Harding Theater

Coordinates: 37°46′32″N 122°26′16″W / 37.77551°N 122.43767°W / 37.77551; -122.43767
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Harding Theater
Harding Theater - Emporium, June 2022 -1.jpg
The building in 2022
General information
Architectural styleGothic, Moorish
LocationSan Francisco, California, United States
Design and construction
Architect(s)Reid Brothers
Main contractorSamuel H. Levin

The Harding Theater is a historic movie theater located at 616 Divisadero Street in San Francisco, California, completed in 1926. In 2017, the Emporium Arcade Bar opened in the space.


The Harding Theater was built in 1926 by local theater owner Samuel H. Levin who hired Reid Brothers architects. The theater opened April 8, 1926 with Colleen Moore starring in the first movie version of the hit musical Irene.

As with other facilities built by the Reid Brothers, it has a capacity of between 800 and 1200 people.[1] The Harding was used as a movie theater from 1926 to 1970. The theatrical group Lamplighters Music Theatre performed at the facility from 1961 to 1968,[2] The Grateful Dead played the theater on 6 and 7 November 1971 (with their first performance of "Hideaway" on the 7th).

From the mid-1970s to 2004, the theater was used as a church.[3] In 2004 (approximate date), the building was purchased by developers for US$1.6 million.[4]

Boarded-up facade of Harding Theater in 2005


The owner/developer had a "compromise" plan—to remove the back fly system (see also batten) - so that a separate independent structure containing eight units of housing condominia could be constructed while preserving the existing proscenium arch, maintaining the existing auditorium and lobby and their extant detailing. Consideration for the removal and reconstruction of the raked theater floor and seating to allow for a new parking level below, addition of windows, and the upgrade of restrooms to conform with modern building codes were also reviewed in depth to conform with the Secretary of the Interior's "Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Structures".[5]

Historic preservation activists believed this plan was threatening the historical integrity of the building and limited its future uses.[6] An appeal was filed against the San Francisco Planning Department's "Negative Declaration" to the Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).[7][8] In 2005, a similar challenge was successfully made against the negative declaration to the developer's original plan to demolish the entire theater to build more condominiums. That appeal was heard by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in April 2005.[9]

The Planning Department's Mitigated Negative Declaration was appealed by Friends of 1800 and was heard on September 25, 2008. The Planning Department rescinded that Preliminary Negative Declaration and prepared a new one, which has also been appealed by the Friends of 1800.

The request for an EIR was heard on November 13, 2008, by the San Francisco Planning Commission.[10] The Planning Commission unanimously approved the request of the Friends of 1800 for an EIR, so an EIR was required for the project.[11] A feasible plan to pay for and preserve the entire theater was not put forward by the activists.[12] The developer then put up the building up for sale.[13][14] Later in 2008, a local theater preservation nonprofit was investigating ways to preserve the theater (which at this point had remained closed for several years) and turn it into "a showplace for indie movies, movie festivals and live performances."[14]

In November 2010, laser cats were painted on the theater's boarded up entrance.[15]

In 2015, after the theater had remained empty for a decade,[16] a conditional-use permit hearing was held to convert the main space into an arcade bar, the fourth in the franchise from Chicago-based Emporium Arcade Bar.[17] The venue, which features 50 vintage arcade games, a full bar, and live music, opened in December, 2017.[18] The tenants removed dilapidated aspects, such as seating, while renovating more historic items.[18]


  1. ^ Cinema Treasures lists capacity as 1250 seats, as did a San Francisco Chronicle article. However, a San Francisco Examiner article described the theater as having 800 seats.
  2. ^ "Untitled Document". Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
  3. ^ San Francisco Planning Department memorandum by Moses Corrette, Preservation Technical Specialist, to Tammy Chan, dated 10/23/06. Available as "Attachment 2" to the appeal available at the link below. See also San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 2005, also cited below.
  4. ^ Available on San Francisco Planning Department public computer, main floor 1650 Mission St., San Francisco, CA or calling the San Francisco Planning Department main number at (415) 558-6378. This information is likely available at the San Francisco Assessor/Record office, City Hall, 1st floor, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco. (415) 554-5516. See also San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 2005, cited below.
  5. ^ "San Francisco Planning Commission - agenda for 17 July 2008". Sfgov.org. Archived from the original on 2008-08-26. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  6. ^ deSign, Ted Whipple / incite. "Save The Harding Theater - San Francisco". Friendsof1800.org. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  7. ^ "San Francisco Planning Department". Sfgov.org. Archived from the original on 2008-07-14. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  8. ^ "Appeal filed by the "Friends of 1800" group" (PDF). Friendsof1800.org. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  9. ^ "San Francisco Board of Supervisors - minutes of the 19 April 2005 meeting". Ci.sf.ca.us. Archived from the original on 2008-08-07. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  10. ^ "Sfgov | San Francisco Planning Department: November 13, 2008". Archived from the original on 2008-11-12. Retrieved 2008-11-12.
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ "Show's over: Hard Knocks for Harding Theater : Curbed SF". Archived from the original on 2011-02-19. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
  13. ^ "Stage fight | City Insider | an SFGate.com blog". www.sfgate.com. Archived from the original on 16 December 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  14. ^ a b Garchik, Leah (2008-12-17). "Nestling with the family by the hearth". SFGATE. Retrieved 2022-09-04.
  15. ^ Newitz, Annalee. "The greatest laser cat mural in the universe". Io9.com. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  16. ^ "DeRose & Applelbaum Lands Harding Theater Its Second Act: Arcade Bar San Francisco Emporium". The Registry. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 2022-09-04.
  17. ^ Nuala, Sawyer (29 September 2015). "A Peek Inside The Harding Theater, Slated For Bar/Arcade Renovation | Hoodline". Hoodline.com. Retrieved 2022-09-04.
  18. ^ a b Pershan, Caleb (2017-12-01). "Enter Emporium, an Arcade Bar and Venue in a Long-Vacant Divisadero Theater". Eater SF. Retrieved 2022-09-04.

External links[edit]

37°46′32″N 122°26′16″W / 37.77551°N 122.43767°W / 37.77551; -122.43767