AKA: Fox West Coast Theatres, Fox Theatre, San Francisco, CA; San Francisco Fox Theater, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Lamb, Thomas W., Architect (firm); Thomas White Lamb (architect)

Dates: constructed 1928-1929, demolished 1963

1350 Market Street
Civic Center, San Francisco, CA 94102

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One of the most ornate and grandly-scaled theatres on the West Coast, the Fox San Francisco was called "the Last Word," and "California's Cathedral of Motion Pictures;" its massive interior seated 4,651 people at its opening in 06/28/1929. It is one of the very few designs done by the New York architect Thomas White Lamb (1871-1942) for a site east of the Mississippi River. Lamb was well-known to the Fox Theatre chain, having designed well over 150 movie palaces, and was skilled at designing large scale venues. (Lamb also was designing the Brooklyn Fox Theatre [1928] at about the same time as the San Francisco Fox.) Cinema historian, David Naylor, said of the San Francisco Fox: "The lobbies and promenades of the Fox resembled a lavish art museum. A grand foyer staircase worthy of the Paris Opera carried patrons into the largest and grandest movie palace ever built on the West Coast." (See David Naylor, American Picture Palaces, [NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981], p. 120.) Naylor added: "A failed bond issue sealed the fate of San Francisco's Fox, a theater many considered not only Lamb's best, but also the most palatial theater ever built." (American Picture Palaces, p. 177.)

Building History

The Fox in San Francisco was opened at about the same time that William Fox, (1879-1952), head of the Fox Theatres Corporation, announced a huge building program in several U.S. cities. He announced 09/02/1928 plans to spend $50,000,000 on five theatres in the Philadelphia area. The $10 million Brooklyn Fox Theatre opened 08/31/1928, and other Fox Theatres were soon to open in Detroit, MI, Saint Louis, MO, and San Francisco. (The Detroit and Saint Louis movie palaces were nearly identical, designed by Detroit architect, C. Howard Crane.)

Additionally, at this time, Fox was taking over several regional movie exhibitor chains, such as the Poli chain in New England and the West Coast chain comprised of over 250 theatres.

The City of San Francisco had an opportunity in 1961 to purchase the Fox Theatre for $1.1 million for use as a performing arts center. Voters turned down Proposition #1 on the 11/07/1961 ballot by a majority of about 67%. (See Jack Tillmany, Images of America: Theaters of San Francisco, [Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005], p. 14.)

Building Notes

The San Francisco Fox was equipped with a 36-rank Crawford Special Wurlitzer theatre organ.


The demolition of the San Francisco Fox caused an uproar in the city and was considered a clarion call for local historic preservationists. The final show occurred on 02/16/1963, and the interior furnishings were auctioned on 02/28/1963. Demolition took place over 6 months, between 03/01/1963-08/12/1963.

The 29-story tower of the Fox Plaza Apartments and its adjacent, two-floor commercial building was erected on the site.

PCAD id: 910