Grand Theater

Grand Theatre, 2665 Mission Street, San Francisco, California

Designed by G. Albert Lansburgh in 1939


Gustav Albert Lansburgh attended the University of California at Berkeley from 1894 to 1896, working during his vacations as a draftsman for Bernard Maybeck. In 1906, just after the earthquake, Lansburgh began a professional practice in San Francisco with architect Bernard J. Joseph. Two years later he established an independent practice. Considered  one of San Francisco’s most accomplished architects, Lansburgh’s designs include such  San Francisco landmarks as the Koshland Building, the Elkan Gunst Building (with Bernard Joseph), the Lumberman’s Building, the Concordia Club, and the Rainey Estate Flats. He also designed several San Francisco public libraries and schools, and was involved in the development of Telegraph Hill.


Lansburgh was most famous for his opulent theaters, many originally designed for vaudeville and later transformed into movie palaces. He designed more than fifty theaters nationwide, including numerous projects for the Orpheum. Among his San Francisco theaters are the Golden Gate Theatre, the Warfield, the New Orpheum, the War Memorial Opera House (with Arthur Brown, Jr.), and shown here, the Grand. Lansburgh designed six major theaters in Los Angeles including the Shrine Auditorium, site of the Academy Awards and other major awards ceremonies for many years. Lansburgh designed theaters in Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, Santa Barbara, and Fresno, California. The Byzantine-styled Martin Beck Theater in New York City was Lansburgh’s proudest achievement.

Lansburgh also designed synagogues, including the Sinai Temple for the First Hebrew Congregation in Oakland, which he described as “having a portico such as King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem might have had”. Other projects included a city auditorium in Sacramento, several mausoleums, numerous residences, commercial buildings, hotels, and apartment buildings.


The theater built for Robert Lurie on Mission Street between 22nd and 23rd became the Grand Theater, one of his later designs. After closing in 1988 it housed several businesses including a furniture retailer and a dollar store, but recently came into the hands of the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, an non-profit that is campaigning to restore  it as a community arts center and theater.


When photographing the Grand Theatre on this stretch of Mission Street I lucked into a car-free morning - not always an easy situation to find. Mission street still offers a riotous mix of businesses and cultures, resulting in a fabulous visual mixture: the clean lines of the theater itself with its glass block windows and marquee screen., the shaggy mane of a palm, the memorial murals, the bright garbage cans, the produce bins of the Lucky Pork Store, the red tiles of the Grand Coffee shop, and the rhythms of the jewelry store window grates.