New condos to premier at vacant El Rey Theater


The vacant El Rey Theater on Ocean Avenue, which once served as a Pentacostal Church, may be revised as condos in the near future.

Finnbarr Harrington ‘24, Staff reporter

Even though it is not Hollywood, San Francisco has a rich history of cinema. Going back to the early 20th Century, many neighborhoods had their movie theaters. 

One of these neighborhood theaters was Ocean Avenue’s El Rey Theater.  The El Rey, located at 1970 Ocean Ave., was a 1,800 seat theater designed by architect Timothy Pflueger, a prominent San Francisco architect, and opened in 1931. 

The first film ever shown at the El Rey was “The Smiling Lieutenant” starring Maurice Chevalier, which was shown on Nov. 14, 1931. With El Rey’s ignominious ending and closure, there is hope as it appears that the El Rey theater may be renovated and brought back to its former glory. 

According to, “As envisioned, the existing facade of the theater and its commercial spaces would be restored along with the theater space itself and lobby, using a recovered set of Timothy Pflueger’s original construction documents for direction. And upon the theater’s parking lot parcels, which flank the rear of the building, and atop its two commercial wings, a total of 42 condos would be built. . .”

The Crusader learned that former employee Moira Casey is still living in the Bay Area and is somewhat of a historian on her old place of employment. 

Casey said, “The Naify family owned the SF theater chain known as ‘United Artists.’ Employees could see movies at any of the other Naify owned theaters, such as the Alexandria, Coronet, Balboa, Stonestown United Artists and the Granada, to name a few… ”.  

The El Rey was but one of Pfleuger’s many beautiful designs in San Francisco, which included other theaters and even a few San Francisco schools. The building itself was regarded as one of San Francisco’s most beautiful neighborhood theaters. 

Casey added, “The El Rey was so beautiful, with its Streamlined Moderne style…One evening, the assistant manager, an artsy guy, noticed that many of the Art Deco-style sconces did not have all of the light bulbs installed. So we replaced the burnt-out bulbs and empty sockets with new bulbs. I must say, it was a sight to behold!” 

This interactive timeline shows the beginning of the El Rey as a movie theater, to its transition as a church, and finally, the renovation plans.

Norm Babin ’84, used to attend movies at the El Rey when he was a young child growing up in San Francisco. Babin said of El Rey “…I was too young… Just remembered it was a big place, fancy with a balcony. The lobby was huge.” 

One can only imagine all of the great films and special events that were shown and experienced at the famous El Rey. The El Rey had a very anticlimactic end when in April in 1977 it showed its last films. 

Following the building’s use as a movie theater, The El Rey became a Pentecostal Church named The Voice of the Pentecost when it was purchased by the church’s pastor. In 2018, the church was foreclosed on and the theater has remained vacant ever since. The building still stands today in its shuttered existence, unfitting of one of San Francisco’s historical film landmarks.