Several major changes are in store for the Castro Theater, according to an architectural proposal recently submitted to the San Francisco Planning Commission.
As part of a renovation project led by Entertainment on another planetthe cinema’s existing floor seating will be removed, a concession area will be added to the second-floor lobby, and an improved ventilation system, with new rooftop ductwork, will be installed.
Gregg Perloff, The CEO and founder of the Berkeley concert promotion company known for producing San Francisco’s annual Outside Lands music festival, told The Chronicle in January that the company had signed a long-term contract with owners Steve Nasser and Elaine Nasser Padian of Bay Properties Inc. to convert the century-old cinema into a live event venue by next year. He said at the time of the announced partnership that most of the theater’s renovations would not be noticeable to the average customer.
But the current proposal being considered by the city indicates that the improvements could be more significant.
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The plans, drafted by San Francisco architectural firm CAW Architects, suggest replacing fixed seating at the Castro’s orchestra level with four levels of standing room with the option of using removable seating.
The lobby concession area will also be removed in favor of two bar spaces inside the venue, while the basement will be converted into a separate event space.
The news was first reported by Hoodline.
“The proposed changes are consistent with our original ideas and planning,” David Perry, Castro Theater spokesperson for Another Planet Entertainment, told The Chronicle on Friday, March 18. “The plans were filed last week. At this time, we don’t know how long the approval process will take, although we hope it will be complete by late summer or fall. What was submitted this week are early designs and may change slightly.
The next step is for the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to review the proposal, likely in May, although no date has been set, Perry added.
One of Another Planet’s priorities, Perloff said in January, is to restore the building at 429 Castro St., which had remained dark during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, to its former glory. This includes the rehabilitation of the marquee and the neon lettering “Castro” on the blade outside the building.
“Already, with cleaning, electrical upgrades and lighting improvements, the Castro Theater is more ready for audiences than it has been in several years,” Perry said. “With increased space, adaptability – including much improved access for those in wheelchairs or requiring special access – we are confident that the Castro will be more accessible than ever.
“Plus, all of the architectural elements that are so precious to Castro fans will be much more visible.”
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Such ambitious plans are no new challenge for Another Planet, which revived the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco in 2010, when the city was scheduled to close the concert hall, and the Fox Oakland Theater in 2008. The latter, a former movie theater in the East Bay, reopened as part of a $72 million renovation after sitting empty for 42 years. Both venues currently do not have floor seating, but have provided folding chairs at certain events such as comedy shows.
“More similar to the Fox Theater in Oakland, the Castro will have removable, comfortable and flexible seating for movie screenings and similar events,” Perry said. “Right now we’re looking at a number of flexible seating options to find the most comfortable and adaptable ones. The fixed seats on the balcony will remain but will probably be upgraded as the current seats are long overdue for improvement.
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The schedule for construction on the Castro has not been determined.
“We don’t yet have a total estimated cost for ongoing renovations to the Castro Theater, many of which will be based on total permit costs that are not yet known,” Perry said. “As these clearance costs are part of the public record, as final costs become available they will be made public as is standard practice.”
In the meantime, the Castro Theater, which has held some special film screenings over the past few months, is currently set to host the 65th SFFilm Festival in April; the 25th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival in May; and Framline46, also known as the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, in June.