SF supes panel OKs landmark expansion for Castro Theatre; intersection near Compton's riot

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Monday May 23, 2022
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Plans to expand the landmark status of the Castro Theatre advanced Monday at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors hearing. Photo: Scott Wazlowski
Plans to expand the landmark status of the Castro Theatre advanced Monday at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors hearing. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

A proposal aimed at protecting the historic interior of the Castro Theatre gained the backing of a San Francisco supervisors' committee Monday, while a separate effort to recognize the historical significance of a Tenderloin intersection that was the site of an early fight over the rights of the neighborhood's transgender residents also won support from the panel.

The Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Transportation Committee discussed the two sites significant to LGBTQ history and culture at its May 23 meeting and voted to advance the one regarding the theater for consideration by the full board Tuesday. The intersection landmarking request should be voted on by the supervisors at their June 7 meeting, as they are off next week due to the Memorial Day holiday.

Land use committee members Supervisors Myrna Melgar (District 7), Aaron Peskin (District 3), and Dean Preston (District 5) unanimously voted in support of the resolutions to enhance the landmark designation for the Castro Theatre and to establish city landmark designation for the intersection of Taylor and Turk streets, formerly the site of Compton's Cafeteria where a groundbreaking riot by transgender people tired of being harassed by police took place in August 1966, three years before the Stonewall riots in New York City.

The enhanced landmark designation for the Castro Theatre, which was already designated a city landmark in 1977, would take into account the interior of the fabled movie palace, offering additional protections to the theater. Put forward by gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, the resolution is intended to offer additional protection to the historic site. The designation doesn't necessarily mitigate the controversies over plans proposed by Another Planet Entertainment, which assumed management of the beloved movie palace in January.

"The two big overarching questions are to what extent, after this is done, will the Castro still be a great venue for films and to what extent will it be an institution still serving the LGBT community," wondered Mandelman in a phone interview later with the Bay Area Reporter.

Mary Conde, senior vice president of Another Planet Entertainment, was on hand to speak in favor of the enhanced status.

"This has been a collaborative effort working with Mandeleman's office," she told the committee during the public comment period. "We are very supportive of additional landmark designations for the theater."

Another Planet has submitted plans to the San Francisco Planning Commission for extensive renovations to the theater, which will mark its 100th anniversary in June. Plans call for a new HVAC system, restoration of many of the artistic features inside the building and the marquee, and controversial plans for new seating to make it more accommodating to live performances.

Compton's site

The Turk and Taylor designation is at the very beginning of the process to make the intersection an historic landmark. It was actually introduced by former District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, who has since resigned after he was sworn in as a state assemblymember May 3.

When the portion of the Tenderloin where Turk and Taylor streets cross moved into District 5 as a result of redistricting, Preston's office contacted the Transgender District's leadership to find out which issues were on their agenda, said Preston's legislative aide, Kyle Smeallie. The landmark designation was one, and Preston has since adopted sponsorship of the resolution. If it passes the Board of Supervisors in June, it will move on to the Planning Department and the Historic Preservation Commission.

The Castro Theatre designation will also face review by the two oversight bodies.

This early in the game "there is a large degree of latitude" about what form the designation might take, Smeallie, a straight ally, said of the Turk and Taylor designation.

A historical marker denoting the Compton's riot was installed outside the former diner in 2006. In 2016, the city christened the 100 block of Taylor Street as Gene Compton's Cafeteria Way to honor the 50th anniversary of the historic riots that occurred at the long-gone diner. Former District 6 supervisor Jane Kim had authored the honorary street renaming proposal, meaning it did not change the postal addresses of the businesses and residences located on that block of Taylor.

"Our intention is to create a space, and commemorate a space that has significance to the LGBTQ community," Smeallie said.

The inclusion of references to Compton's has become more controversial over time. When the city established the first legally recognized transgender district in the world in 2017, it was called The Compton's Transgender Cultural District. But the district's leaders dropped Compton's from the name in 2020 so it is simply known as the Transgender District.

At the time Aria Sa'id, a trans woman who is the executive director of the district, had told the B.A.R. they would also petition the city to drop the reference to the diner owner from the ceremonial street name as well.

"The community didn't want it to be Gene Compton," Sa'id said. "They wanted it to be Compton's Cafeteria Riot, but the city did not want to have the word 'riot' in a street sign. We will work on having it changed."

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