Art deco architect Timothy Pfleuger designed the theater's marquee and blade in the 1930s.

photo by: David Wakely

June 13, 2017

Art Deco Movie Theater Lights Up San Francisco Once More

  • By: Carson Bear
  • Photography: David Wakely

Constructed in 1916, San Francisco's iconic New Mission Theater features prominent designs from some of the city's most significant architects. The theater was originally built by the Reid Brothers and then redesigned in 1932 by Art Deco master Timothy Pfleuger. After New Mission closed in 1993, it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Local organizations and residents advocated for the restoration of this beloved community hub for years until Alamo Cinema Drafthouse purchased it and embarked on its rehabilitation process.

One of the greatest challenges New Mission and theaters like it face today is engineering adaptive reuse for a single-use structure. Alamo Cinema Drafthouse, Architectural Resources Group, and other preservation partners transformed the single-screen theater's balconies into several smaller theaters to create a five-screen multiplex. Architects also added a full-service bar, kitchen, and in-theater dining while rehabilitating or recreating the theater's original features and finishes.

Opened in 2015, the fully restored New Mission Theater manages to retain its original architectural integrity and remain a contemporary, vital asset for its community.

The floor-to-ceiling, silver leaf murals in the theater's lobby featured Greek gods and goddesses donning "updated" clothing popular during the 1920s.

photo by: New Mission Theater

The floor-to-ceiling, silver leaf murals in New Mission Theater's lobby featured the Muses donning Art Deco-style clothing.

At one point in its history, the theater's murals were painted over. After the building closed in 1993, it succumbed to vandalism and fell into disrepair.

photo by: New Mission Theater

At one point in its history, the theater's murals were painted over. After the building closed in 1993, it fell into disrepair.

During the theater's restoration process, preservationists carefully chipped away at thick layers of paint covering the murals. They successfully saved three panels.

photo by: New Mission Theater

During the theater's restoration process, preservationists carefully chipped away at thick layers of paint covering the murals. They successfully saved three panels.

The original art deco blade sign and marquee were rehabilitated and relit with new neon to reflect Pfleuger's original attention-catching design.

photo by: David Wakely

The original 70-foot blade sign and marquee were rehabilitated and relit with new neon to reflect Timothy Pfleuger's attention-catching design.

The New Mission Theater is one of many constructed during the turn of the 20th century in San Francisco's theater district.

photo by: David Wakely

The New Mission Theater is one of many constructed during the turn of the 20th century in San Francisco's theater district, but very few have been saved to date.

Carson Bear is an Editorial Assistant at the National Trust. She’s passionate about combining popular culture with historic places, and loves her 200-year-old childhood farmhouse in Pennsylvania.

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