The Castro Theatre is a popular San Francisco movie palace which became San Francisco Historic Landmark #100 in September 1976. Located at 429 Castro Street, in the Castro district, it was built in 1922 with a Spanish Colonial Baroque façade that pays homage—in its great arched central window surmounted by a scrolling pediment framing a niche—to the recently rebuilt basilica of Mission Dolores nearby. Its designer, Timothy L. Pflueger, also designed Oakland's Paramount Theater and other movie theaters in California in that period. The theater has over 1,400 seats (approx 800 downstairs and 600 in the balcony). The theater's ceiling is the last known "leatherette" ceiling in the USA & possibly the world. Another "leatherette" ceiling was unfortunately demolished just a few years ago. To achieve the ceiling's look as though it is leather requires a special technique regarded as "lost" today.
The Castro Theatre originally opened at 479 Castro Street in 1910. It was subsequently remodeled into a retail store (currently occupied by Cliff's Variety, since 1971) in the mid-1920s after the larger Castro Theater was built at 429 Castro Street, its current location, only a few doors up from the original theatre.
The New Castro Theatre opened on June 22, 1922 for an invitation-only screening, with local luminaries such as Mayor James "Sunny Jim" Rolph in attendance, of the Paramount Pictures release Across the Continent (1922), starring Wallace Reid. The new Castro Theater opened the following day to the general public.
The Nasser brothers, who built the theater and still own it, also owned several other movie houses in the San Francisco area. The interior is luxurious and ornate, with subtly convex and concave walls and ceiling and a dramatic "Mighty Wurlitzer" pipe organ that is played before films and events. The large neon "Castro" sign is emblematic of both the theatre and the Castro District.
Today, the Castro Theatre hosts repertory movies, film festivals, and special events, including gay and multicultural focus, such as the San Francisco International Film Festival, Frameline: the SF International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, , the SF International , the SF International , Berlin and Beyond: German Film Festival, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, , the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS, and the . In recent years, the Castro has been the site for gala tributes to many legendary Hollywood stars including Tony Curtis, Ann-Margret, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Russell, and Sandra Dee—many of the events produced by local impresario Marc Huestis.
In January 2008, for the filming of the Gus Van Sant biopic Milk, restorations were made to the neon on the theater's marquee and blade sign, and the facade was repainted. The movie about the life and times of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city Supervisor who was California's first openly gay elected official (portrayed by actor Sean Penn, who won an Academy Award for his performance), had its world premiere at the theater in November 2008.
The theater can project modern digital formats such as 4K DCP with 5.1 Dolby sound and can accurately reproduce the classic silent film experience by projecting custom frame rates anywhere between 12 and 30 frames per second, including the ability to speed up or slow down during a film. The Castro is capable of showing 70 mm films and is one of the few theaters in the world that can show a 70 mm film with separate DTS soundtrack.