SF's Castro Theatre to start renovations this spring

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday December 11, 2023
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Renovation work on the Castro Theatre is expected to begin this spring, temporarily closing the movie palace for more than 12 months. Photo: Scott Wazlowski
Renovation work on the Castro Theatre is expected to begin this spring, temporarily closing the movie palace for more than 12 months. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

For much of next year and the first half of 2025 the Castro Theatre will be going dark as Another Planet Entertainment undertakes its controversial remodel of the storied movie house. The renovation and restoration project will begin in early spring 2024 and is projected to last until the following summer, according to a news release from the company.

"Another Planet Entertainment is thrilled to begin the work to restore the Castro Theatre to its 1922 architectural glory and ensure its continued place in the hearts of film lovers, music lovers, and the LGBTQ+ community," stated Mary Conde, APE's senior vice president, in the December 11 release.

"In addition to restoring the magnificence of Timothy Pflueger's original design, the Castro Theatre will now be more ADA accessible in the audience, onstage and backstage to all," Conde added. "Additionally, a state-of-the art heating and air conditioning system will be installed, providing comfort and healthful ventilation. Finally, improved concessions, an expanded lobby, the restoration of the original proscenium arch and new, comfortable and flexible seating will make the Castro a venue that respects its heritage while embracing new, and ever more diverse audiences."

The flexible seating was one of the main points of contention between APE and several groups that formed to save the fixed orchestra seating, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. The flexible seating will enable seating arrangements that can be moved in and out of the venue depending on what programming is taking place.

APE previously announced that while movies will still be shown at the historic movie palace, its community benefits package released in March revealed that films will be shown about one-third of the time. APE is best known as a concert promoter, and those types of offerings will also be held at the theater.

For the renovation work, APE has contracted with EverGreene, the largest specialty contractor in the United States, according to the release.

"One of the defining features of the Castro is the tent-like painted ceiling which has been obscured from view for decades," stated Jeff Greene, EverGreene's executive chairman and founder. "This element will be conserved and restored, along with the unique sgraffito murals on the side walls, bring[ing] the whole back into harmony with Pflueger's original vision."

Sgraffito is a technique wherein layers of plaster are tinted in different colors to a glazed surface.

Programming to temporarily end

The last day of programming at the theater is slated to be February 4, the release stated.

Later this month, the San Francisco Gay Men's chorus will hold its annual Christmas Eve performances at the theater, which this year are scheduled for 5, 7, and 9 p.m. Sunday, December 24. Tickets are available on the chorus' website.

David Perry, a gay man who is an APE spokesperson, said that interior scaffolding is slated to go up in March and exterior scaffolding, dependent on weather, will go up in March or early April. He said, "details will be forthcoming shortly" on what that February 4 event is going to look like specifically, but it will be "highlighting the Castro community and the LGBTQ+ community."

Pro-APE neighborhood group Neighbors for a Restored Castro Theatre expressed excitement over the news to the B.A.R. Monday afternoon.

"Castro residents want meaningful progress and, despite some opposition, the neighborhood is finally getting the shot of adrenaline we need," Joe Sangirardi, a gay man who is co-chair of the group, stated to the B.A.R. "This restoration and revitalization is essential for our neighborhood's vibrancy.

"Get ready for the Castro's second act!" he added.

Getting to this moment took as many twists and turns as the history of the movie house itself.

The imbroglio over the theater began nearly two years ago, when APE, which runs the Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco's Civic Center area, 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.

However, during numerous hearings over this spring, summer and fall, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the prerequisite ordinances allowing APE's vision to move forward. The most recent — allowing second-floor alcohol sales throughout the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District — was approved October 24, as the B.A.R. reported.

Rob Byrne, a straight ally who is the president of the conservancy's board of directors, stated to the B.A.R., "The Castro Theatre Conservancy remains engaged and anticipates emerging opportunities for involvement at the Castro Theatre. Collaborating with the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and key stakeholders, CTC is dedicated to ensuring comprehensive oversight that safeguards the integrity and preservation of this cherished landmark, inside and out."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the B.A.R. that "none of us is thrilled to see the theater closing for an extended period, but the work is necessary and too long deferred."

"It should be an even more spectacular space when it reopens, restored and ready for its next hundred years," Mandelman continued.

Tina Aguirre, a Latinx genderqueer person who is director of the cultural district, told the B.A.R. that "the timing of starting [the renovation work] in the spring will reduce the impacts for small businesses that make most of their money in the fall months leading up to Christmas" and that "we look forward to the new and improved version of the Castro Theatre where we can come together as LGBTQ community members and allies in a more splendid space for movies, concerts and events."

Updated, 12/11/23: This article has been updated with additional comments from David Perry and comments from Supervisor Mandelman and Tina Aguirre of the Castro cultural district.

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