Deco By The Bay

From naval ships to museums to movie theaters, the San Francisco Bay Area has Art Deco history everywhere you look. Here you can find descriptions and locations of points of interest. See even more on this map.

Deco by the Bay

Deco by the Bay (Vintage Studio Books, 1995) is the definitive book on Deco architecture in the Bay Area. Written by architectural historian and preservationist Michael F. Crowe (founder of the ADSC), it includes maps for self-guided tours throughout San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda. Regrettably, it is now out of print but copies can be found by used bookstore search. Try

Coit Tower

The tower on top of Telegraph Hill has an observation deck with an unbeatable view of the city. (The elevator is the only way up, and there's a modest admission fee.) But free of charge, inside the ground floor, you can see the most extensive Deco-era murals in San Francisco. During 1933-34, a dozen artists in a Public Works of Art Project produced these frescos -- that is, they painted them right on the wet plaster walls. And what they depicted was the entire panoply of life in San Francisco and Northern California during those years: everything from agriculture to industry, street life (including street crime!) to politics. Coit Tower is open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day of the year. But if you possibly can, go on a Saturday at 11 a.m. That's when they open the second floor, where there are "home life" murals in an entirely different style, which you get to by climbing a narrow stair -- on either side of which a mural shows what you would have seen if you were walking up Powell St. in those days. For history buffs, as well as Deco enthusiasts, the Coit Tower is a must-see. 

1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, (415) 362-0808

The Beach Chalet

The ground floor of this ADSC award-winning San Francisco landmark, built in 1925, has extraordinary murals of recreational activities in San Francisco, which were painted during the '30s. Whereas the Coit Tower's murals were executed by many artists with multiple points of view, all of the Beach Chalet murals were painted by one artist: Lucien Labaudt. Upstairs is an excellent microbrewery and restaurant.

1000 Great Highway, near the Cliff House, San Francisco, (415) 386-8439

S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien

One of only two World War II "Liberty Ships" still afloat and seaworthy, the Jeremiah O'Brien is open to the public every day, at Pier 45 in San Francisco. Almost everything from the engine room to the bridge, from the crews' quarters to the cargo holds, is just as it was in Wartime. The Jeremiah O'Brien was at Normandy on D-Day, helping to supply the Allied invasion, and was the only ship able to return for the 50th anniversary.

Self-guided tours cost $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and military, $3 for children under 18 (under 6, free). Guided tours for groups of ten or more can be reserved three weeks in advance. And a few times a year the ship leaves the dock and takes passengers on round-the-Bay cruises; reservations are required.

Pier 45, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, (415) 441-3101

Movie Places & Palaces

Alameda Theatre

The Alameda Theatre, a gorgeous Timothy Pflueger gem, is restored to near original 1932 condition with the addition of a dynamic modern 7-screen Cineplex. The theater plays first run films, classic film series and is an ADSC Preservation Award winner.

2317 Central Ave, Alameda, (510) 769-FILM (3456)

Castro Theatre

This big-screen, ornate, 1500-seat house is the largest venue for repertory films in the U.S. Presenting live theater-organ music and occasional deco-era films, the Castro also hosts The San Francisco Silent Film Festival every summer and the Noir Film Festival every winter.

429 Castro St, San Francisco, (415) 621-6120

Lark Theatre

Repertory films and an annual Oscar party. More info at

549 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur, Marin County, (415) 924-3311

Oakland Fox

Reopened as a concert venue in Spring 2009. The Fox Oakland Theater, on Telegraph Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets, operated as a first-run movie house from 1928 until 1962. During the next decade, under different owners and managers, it operated as both a first- and second-run movie house, closed briefly several times, and hosted various special events. The completely restored building is a pastiche of moorish themes. Learn more about the Fox's amazing restoration at

300 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Suite 222, Oakland, (510) 893-FOOF (3663)

Orinda Theatre

A beautifully restored (and ADSC Preservation Award-winning) Moderne building that shows some vintage films and is the site of other events. More info at

4 Orinda Theatre Square, Orinda, Contra Costa County, (925) 254-9065

Pacific Film Archive

The PFA generally showcases rare and/or early films. In 1999 it featured eight of G.W. Pabst's works from the 1920s and '30s, the French 1919 serial, "Barrabas," and Marcel Pagnol's early-'30s "Fanny Trilogy." Silent films are usually presented with live piano accompaniment. Their website features Cinefiles, a searchable database of reviews, press kits, festival and showcase program notes, newspaper articles, and other documents. More info at

In the Berkeley Art Museum, 2625 Durant Ave, Berkeley, (510) 642-1412

Paramount Theatre

The epitome of the Deco movie palace, splendidly restored in 1973, and an early ADSC Preservation Award winner, the Paramount does more than merely show films. Public tours of the theater are conducted at 10am on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. More info at

2025 Broadway, at 21st St, Oakland, (510) 465-6400

Roxie Theatre

Occasional vintage film festivals are held at this small Mission district theater. More info at

3117 16th St, San Francisco, (415) 863-1087

Sebastiani Theatre

Established in 1934. Live entertainment and occasional vintage films. More info at

476 First St E, "On the Plaza", Sonoma, (707) 996-2020

Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center

The Art Deco facade of the Rafael Theater has been carefully restored; the interior holds three state-of-the-art screening rooms, and the facility is now home to the California Film Institute. An ADSC Preservation Award-winner, the Rafael Theater features independent films, premieres, restored classics, rare films and retrospectives; it's a year-round film festival.

1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA 94901, (415) 383-5256

Stanford Theatre

A vintage movie palace within walking distance of the Stanford University campus. Built in 1924, restored and maintained by the Packard Foundation, the Stanford Theater is almost exclusively devoted to Hollywood films made up to and through the 1950s. Devoted to film preservation, the Foundation will sometimes strike a print for an exclusive Stanford Theater engagement; so sometimes, the films shown there literally can not be seen anywhere else. And there's a mighty Wurlitzer there, too! More info at

221 University Ave, Palo Alto, (650) 324-3700

Sutter Creek Theatre

It's north of the Bay Area, in Amador County, but considered a real gem. Gary Schmieding, of Sutter Creek Entertainment Co. reports that "It was built in 1919 as a silent movie house, with a crowned Art Deco ceiling and other appointments. It's in close-to-original condition, and we are starting to paint and fix up the building. The theatre is currently open and we are home to the Main Street Theatre Works (it was the Claypipers, from San Francisco, who put the theatre back in operation for plays in the 1980s). The last movie shown here was "Bambi" in 1952. We plan on putting the original screen back up and showing silent and foreign films." More info at

44 Main St, Sutter Creek, 209-267-5737 or 916-765-6627


The Alice Statler Library

Vintage cookbooks and menus from Bay Area restaurants are highlights of the permanent collection at this library, located at City College of San Francisco. It's a great place to research your Gatsby Picnic, although -- being a school library -- it's closed during the summer.

50 Phelan Ave, room 10, San Francisco. Call (415) 239-3460 for hours.

Blackhawk Automotive Museum

Don't miss the Blackhawk Automotive Museum's permanent collection of fabulous vintage automobiles, including Rudolph Valentino's 1926 Isotta Fraschini roadster. More info at

3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville. (925) 736-2277

Books of the Century Club

Study Oakland's history, decade by decade, in literature, architecture, industry, sports and the arts, with readings and panel discussions on the works of the Century's finest writers.

Sponsored by Oakland Heritage Alliance and Barnes & Noble. Jack London Square, Oakland.

Call for current schedule: (510) 763-9218

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

San Francisco's premiere collection of western art, housed at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. There is also the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. Learn more about these museums at

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The SFMOMA features some of the great artists of the twentieth century including Diego Rivera, Rene Magritte, Constantin Brancusi, Frida Kahlo, Ansel Adams, and other icons of the 1920s and 1930s. More info at

Trains To The Past

California State Railroad Museum

Located in Old Sacramento, the California State Railroad Museum offers lavishly restored trains, engaging exhibits, and unique special events such as the popular Railfair, last held in 1999. Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

125 I St, Sacramento, (916) 445-7387

Golden Gate Railroad Museum

The prize display here is a fully restored steam locomotive: No. 2472, formerly a Southern Pacific P-8 Class, 4-6-2 Pacific Type, high-speed passenger steam locomotive. Admission is free, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm. But because the museum is located inside the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, visitors will need to telephone (415) 822-8728 in advance, to arrange for an entry pass. And on arrival, visitors must show a valid driver's license, current vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. More info at

Building 809, Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, at the end of Evans St., San Francisco


Market Street Railway

In the 1930s, American streetcar lines designed and built new, Moderne-style cars that resembled streamlined express trains, and were especially quiet and smooth-riding. But by the1960s, most cities had switched entirely to buses, and had scrapped their streetcars. However, the San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) not only maintained its own cars and carlines, it acquired vintage streetcars from other cities and restored them to service. Each of these Moderne, so-called "PCC" cars is painted in its original city line's colors (Newark, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.), and the interiors, seats and all, are maintained to be just as they were in the '30s. These vintage streetcars run on MUNI's "F" Line, which has now been extended from Castro and 18th Streets all the way down Market Street and along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. Riders can catch an "F" Line car at any designated stop, all of which are pedestrian "islands" in the middle of the Embarcadero and Market St. More info at

Napa Valley Wine Train

An elegant dining experience in restored vintage dining and lounging cars. More info at

1275 McKinstry St, Napa, (707) 253-2111

Niles Canyon Railway

A railroad museum where the exhibits come to life. The Pacific Locomotive Association, Inc. operates the Niles Canyon Railway as a living history museum, interpreting the importance of our heritage railroads in the development of California and the nation. Operating historic railroad equipment using standard railroad practices for train crews, signaling, block operations, and equipment maintenance. Preserving the atmosphere of railroads in small-town America before the 1960s by connecting the historic communities of Sunol, the Niles District of Fremont, and eventually Pleasanton. More info at

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

At the historic Cable Car Barn and Roundhouse you can see the machinery that actually runs the city's cable car system, plus exhibits of antique cable cars, mechanical artifacts and photographs. Museum admission is free. More info at

1201 Mason St, San Francisco, (415) 474-1887

The Tamalpais

A beautifully restored 1923 private railcar, the Tamalpais was built for Southern Pacific Railroad executives to travel and work in. It is extensively paneled in oak, elegant and comfortable, genuinely evocative of the pre-War era -- but not ostentatious. It's available for short trips, and for excursions to Reno and/or Los Angeles.

Call 1-800-783-0783

Western Railway Museum

A must for trolly and streetcar enthusiasts. You can ride one of the original Key System cars that used to cross the Bay on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge; the car even has vintage advertising cards above the windows! There are literally miles of track to ride, plenty of cars to explore, displays of rail and "traction" memorabilia, and special seasonal excursions on 1920s-vintage trains. More info at

Rio Vista Junction, Solano County, (707) 374-2978

Vintage Radio Programs

Happy Days

"HAPPY DAYS" with Marcie Judelson. Great Music from the 1920s and '30s. Sundays noon-1 p.m. on KWMR West Marin Radio 90.5 FM. Broadcasts or podcasts available at "Happy Days" podcasts are also available at the Apple iTunes store. Type in keyword, "Radio Sausalito" and select "podcasts". (It's free.)


The Bay Area's Jazz Station. More info at


Jazz programs are featured on many evenings and Saturday afternoons. More info at

KCEA 89.1 FM

On the SF Peninsula, seek out this fine 24-hour big band (and more!) station run out of Menlo-Atherton High School. You can listen to streaming audio online at:

"The Big Broadcast"

Since 1973, Rich Conaty has played nothing but 1920s and 30s records on Sundays from 8 to midnight EST on WFUV in NYC. The stream is heard worldwide at The website also has more than two years of archived shows available 24/7. More info at