Crucial Castro Theatre hearing dates pushed back to April

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday March 9, 2023
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Three hearings on the Castro Theatre that were to have taken place next week have been pushed back to April. Photo: Scott Wazlowski
Three hearings on the Castro Theatre that were to have taken place next week have been pushed back to April. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

Three city hearings relating to the future of the Castro Theatre's landmark status and the appropriateness of Another Planet Entertainment's plans for the interior of the historic movie palace have been pushed back to April, the Bay Area Reporter has learned.

Initially, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' land use committee was set to take up the Historic Preservation Commission's interior landmarking recommendation on March 13. The Historic Preservation Commission on February 1 had approved a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors that would preserve the interior of the Castro Theatre with the "presence of seating" after a marathon meeting that stretched into the evening hours, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

That upset advocates who want to save the orchestra seating in the historic movie house. They had urged the commission to instead amend the recommendation to include "fixed seating." But the panel declined to do so. (The commission did vote to approve an amendment to extend interior landmark status to balcony seats that date to 1922.)

One of Another Planet's most contentious plans calls for the orchestra seating to be removed. Just days before the Historic Preservation Commission meeting last month, David Perry, a gay man who's spokesperson for APE, announced a revised seating plan for the theater that would preserve the raked element for film events. It includes a motorized floor that makes both raked seating and tiered standing arrangements possible, according to an announcement on the theater's Facebook page.

Now that the Historic Preservation Commission has weighed in, the interior landmark proposal goes back to the Board of Supervisors for final approval, and the first step in that process is the committee hearing. The land use committee hearing will now be held Monday, April 3.

Last May, the Board of Supervisors voted in support of the enhanced interior landmark status, as the B.A.R. previously reported. That vote sent the item to the Historic Preservation Commission. The exterior of the theater was designated a city landmark in 1977.

Other meetings

In addition to the supervisors' voting a final time to expand the theater's landmark, the Historic Preservation Commission was set to take up a certificate of appropriateness on APE's plans for the building's interior on March 15, followed by the planning commission on March 16. Those meetings have now been combined and been moved to April.

The delays have been for different reasons, according to Jackie Thornhill, a trans woman who is a legislative aide to gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. He represents the LGBTQ Castro neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors.

"That was on our end," Thornhill said about the land use committee hearing delay. "There was a notice requirement we didn't catch and the clerk didn't catch until it was in a 10-day window," Thornhill said. "The next land use meetings are full so [April] the third is when that's going to be heard."

It is typical procedure that what the land use committee — which consists of District 7 Supervisors Myrna Melgar, chair; District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, vice chair; and board President Aaron Peskin (District 3) — votes on is heard by the full board eight days later, which, as it now stands, would put the interior landmarking matter on the board's April 11 agenda, Thornhill said.

Then, the historic preservation and planning commissions will take up hearings on a certificate of appropriateness on APE's plans to make significant changes to the theater's interior.

"They [the two commissions] are going to consider whether to reward a certificate of appropriateness and what conditions they will impose on APE if they grant it," Thornhill explained.

If the supervisors approve the interior landmark recommendation, that will factor into the decisions of the two commissions, which were initially going to meet separately but will now hold a joint meeting April 13.

Thornhill said she understands the reason for a joint meeting to be "to streamline the process because it'd take twice as much time to do two separate hearings."

Perry told the B.A.R. that "Another Planet is looking forward to the upcoming hearings, especially in light of growing support for and increased understanding of our updated plans for adjustable seating and raked seating sightlines requested by the film community."

Perry touted the endorsement of APE'S plans by several community groups and institutions.

"We are especially gratified by Frameline, Oasis Arts', and BuildOUT California's early and ongoing support and also the recent endorsements by the Castro CBD, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, Donna Sachet, Movies for Maniacs, Lesbians Who Tech, and numerous ADA and accessibility advocates and local Castro residents and businesses," he stated.

He was referring to Frameline, which holds its LGBTQ film festival at the Castro Theatre; Oasis Arts, a residency program for Bay Area artists in the LGBTQIA community; and BuildOUT California, an LGBT industry association focused on the construction trades and related businesses.

Those working to save the seats are also girding for the upcoming hearings.

The Castro Theatre Conservancy, a leading group behind the Save the Castro Theatre Coalition (which opposes the proposed changes), did not respond to a request for comment for this report as of press time.

But the coalition did elaborate on its position in an email announcement sent to supporters March 6. It is "requesting that the Draft Ordinance properly identify the character-defining features outlined in the Landmark Designation Fact Sheet. The Fact Sheet states, 'The seating constitutes a defining characteristic of the space as a historic cinema, configured in classic movie palace fashion in gently curved rows,' and further expresses that the raked floors and sloping aisles in the orchestra mark the Castro Theatre as a classic movie palace.

"Given the significance of the orchestra configuration and the movie-palace seating for film heritage and LGBTQ intangible cultural heritage, and to properly reflect these findings, we are asking the Committee to clarify the language in the Draft Ordinance: replace 'presence of seating' with the words 'fixed theatrical seating configured in movie-palace style,'" the coalition added.

Updated, 3/10/23: This article has been updated to add Oasis Arts to APE's list of supporters and to include comments from Stephen Torres at the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District.

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