Plans to shutter the Opera Plaza Cinemas at 601 Van Ness Avenue, which has been operated by Landmark Theaters since 1991 and is known for screening independent, foreign and avant-garde flicks, have been drawn. And if approved, the four screen theater is likely to be converted into another 6,300 square feet of retail and/or “service” space.

52 thoughts on “Plans to Shutter the Opera Plaza Cinemas”
  1. yeah, retail in this area is THRIVING. maybe the entire plaza just needs to makeover / reboot with something a little more visually appealing and a few more restaurants.

      1. Agreed. Honestly, Landmark should put a small theater in one of the new developments in SoMa / Mission Bay near the new central subway line.

        1. Because all the young hipsters there want to watch movies in theaters? Where it is now, in a somewhat marginal commercial space (because it’s set back from the street, as mentioned), in a neighborhood with quite a few of us geezers and on bus lines out to the Marina is about the best place it could be.

          1. Denser neighborhoods with fewer nightlife options = more potential viewers. Geezers aren’t the only people who appreciate arthouse cinema…

  2. They showed great movies here, but it was not a good viewing experience. Cold as ice environment, craptastic location, and small screens. Seeing a movie in their smaller theater was like watching it on an airplane. No great loss imho.

    1. Have to agree. I saw many many movies there over the years….although that was mostly the 90’s, have hardly been there this decade. The last time I went (to see Tom Ford’s latest movie), it was in the tiny theater. Hardly bigger than a shoebox. I’m amazed the place stuck around as long as it did. But still….I’m regretful to see this disappear, as did the Lumiere, York, Gateway, and Bridge before (and that’s only the “art” houses).

  3. Terrible news for film fans!!! Even in its neglected condition, nothing will replace it. Fewer and fewer screens now for indy, foreign, & documentaries. Added to the virtual demise of the Kabuki now that it has been gobbled up by AMC and the programming trashed. Big loss!!

      1. We were devastated by how quickly the Kabuki fell apart under AMC management, from literally every possible angle (broken escalators and ticket scanners, awful food/drinks, change in programming, fees hiked up, Tuesday night discounts eliminated, wait times for food up to an hour with most menu items not even available, and a depressed staff).

        We LOVE Alamo though. Food and drinks are better, the experience is incredible, right off of BART, and the quirk of their programming and branding is super fun. We just wish there were more screens/another location since the good tickets are sold out days in advance for any semi-popular film.

          1. Surprising. AMC did build the Kabuki after all, though I think that all the good stuff came in during the Sundance days.

            You can still see the original AMC signage from before they divested it the first time (in an antitrust deal when acquiring Loew’s) on its Wikipedia page.

    1. This was never “neglected.” It isn’t a faded movie palace. It was poorly designed from day one and as home viewing options expanded and improved, the Opera Plaza just wasn’t worth the effort of leaving the house.

      It couldn’t even advertise “now showing” to all the folks passing by on Van Ness Avenue – one of the most heavily trafficked streets in the city.

      1. Good point – why didn’t they advertise on their board facing Van Ness. Slapdash management? However, I enjoyed most of their films.

      2. I don’t know about couldn’t. They do have a marquee, not that it’s particularly visible though. But it doesn’t currently show movie names. Just “SF S MOST INTIMATE MOVIE GOING EXPERIENCE” I believe.

    2. So sad re: Kabuki. The snack bar is now littered with the Coke logo and all local/healthy options are a thing of the past.

      1. Kabuki reverted to its pre-Sundance level of quality, when it was operated by AMC. “La plus ça change la plus que même chose”

    3. The Kabuki never offered real independent cinema choices. It was always just a mainstream theater hiding behind the Sundance name and charging too much money for basically replacing the previous seats and adding a bar.

      1. They tried and we didn’t support them. I saw Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 (2007) and Walk to Beautiful, A (2007) with 0 other patrons. Both found bigger audiences on PBS.

  4. One of the THE worst cinema experiences I’ve ever had! Good riddance – so many other great options in this city that have bigger, unpixelated screens and better seating.

  5. Huge loss if you want to see something other than the Hollywood blockbusters. The pablumization of American culture continues.

    1. Netflix and the public library have more art and classic films on DVD than you can watch in your lifetime. The hassle of sitting through ads, dealing with other people, and paying through the schnoz for tix and snax just isn’t worth it.

      The only exception is an event, like a film festival, and the Opera Plaza was never suitable for events.

  6. I saw some film there in the 80s. The one theater I was in had all of 10 seats. Fun little place. Too bad.

  7. Few people know it but the place occupied by the Opera Plaza Cinema was originally intended (and presumably designed) as a full-scale supermarket. That is what early buyers at Opera Plaza were told it would be. The supermarket proprietor pulled out late in the game and the theater chain was found to replace them. I have to agree with those who say it was never a great movie-going experience. Many people today have flat screen TVs as large as the smallest screen in there.

    The article says the space will be “retail and service” space. I very much doubt it will be retail directly serving the public. The back of the plaza space, which used to be entirely retail and restaurants has gradually become something else, from dentists offices to city-leased offices for one of their agencies. I expect more of this sort of thing if the space can be leased at all (because of lack of visibility from the street). I’d like to see Kaiser move their occupational health unit down from the second (mazzanine) floor where no one seems able to find it.

    1. By the way, for those wondering about the current construction in the Opera Plaza courtyard, the inward-facing windows in the townhouses are being replaced (those facing the street having been already replaced) and the central fountain is going to be refurbished.

    2. BT, thanks so much for the history lesson! That is the kind of nugget of detail and context that really interests me. It seems like it’s hard to keep interesting retail in a building like this. I feel like such a space does probably have the audience of the residents, but really needs more visibility from the street to supplement that if it’s going to succeed.

      In Daniel Burnham Court, built a few years later than OP, the interior lobby level has a corridor that was obviously intended to be retail. It was signed “THE GALLERIA SHOPS” until recently. One hair salon survived until recently, and the rest of the area was either vacant or offices.

      By contrast to the seemingly more community-encouraging courtyard model of OP, a boring rectangular building with retail lining the outside walls of the first floor might have more successful retail. Which to me is sad, because I like courtyard things and enclosed public areas!

  8. So sad! May not be the most upscale movie house but SO convenient on a rainy day. The movies are good & cant beat the price. Very sorry to see it go.

  9. Not a great loss as a theater space, but major loss as a venue to see foreign language films. Alamo does not fill that particular void, and the 3 upstairs theaters there are worse than the Opera Plaza. Only upside is that the Roxie might be able to program some of the films now that Landmark’s monopoly is diminished.

    1. Wasn’t Embarcadero the main place for foreign language films for quite some time? I see they are currently showing all films in English, but I swear I remember it being primarily foreign language, ten years ago when I still went to the cinema.

  10. I agree that we are losing our alternative movie experiences i.e. foreign and independent film. The smaller houses are increasingly finding it challenging to compete wth the multiplexes. Sad to know the Kabuki theatre is going down hill since the AMC acquisition.

  11. This is a major setback for foreign, indie, arthouse in SF. No other venue will pick up the slack because Alamo and Kabuki are mainstream Hollywood movie houses

  12. Great programming here, Will be a major loss for those of us who appreciate the non-Hollywood flicks. The Roxie is the only one left now.

  13. It was a nice amenity, but one that I (and many other 601 residents) rarely took advantage of… I can’t think of what they’ll turn the space into other than a grocery store… a trade joe or whole-foods would be nice, which would definitely be a big improvement.

  14. Don’t kid yourself that this would ever be a TJ or a Whole Foods. The city is awash in excess retail, and it will only get worse. And grocery stores are about the least likely of all retail uses. It will become a service use like a drop-in medical clinic or straight office space, further deadening the plaza. ZZZZ

    1. Excess retail? I don’t care about overall retail, but grocery stores per person, in particular, seem woefully low. The nearest real grocery stores are the TJ and the WF way up at California (at Hyde and at Franklin), the Webster Safeway, the 4th Street TJ, and… the Foods Co on 14th.

      Not arguing with you that I think it WILL be a grocery, but confused on how that looks like a glut of groceries.

  15. There goes the 2nd to the last place dozens of people could see films like: Absurdistan (2008) – Petit lieutenant, Le (2005) – Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (2009) in a non-DVD environment. I wish I was still mobile enough to cross 4 counties in search of small films & newspapers (The Onion, Guardian, SF Weakly, EB Express).

  16. I know a lot of people like the Opera Plaza. My first time there was also my last. I went to see the Big Screen Academy Award nominated “Ghandi”in the 80’s. My jaw dropped to the floor when I saw the size of the screen and 3 or so rows of seats. No stereo sound either. Hate seeing any more movie theaters closed (or turned into retail or gyms) in SF but I have always referred to this theater as the “Opera Plaza Television Sets”.

  17. We love Opera Plaza especially being able to see excellent films not often shown in huge commercial cinemas and in winter it is so easy to cross from elevator to cinema without going outside.

  18. OP was the centerpiece of the SF Redevelopment Agency, Western Addition Phase 2.

    From Van Ness westward, thousands of homes & retail stores were seized SF under Eminent Domain, then destroyed to make room for OP. The compact & aim was to build residences, a garage, and RETAIL SPACE to make up for what it had already destroyed. The retail space was for the use and pleasure of residents and community.

    The commercial interests plan to eventually change all retail to office space, which is completely against the original plan and contribute absolutely nothing to the residents or community. Its a bad precedent-like we need more office space in this city.

  19. Another consideration, The Opera Plaza condos (the majority of which are 1 bd 1ba) are owned by lots of retired people. All condo owners pay 80 PERCENT of the expenses for the entire complex, while the commercial owner pays 20 PERCENT. An inequity, especially if there are no retail businesses to enjoy. MAX’s Opera Cafe Restaurant would maker a wonderful B of A office, no doubt, to the commercial owner.

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