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Friday, March 2, 2012

The Balboa Celebrates 86 Years Sunday as It Adapts to the 21st Century

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2012 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge 9_balboa.jpg

The neighborhood movie theater has a lot in common with the neighborhood bookstore. Both are being edged out of business by technology. Those that stay in business need a unique draw -- something people can't get on a smartphone or e-reader. San Francisco has seen its share of neighborhood theaters go dark over the years (the Alexandria, the York, the Mission, and the Crown), but the city retains a few that providing locals with programming and events such as the Oscar Parties we mentioned last week.

One such theater is the Balboa, which turns 86 this year and throws itself a birthday party Sunday. The theme is the Jazz Age, inspired by the film that won Best Picture and also current feature at the theater, The Artist.

We sat down shortly after the Balboa's Oscar party with co-owner Adam Bergeron to discuss the future of the theater and the industry. He and his wife Jaimi Holker recently took over the theater from Gary Meyer, who stepped down after 10 years to focus on his ongoing work with the Telluride Film Festival. When we arrived, Adam was out front chatting with a painter who was working to replace those old, weather-worn tiles on the front façade with a fresh coat of paint.

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Entering the theater feels like walking into a period piece. There are plans for new prosceniums in both screen rooms, new seating (people can sponsor new seats), and, well, ultimately, new everything. Bergeron aims to keep the Balboa's character intact, preserving the classic feel while balancing demands for 21st century technology.

"I think the biggest challenge," he said, "will be upgrading the customer comfort experience without losing the charm. We still want it to feel like you're in the Balboa Theatre."

Bergeron said he hopes to keep the Balboa financially successful and viable to the community though distinctive programming, whether it's classic films, appearances by filmmakers and actors, or other live entertainment such as magic or music.

click to enlarge Adam Bergeron has big plans for the 86-year old Richmond District theater, as well as the Vogue in Laurel Heights, which he and his wife Jaimi also oversee.
  • Adam Bergeron has big plans for the 86-year old Richmond District theater, as well as the Vogue in Laurel Heights, which he and his wife Jaimi also oversee.

Concessions and other food could also contribute to the Balboa's success.

"There is a natural marriage between movies and food," Bergeron says.

With plans to produce house-made pizza (and adding pizza ovens), plus General Manager Roger Paul's own popcorn recipe, the business has a good foundation beyond the planned aesthetic improvements. The plans also include a license to sell beer, including local favorites such as Anchor Steam in plastic cups (like at the ballpark) rather than bottles. (Imagine the effect on a movie's climax, Bergeron says, of an empty bottle that's accidentally tipped over and rolling slowly from a top row toward the front.)

The Artist, which took Best Picture award this year, provides an appropriate backdrop for Sunday's birthday party. In 1929, when the Balboa was only 3 years old and the "talkie" was still a difficult medium for filmmakers to manage, a silent love story called Wings set during the First World War won Best Picture at the first Academy Awards. The Artist is the first silent movie since Wings to take the award, and the first black-and-white picture to win since Schindler's List in 1994.

Bergeron encourages people to dress in period clothing for the party. Diane Boate (known as "The Cake Lady") plans to have a cake ready. Normal concessions as well as beer and wine will be available. The evening's feature will be Harold Lloyd's Safety Last (1923), an original 35mm version on loan from the Lloyd family. Pianist Frederick Hodges and vocalist Linda Kosut will also be on hand. Also to be screened are some short films by a pioneer of the medium, George Méliès, who was played by Ben Kingsley in Hugo, another mainstay at this year's Academy Awards.

The Balboa's 86th Birthday Bash starts at 6:45 p.m. Sunday (March 4) at the Balboa Theatre, 3630 Balboa (at 37th Ave.), S.F. Admission is $7.50-$10.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Chris Torres

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