5 of the Bay Area’s Most Historic Movie Theaters

Historic Movie Theaters of the Bay Area
Christopher B. Smith San Rafael Film Center
The Christopher B. Smith San Rafael Film Center in San Rafael (Photo from the Anne T. Kent California Room)

Audiences from all over the Bay Area and country flock to the annual Mill Valley Film Festival in Marin County to see incredible stories come alive on the big screen — but did you know that the theaters that house the films have equally compelling tales to tell? Here are some fun facts about the spaces in Marin County that showcase must-see movies throughout the festival.

Corte Madera

Century Cinema Corte Madera

A county favorite for its one-movie-at-a-time mentality, the 800-seat Corte Madera theater features a giant screen and high-quality sound good enough for George Lucas to occasionally hold screenings there. 41 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA, 415-924-6505


Lark Theater

Always a center of entertainment, the Lark Theater was built on top of a horseshoe pit. The art deco-style theater opened in 1940 and has functioned as both a movie theater and an arts venue over the years. The building lost its luster in the 1990s and was slated for demolition in 2003, but the community rallied to launch the “Save the Lark” campaign, which succeeded in bringing the iconic theater back to life. The Lark is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a winner of the Art Deco Society Preservation Award549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur, CA, 415-924-5111

Mill Valley

142 Throckmorton Theatre

Initially called the Hub Theatre, 142 Throckmorton is one of Marin’s oldest — it celebrated a centennial in 2014. Back in 1914, the Hub played host to silent films starring actors like Charlie Chaplin; today, the MVFF screens a variety of pictures in the historic venue. 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, CA, 415-383-9600

Cinearts @ Sequoia

The Sequoia, another downtown Mill Valley gem, opened in 1929 as a mecca for lovers of silent films, talkies, and live performances. The theater was such a success, in fact, that it put the Hub out of the movie business. In 1975 the theater was “twinned” or split into two theaters, but the exterior design remained — and continues to remain — faithful to the original vision. 25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, CA 415-388-1190

San Rafael

Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center

Founded in 1920 as the Orpheus, the Smith Rafael Film Center was birthed from a fire, which forced the closure of the original theater in 1937. When the doors opened again in 1938, the space was called the Rafael. After the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the foundation in 1989, the San Rafael Redevelopment Agency and the Film Institute of Northern California (now the California Film Institute) teamed up to rebuild the theater. Planning and construction took six years (1993-1998), but in 1999 the Rafael Film Center was, once again, open for business. The theater elongated its moniker to the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in 2003 — Smith, a Tiburon philanthropist, donated $500,000 to the film center in 2000. These days, the Smith Rafael shows a variety of award-worthy films and recordings of live performances from across the pond (think Royal Shakespeare Company) and serves as base camp for the Mill Valley Film Festival1001 Lootens Place, 415-454-1222


This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine.