Fading Palace

Brian Stokes Mitchell has written,

A theatre is a living thing.
It is born, it breathes, it eats, it communicates.
It grows old
And like all things in our universe,
It eventually dies.*

To prove this point, here are three gorgeous theaters I recently encountered on the West Coast. Each is at a different stage in its march toward death, and each sits caught between faded past and hopeful future.

1. It was the “crossroads of the world,” and now it’s a hangout for the vagrants of San Francisco’s Tenderloin area. The “Key Klub” seems to decay before one’s very eyes — and that’s part of its haunting appeal.

2. The Alcazar Theatre has fared better, its Islamic patterns and arches beckoning touring shows and local acts. Still, the San Francisco fog seems to have oozed into the facade, rendering it all the more picturesque and beautiful.

3. The Castro Theatre is in fuller bloom as a fully operational movie palace. I got to go inside for a screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and believe me, that’s the kind of space you want to view a movie of “2001’s” scale.

4. Both classy and kitschy, the Vista’s red and white facade is LA all the way: Recent history turned nostalgia, all by the pounding, unrelentingly strong sunlight.

Mitchell’s poem ends,

Perhaps one day my spirit will join my fellows
Released from the wood and metal and plaster and stone,
Summoned by the ghost light
And the optimistic hearts that beckon us
As we welcome and support a new Act
In the continuing story of body and mind and heart and soul
That once again plays
“At this theatre.”

*Mitchell’s poem is from the preface to Louis Botto’s invaluable “At This Theatre.”



  1. Hey nice photos. The Key Klub wasn’t a theater, just a bar, owned by Joe Corvan from the ’50s through the ’80s. Joe was a friend of my father. When Joe sold the building in the late ’80s the new owners wanted to tear it down and build condos. According to Joe some people objected and got historic landmark status for the building. I haven’t been able to verify the historic landmark status, but I do remember the new owners used the place as an office until Hopwater Brewing made it a brew pub. (2014?) Quite nice!

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