Last week, Another Planet Entertainment (APE) gave Hoodline a “behind the seat” tour of the historic Castro Theatre, which included viewing a mock-up of proposed seating changes and a backstage tour.
It’s been over a year since APE took over programming for the 100-year-old Castro Theatre, while ownership remains with the Nasser family and Bay Properties Inc.
APE proposed a much-needed refurbishment of the abandoned Castro Theatre, as well as the removal of the orchestra-level seating and replacing it with four-tiered platform sections with removable seats.
Four of the suggested seating options at the Castro Theatre. | Photo: Stephen Bracco/Hoodline
In January, APE released a new rendering of the proposed seating changes, including a motorized sloping floor.
APE Senior Vice President Mary Conde led the Hoodline tour, which began with a mock-up of four possible seating options mounted on top of a riser. Two seats are made by church chair manufacturer Bertolini, another by Eldridge, and one by Series Seating called the Model K chair.
A video of the motorized floor can be viewed while sitting on the chairs offered at the Castro Theatre.
“Over the past few weeks, Another Planet has been testing a number of new locations for the Castro Theater and we have yet to do a few more ‘seat tastings’,” APE spokesman David Perry told Hoodline. “Goal: To make sure we have the most comfortable, most adaptable, and most appropriate movie seat, including line of sight considerations and cup holders.”
After judging the chairs, the tour continued backstage to view the Castro Theater proscenium, which APE also offered to restore.
Standing water was visible backstage, and Condé told Hoodline that the basement was currently flooded and inaccessible. Four sump pumps were used to remove water from a recent storm that flooded the basement, Conde said.
In addition, Conde explained that the small green room on the side of the stage would also be upgraded and expanded.
Looking up at the ceiling of the Castro Theatre, Condé told Hoodline that the restoration work would take approximately six months. Restorers will need to carefully inspect the ceiling to determine the amount of restoration work that needs to be done.
The ceiling of the Castro Theater will also be restored. | Photo: Stephen Bracco/Hoodline
The back wall of the Castro Theater was demolished decades ago to accommodate a larger screen. | Photo: Stephen Bracco/Hoodline
Additional renovations include removing the concession counter in the lobby, expanding the women’s restroom, improving the ventilation and electrical systems, adding a dressing room on the first floor, and possibly adding an elevator with access from the lobby to the second floor.
All of this work is currently on hold while District 8 Superintendent Rafael Mandelman’s proposal to update the landmark’s designation goes through city approvals and additional permits.
In January, the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) voted unanimously to recommend that the Castro Historic Theater be upgraded to a Board of Supervisors. The Castro Theater was officially designated San Francisco Landmark No. 100 on September 3, 1977.
“Another Planet Entertainment has always supported the interior design of the Castro Theater and is pleased with today’s unanimous vote to do so,” APE spokesman David Perry said at the time.
However, the hearing left ambiguity regarding the locations at the orchestra level. As gay historian Gerard Koskovich explained, the landmark’s designation fact sheet defines “seating configured in the style of a classical cinema hall in smoothly curved rows” as the “defining characteristic” of the Castro Theatre, which must therefore be protected.”
The layout of the proposed platforms. | Photo: Stephen Bracco/Hoodline
April promises to be a month of gossip about the theatre. The sign will be submitted to the Committee on Land Management (Melgar, Preston, Peskin) on April 3, followed by a review of the full Board of Supervisors on April 4 or 11, and will become effective 30 days after approval. A joint hearing between Planning and HPC is scheduled for April 13th.
While the update won’t be official at the time of the joint hearing, Mandelman told Hoodline: “Planning and HPC have said the updated benchmarks will be used for decisions on the 13th, even though they haven’t technically gone into effect yet. .”
“I believe in the word of Planning and HPC, and in addition, this project requires at least one approval, which can be appealed to the Supervisory Board,” Mandelman added.
In recent months, APE has enlisted the support of the Frameline Film Festival, the SF Gay Choir, the Castro Organs Association, Movies For Maniacs, the Castro/Upper Market Charity District, and Donna Saché.
Opponents of the proposed plans include the Castro Theater Coalition, which includes the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, Castro Merchants, Castro Theater Security, Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club, SF Heritage, SF Neon, Dan Nicoletta , Clive Jones, Joshua Grannell (also known as Peach Christ) and others. [Full disclosure: Steven Bracco, Hoodline’s Castro reporter, is a board member of the CQCD and member of the Castro Theatre Coalition.]
Earlier this month, APE released a summary of its welfare package. “The Castro Theater and Another Planet Entertainment are deeply committed to reviving the iconic theater and ensuring that it remains the epicenter of the Castro community for another century,” explains APE. “This project and effort is a prime example of how local businesses and performing arts organizations can support and honor our city’s past while adapting to the realities of future needs to ensure that the spirit and activities of Castro Theater are preserved for generations.”
The final rendering of the proposed standing room plan. | Image: Castro Theater
“We present and plan to present an eclectic program of films, music, comedy, private and community events, and LGBTQ+ content that is affirmative, diverse, and always mindful of the historic neighborhood in which they live,” APE added. APE says it has provided $15 million to restore and upgrade the Castro Theatre.
APE states that it “commits that 33% of theater programming will be devoted to film screenings and film festivals organized by groups such as, but not limited to, the Jewish Film Festival, the Arab Film Festival, Cinema Italia, the Third I South Asian Independent Film Festival, Berlin and not only”, as well as the Silent Film Festival”.
“Another Planet’s robust community benefits package for Castro Theater has been put together with extensive input from local businesses, community members and stakeholders, and is now available online,” Perry told Hoodline. “Over time, more details will certainly come to light.”
In January, APE told the San Francisco Chronicle that it intended to host 175 events a year, leaving the theater without power for about 190 days. At 33%, this equates to 58 days of film-oriented programming. With 11 days already allocated to Frameline, there are 47 days left for all other film festivals and screenings.
Last week, Perry told the Bay Area Reporter, “Daily screenings won’t happen again. It is a fact. Will there be a clear film schedule? Yes”.
“[T]their idea of movie programming seems to be that someone else comes in and pays for it. How nice of them,” said Mark Huestis, longtime event producer for the Castro Theatre. what’s really going on.”
From Bong Joon Ho to Francis Ford Coppola, this is Castro-style March Madness! pic.twitter.com/nMo4Lyl3WS
— Castro Theater (@Castro_Theatre) February 27, 2020
“What shocks me is how disingenuous APE has been to the community in describing their plans for the Castro Theatre,” said Castro Merchants board member Terry Beswick. “I’m not at all interested in anything they say, unless it’s part of a signed contract.”
In March 2020, shortly before closing due to the pandemic, the Castro Theater was scheduled to close for just one day. For comparison, one performance is scheduled for April 29 at the Castro Theatre.
Perry tells Hoodline, “By early April, you will see a number of additional confirmations of events taking place in Castro.”