Castro Theatre renovation plans hit with a major setback by City Hall

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Castro Theatre renovation plans hit with a major setback by City Hall
An interior view of the Castro Theater. Photo: Stephen Lam / The Chronicle 2022

In a setback for event maker Another Planet Entertainment‘s plans to renovate the landmark Castro Theater, San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission unanimously accepted a recommendation to preserve existing seating at the 100-year-old venue.

After an impassioned public hearing that lasted more than five hours on Wednesday, Feb. 1, the commission voted 6-0, with one abstention, to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that it accept a Castro Theater landmark designation amendment which was initiated by supervisor Rafael Mandelman. “to include both outside and inside character-defining characteristics, and update the statement of significance to include LGBTQ historical associations.”

That recommendation, which the Council will consider next month, appears to reject Another Planet’s latest plan for removing some seats and leveling the raised floor of the Castro District Hall.

Last week, the Berkeley-based promotions company unveiled a new proposal that will include motorized raking floors, allowing for a flexible seating plan for a range of events from film screenings to live concerts that Another Planet spokesman David Perry said “isn’t just the best”. , but the only way to keep the Castro open.” The company had previously planned to remove some permanent seats.

Another Planet Entertainment’s revised revamped seating renovation plans for the Castro Theater. Photo: Another Planet Entertainment

Meanwhile, the Castro Theater Conservancy, which has advocated for preserving the theater’s character, was asked Wednesday by Another Planet to submit a proposal on how it would run the theater as a nonprofit. The proposal would commit the Conservancy to raise $20 million to repair and upgrade the building within the first two years of the lease term.

The Conservancy said it hopes to operate the Castro as a “multi-use entertainment venue that hosts film festivals, comedy shows, concerts, drag acts and other events, with a strong commitment to LGBTQ-oriented programming.”

The past few days have seen several statements of support for Another Planet’s plans for the motorized rake seats. James Woolley, executive director of Frameline Film Festival, was among the only local film community leaders to publicly support Another Planet. Frameline, the world’s oldest and largest LGBTQ film festival, has hosted its events at the Castro every June for nearly half a century.

“We feel that these latest proposed modifications to the seat will help ensure that Frameline’s home remains at the Castro for years to come,” Woolley told The Chronicle.

The Gay Men’s Chorus, which has performed its Christmas show at the theater for 33 years, also issued a statement in support of Another Planet’s “operation and rejuvenation of the Castro Theater.”

But the Historic Preservation Commission seemed unfazed by that support. About a hundred people, appearing both in person and virtually, spoke during Wednesday’s hearing, which ran from 12:30 p.m. to about 6:15 p.m. Most speakers urged the commission to recommend that the interior of the theater, including the seats, receive local landmark status.

The commission agreed. President Diane Matsuda, Vice President Ruchira Nageswaran and Commissioners Kate Black, Chris Foley, Richard SE Johns and Lydia So voted to recommend Mandelman’s amendment to the Board of Supervisors. Commissioner Jason Wright recused himself before the hearing began.

Audience members hold up signs about saving the theater’s seats during the community meeting at the Castro Theater about the planned renovation of the historic space in San Francisco on August 11, 2022. The renovation by Another Planet Entertainment includes a controversial plan to change seating scheme by removing existing theater seats and replacing them with removable seats to accommodate musical performances. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

The decision comes a year after Another Planet Entertainment, which produces San Francisco’s outdoor megafest Outside Lands at Golden Gate Park, announced it was taking over management of the venue from the Nasser family, the family of Lebanese immigrants who own the movie palace. built in 1922. on the block between Castro and 17th streets.

The theater, which turned 100 last June, was designed by renowned San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger and has long served as the heart of the city’s film and LGBTQ communities. Over the decades, it has hosted significant movie premieres such as the neighborhood set “Milk” in 2008 and more recently, “Matrix Resurrections” in 2021 and “Everything Everywhere All At Once” in 2022.

Along with seating reconfigurations, changes proposed by Another Planet include installing an HVAC system and heating, restoring the building’s decorative features and renovating its lobby.

But such ambitious plans are not a new challenge for Another Planet. The company already operates several popular Bay venues, such as the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in 2010, when the city would close the music venue, and the Fox Theater in 2008. The latter, a former Oakland movie house, reopened as part of a $75 million renovation after sitting vacant for 42 years sat Both venues currently do not have floor seating, but have provided folding chairs during certain events such as comedy shows.

Still, another planet’s plans to revive the Castro, which was showing its age after years of neglect, were met with immediate resistance.

The initial rollout of the management change last year was heavily criticized for not involving community partners like the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District or Castro Merchants Association.

  • G. Allen Johnson, Tony Bravo, Aidin Vaziri

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