The SF Historic Preservation Commission will be meeting to consider whether to extend landmark status to the The Castro Theatre Interior February 1st at 12:30pm at the Commission Chambers, Rm 400 – City Hall – 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.
Supporters of the saving The Castro Theatre are encouraged to attend and explain politely why the interior should be preserved. They are also encouraged to wear red in support of the the theatre.

Some of the supporters of saving The Castro Theatre include Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Ang Lee, Mark Leno, George Lucas, Martin Scorcese, Rebecca Solnit, Steven Spielberg, Michael Tilson Thomas, Art Deco Society of California, The Film Foundation, Film Heritage Foundation, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, San Francisco Land Use Coalition and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

To be clear, The exterior of The Castro Theatre was designated as the city’s 100th landmark in 1976. Unfortunately this status does not currently extend to the interior of the theatre. There have been large meetings to discuss how to save the theatre, including this one last week: Emotions run high at Castro Theatre town hall and a meeting with APE in attendance last August: Hundreds fight over the future of San Francisco’s Castro Theatre at community meeting.

A little background: Another Planet Entertainment took over management of the theatre in January of 22. The theatre was built in 1910 and is still owned by the Nassar family, see a history here.

The Castro Theatre

According to Another Planet Entertainment’s website the company was established in 2003 and “are the only independent, locally owned and operated, full service concert production company in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California.” APE exclusively operates and promotes concerts at venues including the Greek TheatreBill Graham Civic AuditoriumThe Independent, the Fox Theater and festivals including Outside Lands. The founders were previously with Bill Graham Presents.

Needless to say, APE is very successful and it’s true that the Castro Theatre is in need of a number of expensive upgrades including those for ADA compliance. That said, the theatre is a neighborhood theatre, the last great movie palace in San Francisco and one of the last in the Bay Area. In addition to hosting movies and film festivals for well over a century, it has hosted many live theatrical and musical events and is the center of the LGBTQ+ community in the Bay Area. APE is planning to remove the seating on the main floor, replacing the raked slope with a ““motorized raked floor,” with portable chairs, making it unsuitable as a film venue. They plan roughly fourteen large indie concerts a month which would have a huge impact on the neighborhood, and is likely to price out any smaller local events from the venue.

You can see how the Fox Theater in Oakland has been renovated (which was desperately needed) and turned into a large concert venue.

The Fox Theater in Oakland

As a performing musician I’m a fan of Bill Graham Presents, having enjoyed many and performed at some of their events over the years, but what APE is proposing is not suited to the venue or the neighborhood. They have been using strong arm tactics with some of the local film festivals who have now been forced to look elsewhere. The changes they have said they’re made in their plans in response to concerns from the community have been in the wording only, not in the substance of the plans. They have also been largely keeping the theatre closed which is having a detrimental effect on the neighborhood.

SF Sketchfest hosts events at the Castro Theatre and other venues throughout the city.

The Castro Theater Conservancy would like to see The Castro Theatre run as a non-profit as has been done with other cultural venues in San Francisco. From their website:

“Castro Theater Conservancy [CTC] is a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting San Francisco’s Castro Theatre as a cultural and entertainment venue for motion pictures and live performances.

Our goals include preserving the orchestra seating and sloped floor as well as ensure film festivals, luminaries of the world of cinema, LGBTQ+, and other community events are able to continue using the theatre at affordable prices. 

The specific and primary purposes for which this Corporation is organized include:                         

  • to facilitate and support the Castro Theatre’s decades-long tradition of hosting artistic, cultural, educational, and entertainment programming representing and supporting San Francisco’s diverse communities and cultural heritage;
  • to preserve and maintain the historical character and integrity of the Castro Theatre building    
  • to preserve and maintain the Castro Theatre auditorium primarily as a single-screen/single-stage motion picture, live performance, and meeting and event venue
  • to preserve and maintain the Castro Theatre auditorium interior, its historic decorative walls and ceilings, and its raked seating, acoustics, and audience sight lines specifically designed for viewing motion pictures
  • to assure film festivals, and related live performances, and special events representing San Francisco’s diverse communities and cultural heritage continue to have reasonable access to the Castro Theatre as a host venue; and
  • to honor and celebrate the Castro Theatre as a neighborhood landmark and beacon for the community.”

In closing, I urge you to attend the The SF Historic Preservation Commission meeting on February 1st at 12:30pm,
or if you are unable to attend, write a letter to the City of San Francisco in support of saving The Castro Theatre.