Another SF supervisor comes out in favor of APE's Castro Theatre plans

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday June 5, 2023
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San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí has come out against a Castro Theatre landmarking amendment that would require the orchestra seating to remain fixed. Photo: Courtesy Ahsha Safaí <br>
San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí has come out against a Castro Theatre landmarking amendment that would require the orchestra seating to remain fixed. Photo: Courtesy Ahsha Safaí

Another San Francisco supervisor has come out against the amendment that could complicate Another Planet Entertainment's plans to make major changes at the Castro Theatre in an exclusive interview with the Bay Area Reporter June 5.

Ahsha Safaí represents District 11, which includes the Excelsior and Outer Mission neighborhoods. A straight ally, he is running for mayor against London Breed next year.

Safaí joins Joel Engardio, a gay supervisor who represents District 4, which includes the Outer Sunset; Rafael Mandelman, a gay supervisor who represents District 8, including the Castro; and Myrna Melgar, a straight ally supervisor who represents District 7, including West Portal, in opposing the amendment.

The Board of Supervisors is set to take up the matter Tuesday — an inflection point in a protracted struggle between the theater's management and those opposed to APE. The amendment in question would landmark the orchestra seating, keeping it fixed. One of APE's major renovation plans calls for replacing the fixed orchestra seating with a motorized floor that'd make both raked seating and tiered standing arrangements possible.

Safaí had been identified — along with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, another straight ally, whose district includes the Marina — as a swing vote on the matter during a San Francisco Heritage forum last week, as the B.A.R. reported.

Stefani did not return a message seeking comment.

Safaí said he spoke with about 50 people as he discerned how he'd vote, including Castro residents and small business owners.

"As someone that's a city planner and the son of an architect who understands the historic importance of building like the Castro Theatre, if this plan did not do everything it could to preserve all aspects of the build it's not something I would support," he said, referring to APE's stated plans for the theater.

The imbroglio over the theater began in January 2022, when APE — which runs the Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium downtown — was announced as the new operator of the 101-year-old Castro Theatre.

Some Castro neighborhood organizations, and LGBTQ and film groups — such as the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and the Castro Theatre Conservancy — formed the Friends of the Castro Theatre Coalition in opposition to the proposed changes.

APE has recently stated that it will screen films about one-third of the time the theater is open, which has dismayed moviegoers and many others.

The Board of Supervisors is set to take up a proposal to landmark the theater's interior on June 6. If an amendment to preserve the current fixed seating configuration — introduced in committee by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, a straight ally who represents the Haight, Western Addition, and Tenderloin — is passed by the supervisors, it could complicate matters for APE. (The exterior of the theater was designated a city landmark in 1977.)

Safaí called the theater "a historic resource that I believe should be preserved" and said APE's offer on the table to renovate the space shouldn't be turned down, calling it "a plan I can be supportive of and it's the right way to go if we are a city serious about preserving our assets."

Safaí also said he understood how important the theater is to the queer community.

"This is one of the flagship theaters of the LGBTQ community and of our city; one of those gems," he said.

The city needs to be "forward thinking" in how it utilizes spaces, he stressed.

"The plan before us does just that," Safaí said.

Mike Murray, a gay man who's co-chair of Neighbors for a Restored Castro Theatre, thanked Safaí in a statement to the B.A.R. on June 5.

"As our neighborhood and city continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the pandemic, we greatly appreciate Supervisor Safaí's support for a project that will bring much needed investment and activity to the Castro," he stated. "Following more than a year of public debate, we urge the rest of the Board of Supervisors and the Planning and Historic Preservation Commissions to quickly follow suit."

The planning and historic preservation commissions have a joint meeting set for June 8 to discuss a certificate of appropriateness APE has requested.

Gay APE spokesperson David Perry told the B.A.R. that the company is "grateful for the serious, in-depth, and deeply researched appraisal by Supervisor Safaí, and others."

"We are honored by the passion everyone has for the irreplaceable icon that is the Castro Theatre and its place in the lives of the LGBTQ and film communities among others," he continued.

The conservancy, and the cultural district did not immediately return requests for comment June 5.

Updated, 6/5/23: This article has been updated with comments from APE and that Supervisor Stefanie did not return a message seeking comment.

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