SF planners OK medical use, housing at former gay burlesque venue

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday December 15, 2022
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An artist rendering of the proposed surgical center and residences at the former Nob Hill Theatre shows that the storied marquee will be incorporated into the site. Illustration: Courtesy John Lum Architecture
An artist rendering of the proposed surgical center and residences at the former Nob Hill Theatre shows that the storied marquee will be incorporated into the site. Illustration: Courtesy John Lum Architecture

While it's been more than four years since the last time a hot, young guy strutted his stuff on stage to an appreciative audience at the Nob Hill Theatre, the San Francisco Planning Commission on November 15 approved conditional use authorization for the historic building. When all the refurbishing is completed, the old gay burlesque venue will become a retail service facility offering advanced orthopaedics and sports medicine.

Commissioners voted 7-0 to approve a measure to convert the theater space, which has sat empty since it was sold back in 2018, to a medical facility with four residential spaces sitting atop. The new facility, post renovation, will include 3,824 square feet of medical office space, 3,418 square feet of ambulatory surgery center space, and four dwelling units totaling 6,056 square feet.

The new site will maintain the facade of the original structure but will include a surgical center, with several living spaces above, in a new vertical construction of four stories to the existing ground floor, 50 feet high.

Planning Commission Vice President Katherin Moore and others congratulated the architectural team, led by John Lum, on their work to bring together the historic elements of the old theater with its planned new uses, as well as fitting into the surrounding neighborhood.

"I'm delighted to see a building that fits into context and coordinates with adjoining structures," said Moore, who attended the meeting virtually.

Even before its 50-year run as a gay burlesque theater that closed in 2018, the building had been a popular jazz bar called Club Hangover and operated under other names, as well. Notable, too, said Brett Gladstone, lawyer and project sponsor, was the fact that the jazz clubs had operated at a time when Black musicians couldn't perform east of Van Ness Avenue.

The city's planning department has designated the site at 729 Bush Street a "historic resource" eligible for the California Register of Historic Places for its association with gay culture and history.

The site was purchased by Dr. James Chen, an orthopedic surgeon, for $2.7 million from owners Larry Hoover and his husband, Gary Luce, who retired to Palm Springs. Chen, a straight ally, stated he plans to "be a good steward of the history of the site," the B.A.R. reported at the time. According to his website, Chen works with the athletic departments of several local schools and is the team physician for the San Francisco City Football Club, an amateur soccer organization.

Hoover and Luce had tried for many months to find a buyer who would continue to operate the theater but were unsuccessful. They donated a large collection of items to the GLBT Historical Society's archive, including posters, performance and production ephemera, a cubicle for viewing videos, a stage set piece, a wooden sculpture of a male torso, a T-shirt, and a leather sling. These items are now part of the society's permanent historical archive and available for researchers, a release about the sale noted.

The new owner plans to showcase the history of the site, as was mentioned at a status hearing on the project in August. Besides keeping the aforementioned sign and the auditorium, plans to acknowledge the building's history include: creating a website about the history of the theater, including personal histories from former patrons and staff; installing a historical plaque on the exterior of the building; installing an interior historical display; and utilizing a nighttime sidewalk projection to highlight the building's past uses.

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