself closed down in 1964, the hotel attached to it has remained in business to this day, which accounts for it being the beneficiary of a few fresh coats of paint in the ensuing years. Built in 1928, The El Capitan was the largest of Mission Street's movie houses, with seating for over 2500.

The bad new for the El Capitan is that, once you pass under its facade, you see this:

A parking lot. (Not that we don't need the parking in the Mission, mind you.)

I have to admit that while, like most San Franciscans, I have been guilty of passing these ruins by without a second thought on many occasions, I feel a pang of sadness when contemplating them now. This is not to say that I feel that their demise should or could have somehow been avoided. No neighborhood, much less the Mission, could sustain such a large number of screens in this day and age. We should, in fact, probably just be grateful that we have their shells on hand as an impetus to memory and historical inquiry.

It's just that, in a retro-fitted city like San Francisco, where the new is just as likely to be built on-top-of or around the old as it is to supplant it, we're provided numerous opportunities in the course of our daily routines to confront the ghosts of the city's past. Yet we seldom choose to do so, more often than not remaining oblivious to them, or if we do take notice of them, doing so with little in the way of sustained curiosity. Perhaps in deciding to let these structures stand, while at the same time doing little to impede their natural process of decay -- by, in essence, allowing them to turn to dust before our eyes -- the city fathers and mothers have provided us with an inadvertent and far too vivid reminder of the impermanence of all of those cozily familiar edifices that we today regard as imperishable fixtures of our daily lives -- all of them monuments to commerce and diversion that are themselves just ruins in the making.

Anyway, I guess this is just my effort to stop and look the ghost in the eye for a moment -- before, of course, turning back on my way in search of dollar DVDs and cheap tube socks

1 comment:

Keith said...

Our train line has been under construction the past couple week,s forcing us to take a shuttle bus on the weekends. As a result, I noticed an absolutely fantastic looking old theater on Flatbush Avenue. Probably vacant for decades, but gorgeous, old-school New York theater architecture. There's also a Popeye's nearby.