Reel World

With new operators, what's in store for the Castro Theater?

House of Games Now we know why Ted Nasser, whose family built the Castro Theater in 1922, was so reluctant to talk about Blumenfeld Theaters' expiring lease to operate the movie palace ("Breathless," Feb. 14): He was thinking about running the big house himself. Nasser announced last week -- after rumors fanned through the local exhibition scene (and yours truly left several messages on his answering machine) -- that on Aug. 1 the Burlingame-based Nasser Bros. Theaters will take over the day-to-day operation of the Castro for the first time since 1976. "Now's the time to do it, if I'm going to step back in the batter's box," Nasser told me. Although we presume profit was a large motivator, Nasser declared, "We think we'll get enjoyment out of it." (His first cousin, Don, is a partner.)

The crucial (good) news is that longtime programmer Anita Monga will continue in her post with instructions not to change the recipe. The other plus is that the Blumenfelds -- who installed a brighter screen and upgraded the sound system but who otherwise spent little on upkeep -- are history. The question now is whether the Nassers are committed to restoring the Castro to its former glory. Ted Nasser said his first priority is replacing the seats, but he allowed that he hadn't yet priced the job. Does he plan to raise ticket prices? "I don't know," he replied, admitting that he wasn't sure what the current tariff is. (It's $7.50.) So what is the Nassers' plan? I'm not sure even they know.

Some folks, including Tom Rielly, the businessman who founded PlanetOut Corp. and the force behind the nonprofit Castro Foundation, aren't waiting around to find out. "Even though this is a privately owned building, we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its fate," Rielly said. "To our thinking, it's not necessarily reasonable to ask the [Nasser] family to do everything that needs to be done. We don't care how the theater gets fixed. All we care [about] is that it does get fixed up." Rielly is currently fund-raising for a feasibility study, a book, and a documentary about the Castro; he's also lobbying city hall, where Mark Leno is an ally. "The way the Paramount [in Oakland] was restored is our gold standard," Rielly explains. "Our goal is just to help the Nassers do the very best job they can."

House of Wax Another group with an edifice complex, the Ninth Street Media Arts Consortium, recently bought a three-story building on Ninth between Mission and Howard, just down the road from its current digs. As a result, the consortium -- comprised of the Film Arts Foundation, Frameline, the National Asian American Telecommunications Association, Cine Acción, the Jewish Film Festival, and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture -- will launch a capital campaign immediately, though it won't move in until next summer. "We hope to bring in some other media arts nonprofits," Frameline executive director and designated point person Michael Lumpkin confided. "But the first thing is to get the current tenants into the new space and then see how much room we have left."

 
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