The entertainment company behind proposed renovations to the Castro Theatre says it’s committed to the project, despite rumblings to the contrary.
Amid rumors that it’s lost interest, Another Planet Entertainment, which currently operates the theater, told The Examiner last week it still intends to embark on a large-scale renovation of the historic theater in San Francisco’s Castro District.
“Another Planet remains fully committed to the restoration and revitalization of the historic Castro Theatre to ensure its viability for this and future generations including an ongoing commitment to its cherished place within the LGBTQ, film and other communities,” David Perry, a spokesperson for Another Planet, told The Examiner. “We look forward to our continuing work with the theater’s owners, the Nasser Family, and the City and County of San Francisco as we move forward.”
The proposal has drawn the ire of some people in the neighborhood, who fear Another Planet’s renovation could strip the building of important historical elements. They also worry that the company’s management of the theater could result in less LGBTQ-focused programming and shift its focus away from films.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro District, told The Examiner that his “impression is they were taken aback by the extent of the opposition and are evaluating their options.”
“They didn’t follow through with some of their commitments to neighborhood organizations,” Mandelman said. “They’ve largely kept their door shut, they’ve been having minimal programming at the theater, they’ve basically stopped engaging with the community and with me.”
The coming weeks should provide clarity.
The City’s Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled to hear a proposal to expand the theater’s landmark designation on Feb. 1. If approved, the designation would include — and thus protect — the building’s orchestra seating.
The most controversial physical aspect of Another Planet’s plans are its proposed changes to remove orchestra seating and place tiered levels atop the current sloped floor. It’s a change that Another Planet believes would better suit live events, but opponents allege would ruin the viewing experience for movies.
Another Planet says it supports the broader landmark designation, but disagrees that the seating is an important historical element of the theater.
The Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission are, respectively?? expected to decide on the landmark designation and overall renovation plans in mid-March.
In addition the seating issue, many have raised concerns about the future theater’s commitment to LGBTQ programming, which has long been a staple given its location. Another Planet has maintained that it is “committed to an eclectic program of film, music, comedy, private and community events and LGBTQ+ content that is affirming, diverse and always cognizant of the historic neighborhood in which it lives,” according to its website.
The theater celebrated its 100th birthday last year, and is need of renovation. Another Planet, which also runs the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco and the Fox Theater in Oakland, announced in January 2022 that it would take on renovations of the Castro Theatre, though ownership would stay with the Nasser family and Bay Properties Inc.
Those plans quickly drew scrutiny from Castro residents and the broader San Francisco community that has yet to subside.
Mandelman suggested that Another Planet likely underestimated the “international constituency” of people that have urged it to maintain a commitment to showing films.
The supervisor said he hopes Another Planet can both show films and hosts live events in the theater in a way that is financially viable. If not, he said he is “hoping that there are other actors that might be able to.”
There has been some speculation that Alfonso Felder, an executive vice president of the San Francisco Giants, could be interested in the building. Felder co-founded the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which works to support and preserve The City’s historic theaters.
Emails from Mandelman’s staff related to the theater were obtained through a public records request and posted online by Michael Petrelis, an activist opposed to the renovation. In one email, Mandelman’s staffer wrote in search of Felder’s contact information.
Felder told The Examiner that he and Mandelman only had a casual conversation about The Castro — a natural topic given the former’s history with community theaters.
Mandelman made clear that Felder is absolutely “not making a play” for the theater.