25 July 2004

Religion vs. the movies

La Bonita Theater, San Francisco, 1919 (San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection)

San Francisco’s 4-Star Theater, located in the Richmond District, on 2200 Clement St. at 23rd Ave., began its life in 1912 as La Bonita. Its fa├žade has changed considerably over the years, but not the affection it inspires in the community.

The theater’s lease will expire on 9 May 2005, at which time the operator must vacate the premises. Since 2001, the property has been owned by the Canaan Lutheran Church, which plans to occupy the building.

The theater’s operators, Frank and Lida Lee, have held the lease on the theater since 1992. They claim that had a verbal agreement with Wang Li-fen, the previous owner, to buy the property should Wang decide to sell, and have spent more than $200,000 on renovations, including adding a second screen, new seats, a sprinkler system, and disabled access. The Lee say that they matched Canaan’s offer of $1.2 million, but Wang sold the property to the church.

The Lees have mounted the website save4star.net in an attempt to build up community support.

Canaan Lutheran Church has its own set of problems. Since 1996, it has been sharing Zion Lutheran Church’s facilities at 495 Ninth Ave. Zion agreed to let Canaan use its facility but requested that Canaan make a good-faith effort to find its own property as soon as possible.

A recent article in the San Francico Chronicle covers the story in detail.


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