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Update on the Castro Theatre Landmarking and Change of Use Permit

On Wednesday, October 5, Karalyn Monteil, President & CEO of San Francisco Heritage (SF Heritage) joined other stakeholders at the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) hearing who provided public comment in support of the urgency of reviewing the extended historic landmark designation for the Castro Theatre to include the interior elements. We also recognized the importance of the seating and LGBTQ and film programming in the theatre’s significance.

Community activist Michael Petrelis speaking during public comment at yesterday’s Historic Preservation Commission hearing.

This testimony was in line with a letter SF Heritage sent to the Planning Department on September 14 informing them of our opposition to the proposed removal of the raked theater seating in the orchestra level of the Castro Theatre. An excerpt of our position expressed in the letter follows:

“SF Heritage appreciates the level of professional attention that APE has given to the restoration of interior elements of the theater, particularly conservation of the chandelier, the auditorium’s cast-plaster details, and the original proscenium. However, SF Heritage objects to the proposed removal of the raked theater seating of the orchestra level for the installation of open tiers or platforms to accommodate temporary seating arrangements.

While the Castro has proven itself adaptable to a variety of performance types, it was designed to be a “movie palace,” intended for the showing and appreciation of film. A limited removal of some rows at the front of the orchestra providing space for dancing or other use could possibly be an acceptable modification, but permanent theatre-style seating is a significant aspect of the Castro Theatre auditorium. We advocate that such a description be included as a character-defining feature in the amended city landmark ordinance initiated by the Board of Supervisors on May 24, 2022, and signed by the mayor on June 3, 2022.”

Our letter also expressed SF Heritage support for including the theatre’s importance as a center of film appreciation and as a significant cultural space for the LGBTQ+ community in the amended city landmark designation. The preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of this special site is as important as the physical details.

The Castro Theatre is located in the heart of the Castro District and is a significant cultural space for the LGBTQ+ community.

The 100-year-old Castro Theatre, which is one of San Francisco’s few remaining movie palaces and located in the heart of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, was designed by renowned Bay Area architect Timothy Pflueger. The exterior of the building was already designated a city landmark in 1976.

Yesterday’s HPC agenda item 5a was postponed to December 7, 2022, when the Commission will consider amending the Castro Theatre’s Landmark Designation to include both exterior and interior character defining features, and update the statement of significance to recognize its deep tradition of LGBTQ+-themed programming and historical associations.

HPC agenda item 5b was also postponed until March 15, 2023 when the Commission will review a request for a Certificate of Appropriateness for interior and exterior alterations of the Castro Theatre by Another Planet Entertainment.

A separate meeting of the Planning Commission is scheduled for today (October 6) to consider amending the Planning Code to permit the sale of alcohol throughout the Castro Theatre and a ‘conditional use’ of the building as a nighttime entertainment venue. The agenda indicates it has also been proposed that this review be postponed to December 8th as part of a joint-hearing with the HPC.

As a reminder, you can livestream the Planning Commission Broadcasts on the following link:

SF Heritage will continue to post news about the hearing details when they are available so that you can join us in making your voice heard in retaining the Castro Theatre as a center for film appreciation and LGBTQ+ programming.

NOIR CITY, Saturday night, January 26, 2013. Every seat filled for a movie from 1951. Photo by David M. Allen. 

We recommend reading this compelling statement from Eddie Muller, Noir Foundation president, and host of Noir Alley on TCM and the Noir City Festival at the Castro Theatre, regarding the pending renovations to the Theatre and the case for retaining the seating.


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