Great Star Theater Celebrates History in SF Chinatown While Welcoming Change

Known as the place where Bruce Lee spent his childhood, The Great Star Theater in San Francisco’s historical Chinatown district underwent extreme renovations in 2020 — for the better.

Opened in 1925, The Great Star served as the community center to many people in the neighborhood, providing entertainment through Cantonese opera. At the time, it was one of multiple theaters in the district but 99 years later in the present day, it is the only one that remains. Others closed due to funding, but still exist as nightlife spots, such as Chinatown Live.

Many famous celebrities have passed through the theater. Bruce Lee was born several blocks away from the theater in 1940 as his father performed onstage at The Great Star. As he pursued his acting career, he passed through several times, including a brief period where he slept in a cot backstage. Other famous actors such as Daniel Wu were first exposed to the performing arts at The Great Star that inspired them to go on and pursue careers in acting.

In 2019, Roger Pincombe and Alice Chu went on their first date to the theater. Five years later, they are married and are now the co-owners of The Great Star and have also started a non-profit organization to support the operations of the venue. Acquired during the pandemic, the couple invested their savings into renovating the space, including reupholstering the seats, fixing the marquee, replacing the sign and the neon, cleaning the curtains, and matching and replacing every single tile in the front.

Pincombe now serves as the Executive Director of the theater while his wife Alice serves as the Director of Community Relations. The Great Star still hosts Cantonese opera, but the couple hopes to expand their audience beyond Chinatown by welcoming in more diverse acts both locally and internationally.


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