The Refurbished Presidio Theatre Opens With a Pop-Up Orchestra

Paul Kotapish on September 4, 2019
The Presidio Theatre reopens

San Francisco’s newest performing-arts space emerges this month from an old and all-but-forgotten architectural gem in the Presidio. Originally built by the WPA in 1939 as a movie theater for army troops and their families, the Spanish colonial-style Presidio Theatre sat vacant for over two decades after the Presidio was decommissioned as military facility in 1989. With a donation by the Margaret E. Haas Fund and in partnership with the Presidio Trust, the former movie house was redesigned and expanded by Hornberger + Worstell architects into a modern performing-arts hub, with a proper theatrical stage, dressing and green rooms, stagecraft workspaces, catering facilities, and new public restrooms.

The opening gala is a ticketed event on Saturday, Sept. 21, with performance by Leung’s White Crane Dragon and Lion Dance Association, San Francisco Girls Chorus, Beach Blanket Babylon, and Te Mana O Te Ra, along with a reception and tour of the refurbished theater.

Laurie Cohen, center, with members of the Presidio Theatre Pop-Up Orchestra

A free open house takes place Sunday, Sept. 22, from noon until 5 p.m., with behind-the-scenes experiences, docent tours, and a live performance by the Presidio Theatre Pop-Up Orchestra. Musical Director Laurie Cohen has assembled 50 Bay Area musicians into an ad-hoc, “pop-up” orchestra for this first free public performance in the new space. In keeping with origins of the 1939 WPA-built theater, the orchestra program focuses on music of the 1930s, and features New Deal composers Samuel Barber, Ernst Bacon, Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin.

Ernst Bacon

While Barber, Copland, and Gershwin are familiar to most, Bacon’s name might not be. Although he was born in Chicago and lived and worked all over the country, Bacon often appears on lists of California composers. He studied at UC Berkeley, taught at the SF Conservatory of Music, instituted and conducted the Carmel Bach Festival, and eventually retired to the Golden State. Cohen has selected Bacon’s “Smoky Mountain Scherzo” from Symphony No. 2 for this program.

The concert will be performed twice, at 1 p.m. and at 2 p.m. All performances are free and open to the public. No advance tickets, general seating. Everyone is welcome.