The restoration of the New Mission Theater here in San Francisco into the latest addition of the Alamo Drafthouse chain has been going on for over a year. For cinephiles it has been a long wait that is finally coming to an end when the theater opens for business on December 17, 2015 with STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS as its first feature. I was lucky enough to see the theater a few days before that on December 8, 2015, when I dropped by to interview Mike Keegan and Tim League about returning this silent movie palace back to its original glory after its sojourn as, among other things, a futon store. You can year some contractors putting the finishing touches to the theater in which I spoke to the pair.
I started the conversation by asking why, in a time when cinemas are struggling, they are opening a new one that will showcase first-run features, both mainstream and art house, as well as such delightful programs as Terror Tuesdays (horror films, natch), and Music Mondays. They went on to discuss the niceties of plaster restoration using 3D lasers, the decision to convert it to a multiplex, and, most importantly, why cinemas as gathering places for film lovers will always be of, ahem, paramount importance. We finished up by talking about the food on offer, and the food tie-ins League has engineered in the past, and then with my asking about any extra security involved in booking what may be the most anticipated film of the year, and learned why booking THE FORCE AWAKENS provided that last push to finish restoration. This prompted League to recall his first viewing of the original STAR WARS when he was a kid, and the results of being so completely engrossed by it.
As for that multiplexing. I have never seen a more elegant iteration of the concept. The screens in the smaller theaters are enormous, with the seats far enough from them for it be an immersive experience, but not one that will put a crick in your neck. Plus, the ceilings and the walls of the converted balcony, with their exuberant plaster work are, and I don’t say this lightly, breathtaking. The main theater, even more so, and the bar, restored to an elegant Art Deco magnificence is worth a trip to the venue all on its own, and no need to buy a ticket in order to quaff a stylish cocktail there, either.
Mike Keegan is the Creative Manager of the Alamo Drafthouse San Francisco. Tim League is the founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and a devoté of neon lights.