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As First Public Meeting on Castro Theatre Looms This Week, Debate Over Removing Seats Still Rages

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As First Public Meeting on Castro Theatre Looms This Week, Debate Over Removing Seats Still Rages

There’s sure to be much gnashing of teeth at Thursday night’s first community meeting on the overhaul of the Castro Theatre, with the fate of its lower-floor seats, and whether the venue’s programming will still be LGBTQ-themed enough, still very unresolved issues.

It might be fair to compare Another Planet Entertainment’s proposed overhaul of the Castro Theatre to the mighty battle taking place on the other side of the Bay, the protests blocking construction at People’s Park in Berkeley. Diehard preservationists are up in arms over the likely to transition of the movie house to more of a live music venue, and neighborhood groups feel they’ve been left out of the loop on changes forthcoming to the 100-year-old theater.

Will people chain themselves to the theater in protest? I wouldn’t rule it out! Either way, representatives from Another Planet Entertainment (APE) are sure to get earful from angry longtime Castro Theatre fans at Thursday night’s town hall meeting at the Castro, the first public meeting in  the matter since APE announced they were taking over programming for the venue.

Against this backdrop, the Chronicle has a nice John King writeup on the architectural restoration of the Castro Theatre. There are some great details about and photos of some of the well-word antique ornamentation, some of these are sights that even longtime patrons have never seen before. But a contentious plan to remove seating from the lower level of the theater has galvanized a group of preservationists now calling themselves the Castro Theatre Conservancy, and they’ve allegedly lined up support from a who’s who of the film industry, including directors Wes Anderson, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, and Steven Spielberg, among many others.

APE has a reputation for thoughtfully renovating historic theaters (Oakland’s Fox Theatre, and the Warfield back when APE co-founder Gregg Perloff was still president of Bill Graham Presents). And they’ve hired designers from CAW Architects (who restored Berkeley’s Greek Theater) and Page & Turnbull, an architecture and planning firm that specializes in historic preservation. But nobody’s arguing with the restorations of Timothy Pflueger’s design details or the large frescoes, its changes to the venue seating that’s riled opposition.  

As First Public Meeting on Castro Theatre Looms This Week, Debate Over Removing Seats Still RagesImage: Page-Turnbull/SF Planning

As seen above, APE is proposing ripping out the current lower level seats, and replacing them with four tiers on which removable seats can be placed. So there would be seating for some shows, but not others, and that has preservationists concerned that the theater is definitely moving away from its traditional steady diet of films. The Chronicle notes that the goal of the theater’s new management is to “have the Castro be active five nights a week,” which has some in the neighborhood worried that the theater will be turned into just another cookie-cutter nightclub.

It’s also notable that storage for all those removable seats might have to be off-site, which would mean all that load-in will need to be justified by events with big ticket sales. As Perloff has previously said in an interview with Hoodline, with regards to the place remaining a repertory movie house, “It doesn’t help anyone if 12 people show up to a film.”

Interestingly, while the Castro Theatre does have landmark designation status, the seats inside are not part of that — and King points out they’re not even that old. That landmark designation only applies to the building’s front facade and marquee, though Supervisor Rafael Mandelman may try to expand that designation.  

Still, it’s unclear whether any activists or community organizers can stop the renovation. And to see the possible shape of things to come, take a look at the Castro Theatre’s new website. That site was pretty much never updated at all through much of the pandemic, now it has APE’s fingerprints all over it. (Complete with links to other APE venues like Tahoe’s Harveys and Oxbow Napa, and of course, an online petition to support what APE is doing). Those changes arrived quietly and without much notice, but there’s a set of preservationists who are unlikely to let changes to the theater itself happen quietly or without notice.

Related: Negative Reactions Continue to News About Castro Theatre Changes, While Actual Details Remain Scarce [SFist]

Image: Michael P. via Yelp

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