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Exterior views of Presidio Theatre then and a rendering of it now

Jul 19, 2017

Then + Now: Presidio Theatre

The historic Presidio Theatre was at the center of Army community life and is about to be reborn.


Like all Army posts, the Presidio had a bustling community life where soldiers and military families would come together to socialize and enjoy much needed “R&R” (rest and relaxation). The Presidio Theatre, located in the heart of the post near the Presidio Officers’ Club, was at the center of this community life and was a beloved gathering place for decades.

Built in 1939, the Spanish Colonial Revival building was the Presidio’s first dedicated movie theatre. Though before the theatre was built, the Army screened mov​ies for the troops at the theatre for over three decades, soldiers previously had to watch movies at smaller venues, like the YMCA building, or on makeshift outdoor screens. The theatre was part of an extensive effort to improve recreational facilities at the Presidio and it was funded through the federal government’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal job stimulus program.

For more than fifty years, the Presidio Theatre screened movies for Army personnel and their families on an almost daily basis at the theatre. In addition, the theatre hosted occasional live performances from some of the biggest names in showbiz. It’s been vacant and awaiting its new chapter since the Army marched out of the Presidio in 1994…until now.

A New Chapter Begins

In June 2017, the Margaret E. Haas Fund, in partnership with the Presidio Trust, announced it’s bringing the theatre back to life as a state-of-the-art multipurpose space for live theatre, film, dance, music, lectures, educational programming, and special events. The theatre will offer approximately 650 seats. Construction starts soon and will continue through mid-2019. Learn more about the Presidio Theatre project >>

As we await this exciting future, let’s take a walk back in time and see the Presidio Theatre through the decades.​

Photo of an athletic field near the Main Parade Lawn, 1908.
Photo by J.D. Givens, courtesy of Robert W. Bowen family

Then: circa 1908 – Before it was the location for the theatre, the site was used as an athletic field for baseball and other sports. During World War I, the playing field was moved south to make room for bayonet drills.

Presidio Theatre under construction, 1938.
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Then: December 16, 1938 – Congressional dignitaries and Army officers attended the official groundbreaking on July 8, 1938. Within a few months, the theatre began taking shape.

Theatre Consruction, 1939.
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration​

Then: 1939 – The theatre opened on July 30, 1939 with four free performances for enlisted men, officers, and their families from the Presidio and nearby posts. The program featured the film, I’m from Missouri, starring Bob Burns and Gladys George, and the Mikey Mouse cartoon, Society Dog Show.

Private Charles Heinrichs presents Bob Hope with a plaque.
U.S. Army Signal Corps photo courtesy of U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center

Then: October 6, 1942 – During World War II, both Jack Benny and Bob Hope brought their popular radio shows to the theatre to record live performances for the troops. Here, Private Charles Heinrichs presents Hope with a plaque correcting his announcement the previous week that the broadcast would be “from the Presidio of Oakland, California.”

Program from 1969.
Program courtesy of Golden Gate NRA, Park Archives

Then: January 1969 – This program from 1969 shows some of the various movies offered on a daily basis at the theatre.

Presidio Theatre, 1994.
Photo by Brenda Tharp

Then: 1994 – The theatre closed just after the Army departed the Presidio. It showed its last film, Maverick, on August 28, 1994, the day before the final Army bowling tournament at the Bowling Center next door. ​

Presidio Theatre rendering, 2019.
Photo Credit: Hornberger + Worstell

The Future: 2019 – In 2019, the Presidio Theatre will open as a vibrant community gathering place for cultural, educational, and social activities for the diverse residents of San Francisco and the Bay Area.

To learn more, read John King’s San Francisco Chronicle story here >>