Castro Theatre (credit: Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
In the Bay Area, most everyone loves going to the movies. But some unique movie houses offer a far more satisfying movie experience. In fact, a few places serve beer and wine while others as among the most beautiful theaters in the world. Here is a brief profile of five of the most fascinating movie theaters in the Bay Area.
429 Castro St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
Built in 1922, the Castro Theatre is likely the most famous movie theater in San Francisco. Located in one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods, this historic movie palace features more than 1,400 seats, including balcony seating and a spacious mezzanine that can accommodate up to 200 guests. The Castro offers primarily classic films, but also hosts contemporary films in addition to a treasure trove of special events, film festivals and popular movie tributes, with recent appearances from well-known celebrities like Alan Arkin, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest and Billy Crystal. Featuring a Spanish Colonial facade and its iconic vertical neon sign, the Castro Theatre was named as a San Francisco Historic Landmark in 1976. The Castro also hosts sing-along events such as the recent presentation of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” when audiences are encouraged to sing songs from the hit musical.
3200 Grand Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610
At the time it first opened in 1926, the Grand Lake Theatre was the largest theater west of the Mississippi. Designated as one of the country’s top 10 vintage theaters, the stunning movie theater still retains much of its 1920s grandeur, including its stunning Art Deco lobby and main auditorium, the original Mighty Wurlitzer organ and its landmark rooftop sign. Despite being one of the last remaining movie palaces in the Bay Area, the Grand Lake is one of just a few theaters across the country with a state-of-the-art two projection 3D system and the only one in all of Northern California. Matinee prices are just $6 and $5 all day long on Discount Tuesday. Wednesday is free popcorn day, when a free bag of popcorn is available for each paid admission. While it seems as if there’s never a bad time to see a movie at the Grand Lake, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ is played in the main auditorium before each Friday and Saturday evening show.
474 24th St.
Oakland, CA 94612
Described as “what you wish your movie theater did,” the New Park Theater really is one of a kind. Located in Oakland’s Uptown district, the theater is a community centric cinema and cafe with an eclectic collection of living room furniture, both large and small, in front of the full-sized movie screen. The cafe serves up tasty pub style foods such as pizza, quesadilla and chicken wings but also offers local beers and wine, along with other drinks like smoothies and Italian sodas. In addition to first run movies, the New Parkway Theater hosts Theme Nights with themes like Animation K.O. for animated films, Mystery Science Theater 3000 with a pre-show trivia contest and “Baby Brigade” for parents with infants. The theater also hosts a number of weekly free activities, such as “Open Mic Monday,” “Bingo and Beer” “Tuesday and Wednesday Art Night” featuring Drink and Draw.
Oakland, CA 94612
Of the three breathtaking movie palaces in Oakland, the Paramount is the most revered. Located in the heart the downtown area, it was the largest theater on the West Coast, with a seating capacity of 3,476 when it opened in December 1931. Today, the Paramount looks much like it did when it dazzled moviegoers during the Depression Era, retaining its magnificent grand lobby, mosaic walls and ceilings and its 110-foot-tall mosaic facade. Now featuring a total capacity of 3,040, the Paramount Theatre screens a number movie classics throughout the year and also serves as special events and live entertainment venue, including ongoing performances by the Oakland Ballet Company and the Oakland Symphony. Full bar service is available on the mezzanine and lower levels prior to performances and during intermission. When in Oakland, visitors might also want to consider stopping by the third of the local movie palaces, the Fox Theatre, which now operates primarily as a music venue.
221 University Ave.
Palo Alto, CA 94301
The beloved Stanford Theatre easily offers one of the most authentic movie experiences in the Bay Area, and in the entire country. First opened in 1925 as the premier movie house in Palo Alto, the movie palace presents nothing but classic movies, primarily from Hollywood’s Golden Age beginning in the 1920s. Restored to its original splendor, the theater is graced with neoclassical Persian and Moorish architecture and now has a seating capacity of 1,175, down from its original seating arrangement of 1,454. One of the most appealing features of theater’s movie experience is its Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, played before each 7:30 p.m. show, as well as during the intermission and after the show. For nearly 30 years, the Stanford Theatre has been owned and operated by the Stanford Theatre Foundation.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com