Film Fancy

The best place to see a film today is at one of these restored movie palace gems.
Text by Michael Mattis

Paramount Theatre

Ever since film exhibition pioneer Mitchell Mark opened his Mark Strand Theater in New York City way back in 1914, the movie palace has been synonymous with movie glitz and glamour, stardom and fame. Even after the heyday of the movie palace passed and audiences moved on to drab theaters in the ‘burbs, these glorious venues continued to symbolize the Hollywood mystique. Why else does Grauman’s Chinese Theatre continue to be the de rigeur stop on any Hollywood tour? While many famed movie palaces have gone the way of the dodo, or have been converted into mega-churches or performance spaces, preservationists and savvy marketers have saved a few of the best, and they’ve made improvements that have brought the motion picture experience up to date. Here’s a short list of some of the most classic places to see a movie in the nation’s coolest cities.


The Castro, built: 1922 —— This landmark theater anchors SF’s Castro neighborhood, a glittering jewel in the old queen’s crown. While its exterior is decidedly nondescript Mission style, the Castro’s interior is a lavish mashup of neoclassical, renaissance, orientalist and art deco motifs. The effect? Fabulous! Totally gay in the very best way, like being at a party for Versace hosted by Dolce and Gabbana. Open nightly and for matinees on the weekends, the Castro features a mélange of Hollywood classics, art and foreign films. Be sure and stand and sing “San Francisco Open Your Golden Gate” along with the natives to the accompaniment of the mighty Wurlitzer organ before the show. 429 Castro St., SF,

The Paramount, built: 1931 —— The Paramount is the Art Deco masterpiece nonpareil. Designed by the renowned architect, Timothy Pflueger, who also dreamed up the Castro, the Paramount boasts some of the most elaborate morderne friezes, inlays, mosaics, lighting and balustrades you’re ever likely to see in one place. Lovingly restored by a dedicated crew of preservationists and deco fanatics, this movie palace is now also home to the Oakland Symphony and Ballet, in addition to showing Hollywood classics on a regular basis. 2025 Broadway, Oakland,


The Arclight Cinerama Dome, built: 1963 —— OK, the Cinerama Dome is not exactly an old time movie palace à la Grauman’s Chinese or the El Capitan a few blocks away. Rather, it’s a geodesic dome structure that evokes Buckminster Fuller’s wildest dreams of ultra-modernism, a unique retro vision of the future. Beautifully restored with the latest sight and sound gear and comfy seats, the Cinerama Dome today is the best place to see a movie in SoCal, bar none. It’s also the best place to see the likes of Winona Ryder or Viggo Mortensen catching up on the latest flicks. Best of all, you can get a cocktail at the Arclight Cinemas Café & Bar next door, as well as browse pop-culture iconography the hip gift shop. 6360 Sunset BLVD.,

The Egyptian, built: 1922 —— First developed by Sid Grauman—he of the Chinese Theater, just down the street—the Egyptian is today one of the centerpieces of Hollywood’s living history renaissance, serving as American Cinematique’s HQ and primary screening room. The Egyptian’s very first film, back in the 1920s, was Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks. Today the Egyptian offers classic film series in all genres, ranging from John Sturges Westerns to the latest avant garde films from Argentina. Many screenings include pre-performance appearances by the directors, writers and actors involved. The Egyptian is also adjacent to the historic Pig ’n’ Whistle, which hosted the very first Oscar after party in 1929, and is right across from Musso & Frank, the famed tinsel town bar and grill where you can still catch a glimpse of the occasional emerging auteur in one of its classic red leather booths. 6712 Hollywood BLVD,


The Ziegfeld, built: 1969 —— Its hallways dripping with crystal chandeliers that evoke the Zsa Zsa Gabor era of style rather than that of Lana Turner’s, today’s Ziegfeld was built in 1969 and is considered one of the last of the great movie palaces ever constructed, and is certainly the last still showing movies in Gotham. The original Ziegfeld was built in 1927 but torn down in 1966. The “new” Ziegfeld opened its box office a few hundred yards away three years later. The Ziegfeld features plush seats and shows first run movies, and also offers its venue for rent for corporate “Meeting and a Movie” events. 141 W 54th St.,