The Golden Gate Theatre has witnessed San Francisco undergo radical changes over its century of existence, and the landmark theater mirrored many of those changes to survive – and now thrive – as one of the City’s premier entertainment venues.
The Golden Gate had its grand opening on March 26, 1922, as a combination home for silent movies and live stage acts. The audience descended on downtown San Francisco that night in formal gowns and top hats to watch a silent feature starring Gloria Swanson and a seven-act stage show starring Orpheum Circuit star James H. Cullen.
Since 1979, the Golden Gate has served as one of San Francisco’s premier venues for touring Broadway shows, but the journey was a rocky one as the theater underwent a number of iterations and a seven-year closure in the 1970s that threatened its existence.
BroadwaySF, part of the Ambassador Theatre Group that operates the venue, is commemorating the Golden Gate’s 100-year anniversary with a visual timeline, as well as a series of exclusive videos throughout the year by Adam Savage (“Mythbusters,” Tested.com) about some of the lesser-known areas of the theater and technical crafts that contribute to the theatrical experience.
The Golden Gate “has served as a microcosm for the history of American popular entertainment over the past 100 years,” BroadwaySF Managing Director Rainier Koeners said. “It has witnessed the merging and eventual demise of the vaudeville circuits; it challenged the very concept of the movie ‘palace’ as audiences turned to multiplexes for their entertainment; and it survived numerous renovations that destroyed much of the theater’s signature detail work before the theater was lovingly restored and found a new purpose: to bring the best of Broadway to Bay Area audiences.”
During its first decades, the theater found success in hosting some of the biggest stars of the era – from Frank Sinatra to Rin Tin Tin – for stage shows while doubling as a grand movie theater. It was also integrated both backstage and the auditorium, featuring such African American performers as Josephine Baker.
Billionaire Howard Hughes bought the theater in 1949 and the practice of splitting time for movies and stage shows ended, as the theater flipped from one to the other. In the 1950s, the venue was transformed into a large cinema theater with a wrap-around screen, and in the 1960s it was split into two separate theaters. Both renovations damaged the Golden Gate’s original detail.
It shuttered in the early 1970s, but the company now known as BroadwaySF purchased the theater and painstakingly restored it to its original glory. The Golden Gate reopened in December 1979 to feature A Chorus Line, the hottest Broadway show at the time.
It has been in near-continuous operation since, and has also drawn top concert acts , including Madonna, Diana Ross, Darren Criss, Joel Grey, Carol Channing and Betty Buckley.
In 2018, state-of-the-art modifications were made as the tech boom moved into the neighborhood. Since the Golden Gate is a culturally significant building, it was critical that all updates were based on historical research.
San Mateo-born G. Albert Lansburgh designed the original Golden Gate. The renowned architect’s body of work includes San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House; Broadway’s Al Hirschfield Theatre; and Los Angeles’ El Capitan, Shriner’s Auditorium, Wiltern and Orpheum.
Upcoming presentations at the Golden Gate include concerts by Daryl Hall, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Ben Folds; Broadway musicals Cats, Oklahoma! and Ain’t Too Proud to Beg – the Story of the Temptations; and the stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Golden Gate Theatre is located at 1 Taylor St., at Market and 6th Streets. For ticket information and further information, visit broadwaysf.com.
UPCOMING BROADWAYSF PRESENTATIONS
GOLDEN GATE THEATRE
May 14 – Daryl Hall with special guest Todd Rundgren
June 1-12 – Cats
June 14 – Professor Brian Cox: Horizons
June 15-16 – “Weird Al” Yankovic: Unfortunate Return of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour
June 18 – Ben Folds: In Actual Person Live for Real Tour
June 21-July 17 – The Prom
Aug. 16-Sept. 11 – Oklahoma!
Sept. 13-Oct. 9 – Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Nov. 9 –Dec. 4 – Ain’t Too Proud to Beg – The Life and Times of the Temptations
June 7-July 3 – Hadestown
Aug. 11 – The Australian Pink Floyd Show: All That’s to Come Tour
Sept. 7-Nov. 6 – Moulin Rouge! The Musical
DAVIES SYMPHONY HALL
Aug. 12-13 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in Concert
Photo courtesy of BroadwaySF