I recently visited the newly re-furbished New Mission Theater, now the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, in San Francisco. Built in 1916 and remodeled in the Art Deco style in the 1930’s, it closed down in the 80’s and has been dark ever since. Here’s me in the fabulous lobby on the very fabulous carpet, smiling because I was remembering the last time I was in there – in the dark by myself. But more of that later….
In 1996 I arrived in San Francisco and started to paint. I explored the neighborhoods and was drawn to abandoned buildings with architectural merit and a story to tell. I discovered the New Mission Theater on Mission Street, the entrance shuttered and the 70 ft tall marquee shedding its paint and neon. So I painted the marquis. Each letter had its own canvas and there were eight panels in all. It wasn’t until I placed them together that I realized how tall the piece was. I had just joined a new gallery called Hang (a gallery which I credit with kick-starting my career as a painter) and the director decided to show the painting which was so tall it reached through the lighting grid! It sold within days to a Seattle loft-dweller.
Ten years later in 2008 I had a beautiful studio in the Mission (still have it) and a contact who was friendly with the owner of the building. I had heard rumors that it was going to be knocked down for redevelopment and I was desperate to see what remained of the interior. After several attempts I persuaded the owner to give me access. I didn’t realize that he would let me in, pull down the shutter, and tell me to call him when I wanted to get out. And I didn’t think to take a flashlight.There was minimal lighting in some areas but none in most.
I spent nearly two hours in there by myself and boy was it spooky!
Every time a truck went by on the street the metal shutter would rattle and the sound would bounce down the lobby, around the auditorium and end up as a rustle just behind me. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest several times.
The seating had recently been removed from the auditorium, leaving curved lines of circular holes in the concrete floor. There were beautiful details and lots of graffiti.
Using a cinder block as a portable stool I completed several sketches before the need for a bathroom made me dial for my escape.
From these sketches I worked on some paintings in my studio:
A San Francisco landmark has been saved and is now a great place to watch a movie while having dinner.