Stroll through any neighborhood in San Francisco, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find an old movie palace. Divisadero Street has the Harding, Ingleside has the El Rey, Presidio Heights has the Vogue, and the Mission has too many to count. Some have found renewed purpose, such as the Alamo Drafthouse taking over the New Mission Theater, while others, like the Tower Theater one block up Mission Street, have crumbled into disrepair.
Until recently, the Avenue Theater on San Bruno Avenue in Portola fell into the latter category. The old movie house was built in 1927, adhering to the glamorous Art Deco architecture of the era. Delicately carved molding lined the edges of the stage, the ceiling was painted in a mosaic of colors, and rows of wooden seats curved gracefully around an orchestra pit at the foot of the stage.
In the 1960s, Edward Millington Stout III bought the theater and began a long run of silent films, accompanied by a Mighty Wurlitzer organ. A show calendar, presumably from the late 1970s or early ’80s, listed movies such as Charge at Feather River (1957), Son of the Sheikh (1926), Speedy (1920), and the humorously titled The Gay Divorcee (1934).
Despite its popularity as a silent-movie destination, the Avenue closed its doors in 1984. In the years since, it’s fallen into decay, its facade graffitied, the paint peeling, the 400 seats rotting where they rest. But as the Portola neighborhood has received some attention in the past few years — a new library opened in 2009, and the local rec center was renovated in 2013 — the neighborhood association turned its attention to the aging theater, which, even in its dilapidated state, dominates San…
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