New Potrero Theater

Historical Essay

by Peter Linenthal, Potrero Hill Archives Project, originally published as "An Unusual Past and Uncertain Future" in the February 2023 Potrero View.

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New Potrero Theater at 312 Connecticut, circa 1929.

Photo: Courtesy of Peter Linenthal, Potrero Archive Project

The brick building with black columns at 312 Connecticut Street, just up the slope from Goat Hill Pizza, has an unusual history and an uncertain future. For the last 30 years it’s been home to the San Francisco Gurdjieff Society, which bought it in 1993 for $280,000, and has been making extensive renovations ever since. The three-story building features 8,300 square feet of usable space, has been seismically upgraded, with a top-floor apartment and gymnasium featuring a 16-foot ceiling.

In 2013, Velocity Realty purchased the structure under an agreement which allowed the Society to continue its occupancy under a kind of reverse mortgage arrangement. That deal is now in default. The property, appraised at $6 million, is being offered for $3.5 million.

Built in 1913, the Connecticut Street building opened as the Alta Theater, showing silent moving pictures, including the 1914 serial, The Perils of Pauline. In 1929, the theater converted to sound and was renamed the New Potrero Theater, serving as a neighborhood movie house until 1963. Old timers called it “The Nick,” and later “The Flea Bag,” treasuring China dishware given out on ‘Dish Night, Free to the Ladies’. A 1937 film of a St. Teresa’s Church’s saint’s day procession was made to be shown at the New Potrero Theater exclusively. The theater appears briefly in the clip below:

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1937 Feast Day Celebration on Potrero Hill.

Video: courtesy Potrero Hill Archives Project

In 1968, the Grateful Dead used the theater to work on their album, “Anthem of the Sun.” In 1973, The New Potrero Theater appeared in the television series Streets of San Francisco, Season 1, Episode 20: “Trail of the Serpent.” In 2012, the Potrero Hill Archives Project sponsored vintage movie screenings in the cavernous downstairs space.

There aren’t many traces of the building’s theater years; the ticket booth, marquee, and sloping interior floor were removed years ago.

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312 Connecticut Street.

Photo: Photo: Peter Linenthal

The Gurdjieff Society emerged from the work of George Gurdjieff, who travelled extensively in Asia from 1890 to 1912 and taught a Fourth Way of self-discovery, combining traditions of physical, emotional and intellectual development. Terry Lindahl, the Gurdjieff Society’s director, has occupied the Connecticut Street building for the past thirty years. He’s presently completing The Universe Works, which postulates that the biosphere is a religious organ of the solar system, and that religion is a biological instinct oriented towards harmonizing human’s reptile, emotional, and neo-cortical brains to a higher vibration. Lindahl was featured in the October 2019 Potrero View, “The Last Philosopher in San Francisco.”

Lindahl, 91, has formed the Bay Area College of Humanity Consortium to support his continued work at Connecticut Street.