The City's First Dot-Com, 1969: George Lucas and Francis Coppola's American Zoetrope


I love San Francisco history, so when I was hired as a webmonkey for the gay porn site NakedSword in 2005, I was thrilled to discover that the office space had once been the Ritch Street Health Club, a legendary gay bathhouse from the 1960s and '70s. Apropos!

For a brief period at the turn of the decade, that bathhouse had an illustrious neighbor at nearby 827 Folsom: American Zoetrope, the independent studio founded by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas to prove they didn't need dumb ol' Hollywood.

Gary Leva's documentary A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope tells that story. It's eerily prescient of the countless dot-coms that would later move into SoMa warehouses to try (and mostly fail) to live out their dreams, all while spending too much money on the wrong things -- like espresso machines and pool tables.

American Zoetrope officially opened on Dec. 12, 1969, with a raging party that attracted Bill Graham and Jerry Garcia and the future Johnny Fever.

George Lucas's THX 1138 was to be American Zoetrope's first release. Shooting of the film wrapped a month before the opening party, but 827 Folsom was already too chaotic by then, so Lucas edited the movie from home instead. Oh, the irony.

THX 1138 was a Webvan-level bomb, and it took Zoetrope down with it. The major players bounced back by working for Hollywood studios, and Zoetrope's current incarnation is in that one green building in North Beach (you know, that one).

I've never cared for the movies or politics of John Milius, but I love hearing the man tell stories. During the credits, he talks about the Sirens of 827 Folsom.

A Legacy of Filmmakers is on the THX 1138 Director's Cut DVD. Sadly, the original, studio-destroying version of THX 1138 is not.

Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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