According to an architectural proposal recently submitted to the San Francisco Planning Commission, the Castro Theater is facing several major changes.
As part of a renovation project led by Another planet entertainmentthe 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 ducts on the roof will be installed.
greg perloff, 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 deal with Bay Properties Inc. owners Steve Nasser and Elaine Nasser Padian. signed to turn the 100-year-old cinema into a live events venue by next year. He said at the time of the announced partnership that most renovations to the theater would be imperceptible to the average visitor.
But the current proposal being considered by the city suggests upgrades could be more significant.
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The plans, drawn up by San Francisco architectural firm CAW Architects, call for replacing the Castro’s orchestra-level fixed seating with standing room for four, with the option to use removable seats.
The lobby concession area will also be removed in favor of two bar spaces within the venue, while the basement level will be converted into a separate function space.
The news was first reported by Hoodline.
“The proposed changes are in line with our original ideas and plans,” David Perry, Castro Theater spokesman for Another Planet Entertainment, told The Chronicle on Friday, March 18. “The plans were submitted last week. At this time we do not know how long the permitting process will take, although we hope it will be completed by late summer or fall. What has been submitted this week are early drafts and may change slightly.”
The next step is for the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to review the proposal, expected in May, although no date has been set, Perry added.
Another Planet’s priorities, Perloff said in January, include restoring the building at 429 Castro St., which sat dark in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, to its former glory. This includes the refurbishment of the marquee and the neon lettering “Castro” on the blade outside the building.
“Already, cleaning, electrical upgrades and lighting improvements have made the Castro Theater more accessible to the public than it has been in several years,” Perry said. “With more space, adaptability – including greatly improved access for wheelchair users or people who otherwise need special access – we are confident that the Castro will be more accessible than ever.
“Also, all the architectural elements that Castro fans love so much 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 about to close the music venue, and the Fox Oakland Theater in 2008. The latter, a former movie theater in the East Bay, reopened in a $72 million renovation after sitting vacant for 42 years. Both venues do not currently have floor seating, but have provided fold-out chairs for certain events, such as comedy shows.
“More closely resembling Oakland’s Fox Theater, the Castro will have removable, comfortable and flexible seating for film screenings and other similar events,” Perry said. “We are currently reviewing a range of flexible seating options to find the most comfortable and adaptable. The fixed balcony seating will remain but will likely be upgraded as the current seating has long been in need of improvement.”
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The timetable for the construction of the Castro has not yet been determined.
“We do not yet have an estimated total cost for the Castro Theater renovations, much of which will be based on total permitting costs that are not yet known,” Perry said. “Since such permitting costs are part of the public record, as soon as the final costs are available, they will be published as usual.”
Meanwhile, the Castro Theatre, which has had select special film screenings in recent months, is currently scheduled 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.