Email, text raise questions about future of Castro Theatre as meetings loom

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023
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A community meeting about the Castro Theatre is scheduled for January 26. Photo: Scott Wazlowski
A community meeting about the Castro Theatre is scheduled for January 26. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

A number of Castro groups will be holding a meeting Thursday, January 26, to discuss future historic preservation and planning commission meetings about the neighborhood's eponymous theater. It comes as Another Planet Entertainment faces questions about its continued management of the venerable movie house.

The Friends of the Castro Theatre Coalition, which includes the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and the Art Deco Society of California, among other LGBTQ, film and neighborhood groups, will be meeting at 7:30 p.m. that evening at Most Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church.

The city's historic preservation commission is set to vote on the matter of the theater's landmark status and the preservation of its seats on February 1. The planning commission is scheduled to take up the matter March 16, after another meeting of the historic preservation commission the prior day.

Expanding the theater's landmark status had been on the historic preservation commission's agenda at its December 7 meeting but the item was continued at the request of gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. Nevertheless, many people attended the meeting and spoke out against renovation plans proposed by Another Planet Entertainment, which took over management of the Castro Theatre last January, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

The proposed expanded landmarking would bring the theater's interior into line with the already established landmark status of the theater's facade. In 1976, the exterior of the building, designed by prominent San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger, was designated San Francisco Historic Landmark #100.

The most contentious part of the proposed renovations by Another Planet Entertainment is removing the movie house's banked seating in favor of level platforms that could hold both removable seats for film screenings and standing audiences for live music performances.

Therese Poletti, preservation director of the Art Deco Society of California, stated, "The purpose of the meeting is to give the latest updates on what is happening with the efforts to landmark the interior of the Castro Theatre and to encourage people to attend the Historic Preservation Commission hearing on the addendum to its current landmark status to include the interior and to add a second period of significance, to include the theatre's association with the LGBTQ community and history.

"We really need to encourage everyone to attend the meeting, either in person or virtually, and speak up during the comments section on the agenda item," she added.

Tina Aguirre, a genderqueer Latinx person who's the manager of the Castro cultural district, stated, "I'm looking forward to the Castro Theatre Coalition groups and members facilitating this meeting to gather and share information about how to best preserve the legacy of the Castro Theatre as a historically significant site that centers queer and transgender culture."

Aguirre added, "... I remain very disappointed in the lack of progress in obtaining anything in writing from APE regarding this. The silence from APE is especially troubling given the imperative to engage with the community that has been given to them by Supervisor Mandelman and the SF Planning's Historic Preservation."

Mandelman told the B.A.R. that his office was not invited to participate in the meeting and has "no plans to do so."

News of the meeting comes just days after gay activist Michael Petrelis published an email from Mandelman's office showing that on December 13 the supervisor was interested in meeting with Alfonso Felder, an executive vice president of administration for the San Francisco Giants baseball club, regarding the latter's "interest in the Castro Theatre."

The email was sent by Mandelman's legislative aide Jackie Thornhill, a trans woman, to gay consultant Terry Beswick, who replied with Felder's contact information.

Felder is the president and co-founder of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, a nonprofit behind the Vogue Theatre and the Balboa Theatre.

Petrelis also published a text between Mandelman and a constituent dated December 7, the day that the historic preservation commission's hearing on the theater was continued to February 1, in which Mandelman wrote "not even sure if APE is still interested; they're acting like they're done" and "they've definitely put their pencils down."

Petrelis wrote in a Facebook post where he published the email and message that "I'd like to know if he's [Felder] pursuing management or purchase of the Castro Theatre."

Through a spokesperson Another Planet Entertainment denied it is giving up management of the theater.

"Another Planet remains fully committed to the restoration and revitalization of the historic Castro Theatre to ensure its viability for this and future generations including an ongoing commitment to its cherished place within the LGBTQ, film, and other communities," spokesperson David Perry, a gay man, told the B.A.R. "We look forward to our continuing work with the theater's owners, the Nasser Family, and the City and County of San Francisco as we move forward. We are continuing to work with our team at Another Planet preparing documents for the upcoming hearings."

When pressed, Perry reiterated the statement means APE is not giving up.

"That's what it means, yes," he stated.

Felder told the B.A.R. that "we [he and Mandelman] had a very casual conversation. I don't think there's any real news. I don't have anything to share at the end of the day. I have a long connection with an organization that saves neighborhood theaters and the supervisor was interested in my thoughts."

In a text January 13, Mandelman told the B.A.R. that the interest Felder has in the theater is because the baseball executive "cares about neighborhood theaters."

"Alfonso [Felder] cares about neighborhood theaters; I think that's as much as there is to it," Mandelman stated. "I was interested in getting his perspective based on his experience with other neighborhood theaters."

Petrelis told the B.A.R. that Mandelman should have told everyone in December if APE's interest in the Castro Theatre has waned.

"David Perry is an idiot and Mandelman owes us transparency and a town hall meeting," Petrelis said. "It's important that people who care about the Castro Theatre should know what Rafael texted on the 7th without it taking a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request. You have the text. He's saying that on the day the historic planning commission is rubber-stamping his request for a second continuance that APE is putting the pencils down? Rafi: you should have been at that hearing to tell the community what you told your constituent in your text."

Petrelis said he will be hosting a rally at the theater on Saturday, January 28, at 2 p.m. to coincide with SketchFest, an annual event taking place there at the same time.

The January 26 meeting takes place at Most Holy Redeemer Church, 100 Diamond Street, in the Castro.

Updated, 1/18/23: This article has been updated with additional comments.

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