Exclusive: New Castro Theater Conservancy group hopes to halt SF venue renovation plans

The Castro Theater Conservancy announced a campaign aimed at preserving as much of the century-old theater’s interior as possible during renovations by its new management. Photo: Joe Rosenthal / The Chronicle 1971

Movie and architecture buffs concerned about the proposed changes to San Francisco’s Castro Theater are forming a nonprofit organization to preserve the character of the century-old venue as a movie palace.

The newly founded Castro Theater Conservancy announced the launch of its Save the Castro Theater campaign on Wednesday, June 22, the theater’s 100th anniversary. The aim is to preserve as much of the interior of the historic building as possible. Central to the campaign is a petition on Change.org asking that the Castro “not be reconfigured in a way that would undermine film presentation or the LGBTQ+ events or the city’s many independent film festivals that call the Castro home.” would undermine.

The petition emphasizes the importance of preserving the seating configuration on the main auditorium floor, as well as the existing slope of the floor to keep the Castro a good filming location. A plan submitted by the theater’s new manager, Another Planet Entertainment, and CAW Architects, now under consideration by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, calls for the removal of the seating, leveling the floor and adding raised areas. temporary seating platforms.

Exclusive: New Castro Theater Conservancy group hopes to halt SF venue renovation plans
Peter Pastreich, Executive Director of Castro Theater Conservancy. Photo: Castro Theater Conservancy

“Taking out the seats and ramp and turning it into a rock ‘n’ roll presentation spot where they can have more people standing, that’s not going to work for the movies,” said Peter Pastreich, the organization’s executive director. “Our biggest concern was that removing the seats would mean the end of the film at the Castro.”

Conservatory members include film curator Robert Byrne; art venue architect Mark Cavagnero; land use attorney Scott Emblidge; documentary filmmaker Owsley Brown; urban planner and environmental planner Deborah Holley; and retired San Francisco public relations professional, Charles Zukow.

Among those listed as supporters of the organization, which is finalizing its nonprofit status, are filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Joel Coen, Rob Epstein, Dan Geller, Barry Jenkins, Philip Kaufman, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, Alexander Payne, Christine Pelosi, Paul Schrader, John Waters and Terry Zwigoff.

Former Mayor of San Francisco Art Agnos; actors Dana Delany, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton; photographer Daniel Nicoletta; former SFFilm Programmer Director Rachel Rosen; musicians David Byrne and Jane Wiedlin; authors Daniel Handler, Armistead Maupin, Rebecca Solnit; gallery owner Jeffrey Fraenkel; LGBTQ activist and author Cleve Jones; film writer Leonard Maltin; Film Quarterly editor B. Ruby Rich and the Film Foundation are also listed as conservationists.

Another Planet Entertainment declined to comment on Wednesday.

Another Planet Entertainment looks at the past and future of the Castro Theater in renovation plans

Exclusive: New Castro Theater Conservancy group hopes to halt SF venue renovation plans
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese is listed as one of the supporters of the Castro Theater Conservancy. Photo: Kimberly White / Getty Images 2019

But after the announcement, filmmaker David Weissman told The Chronicle he wasn’t surprised by the campaign.

“They apparently haven’t done a lot of due diligence about what the Castro means for both LGBT and film communities, and if they’re surprised and disappointed by the opposition, it’s their own fault,” Weissman said. “I hope this helps create a not-for-profit partnership that will enable both high-quality restoration and long-term viability for the survival of the Castro as a community treasure.”

In January, The Chronicle broke the news that the longtime Castro owners, the Nasser family, were handing over management of the historic theater to Another Planet Entertainment, the Berkeley-based concert promotion company that currently owns the Fox Theater in Oakland and the Bill Graham Civic. and operates. Auditorium in San Francisco, among other local venues. Part of Another Planet’s new model for the venue would be a greater emphasis on live events.

Conservancy supporter Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who has also presented on de Castro’s stage, especially questioned the change in the venue’s mission.

“Do we really need another concrete concert hall when glamorous movie houses across the country disappear? Absolutely not,” she said. “It’s so important to preserve this historic treasure.”

Opposition grew when plans to remove the orchestra-level seats became public in March.

Exclusive: New Castro Theater Conservancy group hopes to halt SF venue renovation plans

“My main concern is removing seats and leveling the floor. This would change the theatrical experience,” Geller said. “I understand why they’re turning it into a multi-purpose space — I think that model could work in a lot of places — but I’m afraid once you take those seats out, it’s hard to put them back in that original historic configuration. ”

He said he has seen models for converting movie theaters into multi-purpose venues that he believes are less invasive to historic structures.

Another Planet spokesperson David Perry said an extensive line of sight investigation is being done before any final decisions are made.

Theater renovation plans also include improvements to the electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems, removal of the lobby concession stand in favor of mobile bars in the mezzanine and auditorium, updates to the backstage space, and sound and lighting upgrades.

The proposed changes are currently under review by the City’s Historic Preservation Commission.

In May, the Board of Trustees approved an improvement to Castro’s historic status, proposed by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. It will extend the historical protection of the facade of the building to the interior. Both Another Planet and the new nature reserve have said they fully support the widening of the historic designation.

Exclusive: New Castro Theater Conservancy group hopes to halt SF venue renovation plans
Another Planet Entertainment has taken over management of the Castro Theater and the proposed removal of seats is a matter of concern to the community. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2020

Prior to the theater’s closure during the height of the pandemic in 2020, Pastreich was approached by conservationist Brown with concerns about the maintenance and future of the Castro. Through the theater’s then general manager, Keith Arnold, he was able to bring in an architect and a structural engineer to assess its condition.

“We were deeply concerned,” Pastreich said. “We didn’t want it to fall over or close, so we looked for a way for a nonprofit to help de Castro preserve what it is for the community.”

That involved asking Steve Nasser if his family would be interested in selling the theater.

A longtime arts professional who has served as executive director of the San Francisco Symphony, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and American Conservatory Theater, Pastreich said he believed he and the other members of the Conservatory could raise enough money to restore and operate the theater.

“For quite some time the answer was, ‘We need to think about that as a family,'” Pastreich said. “After the pandemic started, they said, ‘We really don’t want to sell.’ †

The group then said they had asked the Nassers to consider a long-term lease of the theater and were surprised to learn about the management of the Castro by Another Planet Entertainment.

The Nasser family declined “to comment on rumors or speculation in the market.”

Exclusive: New Castro Theater Conservancy group hopes to halt SF venue renovation plans

The new conservation has no objection to any proposed renovation plans. Pastreich said he understands the importance of preserving historic sites and also updating them for things like ADA compliance and general safety. But, he argues, removing the existing seating scheme would drastically change not only the historic character of the Castro, but also who is able to produce shows at the venue.

“The availability of the theater to people who have used it before is our other major concern,” Pastreich said, specifying that: he and others worry that live events will dominate the venue, leaving screenings and community partners with fewer available days on the calendar.

The Castro is currently hosting the Frameline Film Festival through Sunday June 26, and has a few screenings and live events on the calendar until September 25.

Major renovation work is not expected to begin until early next year.

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