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El Rey Theatre - 1970 Ocean Avenue at Victoria Street, 1941. - Courtesy of Jack Tillmany

El Rey Theater
1970 Ocean Avenue at Victoria Street
San Francisco, California

Opened: November 14, 1931

Architect: Timothy Pflueger (other San Francisco works included the Castro Theater, Roosevelt Junior High, and Lincoln and Washington high schools)

First film: "The Smiling Lieutenant" starring Maurice Chevalier

Closed: April 1, 1977

Spanish-Colonial Revival style was extremely popular in the surrounding neighborhoods of Ingleside Terraces, Mount Davidson Manor, and Balboa Terrace at the time of the El Rey's construction. A Spanish name ("The King") was chosen and Pflueger mixed Spanish elements with Moderne style in the design.

Neighborhood theater mogul Samuel H. Levin spent $500,000 constructing the 1,830-seat theater.

For the past thirty years the building has been used by the Voice of Pentecost church, and the monumental 146-foot tower has been painted with a cross by the church. Pflueger intended the tower top to be a beacon in the foggy neighborhood, with a directional light charted by aviation authorities. Even without its original green and red neon lights, the El Rey is still the major Ocean Avenue landmark, visible from Mount Davidson to Merced Heights.

(Thanks to Jack Tillmany and Therese Poletti for most of this information.)

El Rey Theater, El Rey Food Store, Mobil gas station on Ocean Avenue, looking east near Manor Drive. 1940s., circa 1942 - Courtesy of Jack Tillmany

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This project is made possible by a grant from the CALIFORNIA COUNCIL FOR THE HUMANITIES with generous support from the San Francisco Foundation, as part of the Council's statewide California Stories Initiative. The COUNCIL is an independent non-profit organization and a state affiliate of the NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES. For more information on the Council and the California Stories Initiative, visit www.californiastories.org.

Page launched 14 March 2001; Updated 24 October 2011.