Oct 13

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The Jewel Is Back In The Crown – Avenue Theater Facade Sparks Back To Life

The Event

A diamond in the rough, the Avenue Theater has finally received some of the polishing it deserves, returning it to a position of prominence and community pride.  In a large celebration put on by the Portola Neighborhood Association in September, Mayor Ed Lee and community representatives involved in the project, flipped a giant electrical switch, marking a new beginning for Portola’s historic movie palace.  The crowd of over 200 people filled the Bank Of The West parking lot as the Mayor and Supervisor Hillary Ronen spoke about the importance of the space and the city’s intention to help return it to a functioning arts venue for San Francisco.



When the sun finally set over San Bruno and the speeches came to a close, a countdown signaled the moment that the iconic old sign buzzed back to life with cheers and celebration from the crowd.  For the first time in over 30 years, the sign was switched on for daily use, now appearing nightly at dusk, 365 days a year.  As part of the agreement with the city, the owner will be paying the electric bill for the next 5 years bringing new life to the street and hopefully attracting a new tenant..


It was a special night for the community, and as a surprise to some of us, for the Theater’s owners who haven’t been particularly present during their ownership of the space.  Luke Spray (S.B.A. Corridor Manager) mentioned to us that the owners were impressed and frankly, a bit surprised, by the enthusiasm and diversity of the crowd that evening.  Like much of the community, they had never seen the sign lit until that evening and in reaction to the festive vibe of the event, they made an impromptu decision to open the Theater space for the night.  The crowd was given free rein of the Theater including the projectionist’s booth and under the stage, we will share some of those pictures in an upcoming post.

“The Ave”, the jewel of the Portola

The Ave Jewel

The Avenue Theater project would not and could not have happened without the Portola community standing up together in order to stop bad redevelopment plans – like when it almost became a CVS – and to lobby city officials into taking action to restore this important community asset.  In recognition of those efforts, a small addition was made to the marquee that makes the crown jewel metaphor a bit more literal.  Created by the neon artist and placed in a prominent but blank panel, is a neon jewel with the theater’s longtime neighborhood nickname, “The Ave” in a radiant pink.  A subtle recognition of our community spirit and what it can achieve. A quality not going unnoticed by larger publications such as the San Francisco Chronical which published a flattering article about the event, San Bruno Ave. and the Portola.


San Bruno Avenue and more broadly the Portola district, known as San Francisco’s Garden District, is experiencing a level of interest not seen since the corridor went into decline in the 1970s. – The San Francisco Chronicle

So What;s Next?

Finding a new tenant for the space is the next hurdle for the community and the owner – something that we all agree on.  The performance space is fully in tact but needs work to bring it up to code.  The chances of a movie theater coming back to the space are slim, it’s a single screen and movie theaters in general are on the decline with technology allowing streaming at home.  That said, live performance spaces of this size are in hot demand. Musicians are wanting more interesting venues to perform in and with the seats removed, the Avenue could hold upwards of 1,000 people. The P.N.A.’s corridor manager, Luke Spray, is giving tours of the space to different arts and performance groups interested in learning more about the venue so there is an interest – fingers crossed.


 In the meantime though, you can walk down to the old Johnson’s BBQ to see a display of the theater’s history posted on the windows and created by the neighbor behind the Renew The Avenue FB page, Elisa Laird-Metke.  While there, you may notice some work going on in the long shuttered space.   An exciting new business may be joining the street’s renaissance but I won’t jinx it by spilling the beans here until it’s a done deal.


Event Photo Gallery


Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2017/10/jewel-back-crown-avenue-theater-facade-sparks-back-life/

1 comment

2 pings

  1. Johor

    Wow! Housing upward of 1000 people! Looking forward to that, or may be not.

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