On Sunday January 26, 2003, I visited a place they call the Cathedral of Cinema. The Castro Theatre, an ornate Spanish Colonial confection that dominates the corner of Castro and Market, turned 75 last year, is the City's most enduring and eclectic landmarks. The Castro is much more than just a movie theater, the massive neon marquee serves as a gateway to and symbol of what is perhaps the world's best known gay neighborhood. .
Built in 1922, the theater is a mishmash of architectural genres mixing an elaborate Spanish Colonial facade with interior murals and fixtures that draw on Asian, Arab, and Art Deco influences. The Castro's Mighty Wurlitzer is one of only ten still in use in the U.S. today. The Mighty Wurlitzer organ sits front and center, just below the stage. The Wurlitzer harkens back to the Castro's origins as a silent movie house where films were accompanied by live music. .
The movie opens with San Francisco Opera Company executive Mr. Dressler, played by Keenan Wynn, arriving on a boat from the Orient. A porter steals Mr. Dressler's bag and tosses it into a taxi. The taxi then runs into a truck, veers away killing a policeman, and finally runs into a ditch, killing the taxi driver. Detective Lieut. Ben Guthrie played with excessive seriousness by Warner Anderson, and his sidekick Inspector Al doesnt know what to make of this mayhem.
It turns out that the taxi driver was no cabby at all, but "one of the best wheel men on the coast." And Mr. Dressler's suitcase contained a figurine with enough heroines in it "to supply every addict in San Francisco for two weeks." The conundrum is whether Mr. Dressler knew about the heroin or not. He acts strange, but is that his normal demeanor or is he hiding something? In a typically implausible scene, Ben goes angrily to the head of Customs to complain that the inspectors were falling down on the job by letting the heroin come through. Remember, this was a time of low technology and hence especially easy smuggling.