SF’s Historic Clay Theatre Sold As Future Remains Uncertain

Updated: Feb 20, 2024 08:32
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Outside a theater.

Pac Heights’s Clay Theater has a new owner. (Google Maps)


After four years of closure, San Francisco’s historic Clay Theatre has sold. The beloved movie house has been a neighborhood staple and hub for SF film enthusiasts for over a century.

The Chronicle’s Laura Waxman reports that little is known of the new owners, just what has been made available in public documents: an $11 million price tag for two properties, 2261 and 2599 Fillmore Street. Both properties were last sold in 2008 for around $5 million to Balgobind Jaiswal. One property, 2599 Fillmore, continued to operate as The Clay Theatre while 2261 Fillmore was leased to women’s clothing chain Alice + Olivia. Both properties are now under the ownership of Fillmore Reserve LLC, a freshly registered business with a Delaware address.

The Clay shuttered in January 2020, when its longtime operator, Landmark Theatres, pulled out due to low attendance and diminished returns. Shortly thereafter it was reported that its seats and projector had been removed and the local community rallied together to “Save the Clay!” SF Supervisor Catherine Stefani got to work introducing legislation to designate The Clay as a historic landmark while beloved director and self-described “filth elder” John Waters made his plea on KQED. According to the part-time San Franciscan, The Clay enjoyed a reputation as a place for challenging and provocative films, making it the perfect place in SF to first show “Pink Flamingos” in 1972.

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The Clay opened in 1913 as The Regent, a nickelodeon-style one screener known for showing Mary Pickford films. In 1935 it was dubbed The Clay and for decades specialized in foreign, indie and art house films. Given its cultural significance and a successful landmark campaign, the theater was appointed a San Francisco Designated Landmark in May 2022. 

Despite its recent landmark status, the theater’s future remains hazy given its new ownership. Looking at the Castro’s renovation to a multi-use venue or the Alhambra’s transformation into a Crunch Fitness, it’s hard to know what’s in store for the Clay. For now, San Francisco’s film community and historical preservationists will have to remain on the edge of their seats.

Katherine Sperber was born and currently lives in San Francisco. Her writing focuses on fine art, food, fashion, books, culture and her great love, film. When she’s not updating her Letterboxd account, she’s writing poetry under the pen name Carmen Cornue. Her debauched poetry has appeared in Southword, The Atlanta Review, Apricity Press, Dutch Kills Press, Mad Gleam Press and on the podcast, “Beyond the Screams”. She recently co-authored the collection Forbidden Flowers (Voice Lux Press, 2023) with writing partner, Donna Morton.

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