The Second Act for the Red Vic
The Haight Ashbury District in San Francisco has long attracted people with unconventional ideas, most famously In the 60’s. The first free clinic in the country was founded here, and radical community action group, The Diggers, passed out free food every day in Golden Gate Park.
Later on, that history drew people who had alternative visions about how to run a business. One of those was the Red Vic Movie House, which ran as a collective for over 30 years. In 2011, like so many other San Francisco independent theaters, it closed. But recently, a new venture re-opened in the old space- and it’s keeping those original, unconventional, values alive.
The Second Act Marketplace and Events debuted this year in the building where the Red Vic used to be. It’s a bite-size version of an indoor market, with five vendors offering items like freshly-made juices, a wide variety of spices, and handmade piroshki.
Jack and Betsy Rix, founding members of the Red Vic collective, are responsible for bringing new life to this spot. Betsy remembers when they were just getting started with the first business.
“It was bunch of friends in our twenties, new to SF, underemployed, spinning our wheels and trying to think of something really cool that we could do - and we wanted to do a business,” Betsy says.
The idea of opening a movie theater won out and they found a location on the ground floor of the Red Victorian Bed and Breakfast.
Paging through albums holding the theater archives, Jack Rix finds one of the original documents From 1979, which outlined their vision for running the business as a collective: “Our aim shall be an environment where we can be ourselves and where we can share our love, and positiveness with one another, as far out into the world as we can.”
“Hey, if you can’t be idealistic in your twenties, when can you be?” Jack jokes.
The Red Vic was well known for its random mix of movies, its real wooden bowls and ceramic mugs for refreshments, and comfortable sofas. Some of them even had names. Jack remembers one called the Blue Lagoon.
“When we got it, I think we paid 3 dollars for it and found $3.25 in change,” Jack says. “So we were thrilled, we were already making money.”
For the first 25 years of its existence, the theater thrived, but the advent of online video streaming changed everything. Ticket sales went way down. After limping along for a few more years, the theater closed in 2011. Closing night was also the 31st birthday of the Red Vic and, as was tradition, they screened the cult favorite movie, Harold and Maude, the story of a friendship between a 20-year old boy and a 79-year old woman.
“Harold and Maude was almost a parable for the end of the Red Vic, and the reinvention,” says Betsy. “It is so great that the last scene ever shown was Harold crashing his car and saying goodbye to something, and then moving on to something else.”
For the Red Vic, and for Jack and Betsy Rix, that “something else” turned out to be the Second Act Marketplace and Events. It’s a second chance for others, too. The event space will host benefits for local organizations and the marketplace provides a home for five small start-ups – businesses that are saved from raising the thousands they would need to open up on their own.
New Orleans native, Terrell Brunet opened High Cotton Kitchen, featuring southern comfort food, at the Second Act. Brunet was a professional chef for over 37 years before striking out on his own.
“I was working corporately and I got tired of it, so I started pop-ups in bars making red beans and rice and gumbo,” he says.
Though the High Cotton Kitchen kiosk is different from having his own restaurant, Brunet says he’s happy with the progress.
“We kind of grew up a little bit… and it’s nice,” He says.
Like all of the tenants here, Brunet has a five-year lease at $1,100 a month. Rent includes use of the kitchen, washrooms, and common seating area, as well as utilities and publicity. Brunet sees this new venture as the next life for The Red Vic and for the neighborhood.
“This is the culture of Haight Street, the culture of San Francisco, and now bringing another circle of people which is food people. So it brings us all together," he says.
The Second Act is a new scene. But like Haight Street in the 60’s, its draw remains the same as when it was a neighborhood movie theater: bringing people together.