Another Planet Entertainment Looks At The Castro Theater’s Past And Future In Renovation Plans

The original stage arch discovered at the Castro Theatre. Photo: Andrew Rosas for Another Planet Entertainment

Behind the huge cinema screen of the Castro Theater hides a recently rediscovered architectural treasure.

During a recent tour of the beloved film and LGBTQ community venue – in preparation for renovations designed to both preserve the historic building and make it better suited to a wider range of live events – its original stage arch and show curtain were visible, decades later obscured by a large-format screen installed in 1954.

The gold-painted plaster cherub faces on the flanking pillars of the arch are chipped in places, but the green and pink velvet curtain is surprisingly vivid. Silent movie stars Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson can be imagined shimmering in the ornate setting a century ago when the theater opened in June 1922, ghosts of Hollywood’s past, much like the traditional neighborhood cinema itself.

But now, amid Castro’s 100th birthday celebrations, there are plans to reuse the proscenium as a stage feature.

For Mary Conde, Senior Vice President of the theater’s new management team, Another Planet Entertainment, the opportunity to restore gems like this from the theater’s past was one of the reasons she’s thrilled to be a part. surveillance of the historic room by the company.

“I’ve been a Timothy Pflueger fan for 25 years,” Conde said of the famed theater architect. “When I received the first phone call that we had the opportunity to have a conversation with the Castro Theater, my heart skipped a beat.”

Mary Conde, Vice President of Production for Another Planet Entertainment, stands next to a newly discovered historic stage curtain at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Photo: Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

For longtime patrons, when The Chronicle announced in January that the Berkeley concert promotion company had taken over management of the theater from its owners, the Nasser family, it came as a shock. Many locals, as well as members of the arts and LGBTQ communities, wondered what this would mean for the future of the landmark in San Francisco, which was just emerging from a two-year closure due to the pandemic. . They feared the worst when Another Planet Entertainment CEO Gregg Perloff announced the venue’s schedule would be diversified to include live concerts and comedy shows similar to his other properties like Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco and the Fox Theater in Oakland.

The local response included open letters from the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District expressing concern about future uses of the space and anger that many of the theater’s longtime community actors and presenters had not been alerted beforehand.

Now, a new non-profit organization called the Castro Theater Conservancy has formed, with a mission “to preserve and protect San Francisco’s historic Castro Theater as a cultural and entertainment venue for films and performances in direct”.

While Perfloff, whose company also produces the Outside Lands music festival at Golden Gate Park, said live events would be a bigger priority under Another Planet’s stewardship, he assured critics in January that he there would be “a bit of everything”. The intention is to have film and film festivals, as well as music, comedy and conferences.

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Media awaited the stars’ arrival at the Castro Theater for a benefit screening of the film “Milk” on October 28, 2008. Photo: Brant Ward/The Chronicle 2008

Those plans haven’t changed, according to Another Planet. Conde and David Perry, Another Planet’s spokesperson on the Castro Theater project, also stressed that the company will continue to uphold Castro’s tradition of LGBTQ programming. They cite screenings of “The Times of Harvey Milk” and “The Ruth Brinker Story” in May and a benefit screening of the biopic “Milk” this month as recent examples, adding that the company will continue to prioritize the collaborating with film festivals that have long called Castro home, including SFFilm and Frameline.

Representatives for Another Planet have acknowledged that the rollout of the initial news of his involvement with the Castro has not gone as smoothly as they would have liked, but Conde and Perry say they hope to forge a better relationship with him. stakeholders and ensure better communication in the future.

Mary Conde, vice president of production for Another Planet Entertainment, points to backstage wear and tear in April at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. First opened in 1922, the theater was robbed and vandalized twice a week in March as the facility, with its schedule now taken over by APE, prepares to revitalize the century-old venue to include live music , comedy and community. events in addition to movies. Photo: Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

In March, Another Planet submitted a proposed renovation plan written by Palo Alto firm CAW Architects.

These plans include removing the theater’s existing floor seating, which Conde says is not original for the theater, and altering the slope of the floor to create standing room for live events. Multi-level platforms with movable seats could then be added, similar to what Another Planet did when it renovated the Fox Theater.

These changes were met with resistance from film and community groups, including the new Castro Theater Conservancy.

“San Francisco has the most vibrant film culture in the country, and the Castro is its historic soul,” said Peter Pastreich, executive director of the Conservancy, whose members include leading filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Wes Anderson, among others. celebrities. “The CTC wants to see the Castro Theater retain the historic orchestra seats and sloping floor, both of which are essential to preserving the cinematic experience.”

Perry said Another Planet is currently undertaking a survey of sight lines before making final decisions on seats and angles for new platforms.

Other proposed changes include removing the concession area from the lobby and replacing it with mobile concession stands at the back of the auditorium and in the mezzanine lobby.

Improvements that won’t be visible to customers include the addition of a green room, acoustic upgrades and a new ventilation system. ADA upgrades, including the addition of ramps and wheelchair-accessible seating arrangements, are also underway.

The bulk of the renovation work is not expected to start before January.

Here’s how the Castro Theater will change, according to renovation plans submitted to SF

CAW Architects plans show potential changes to the slope of the Castro Theater auditorium. Photo: TCA Architects

Some basic work, Conde said, is already underway, such as upgrades to electrical, plumbing and other essential systems. Repairs to an incident that damaged the theater’s neon blade in September, two burglaries in March and box office vandalism have also begun, though shattered leaded glass on the lobby doors remains covered.

Stephen Torres, Co-Chair of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, said while his organization appreciates the work Another Planet has already done restoring the Castro’s exterior and repairing its neon lighting and marquee, she also remains concerned about seating and other modifications that could dramatically change who is able to present and attend events at the Castro Theater.

“If it turns into a shell, even a beautifully preserved shell, how is our community supposed to be elevated and centered?” Torres said. “You can’t focus on one part of preservation and not the other. It must be a global and comprehensive approach.

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An Art Deco chandelier can be seen on the ceiling of the Castro Theater in April. First opened in 1922, the theater was robbed and vandalized twice a week in March as the facility, with its schedule now taken over by independent Berkeley concert promotion company Another Planet Entertainment, prepares to revitalize the century-old venue to include live music, comedy and community events in addition to movies. Photo: Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

As the debate over its future continues, the Castro hosts the Frameline film festival until Sunday, June 26 and some screenings and live events are scheduled until September 25.

Currently, plans for the theater’s renovation are being reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. In May, however, San Francisco supervisors voted unanimously to approve an upgrade to the Castro’s historic status proposed by supervisor Rafael Mandelman. This change will extend protections from the facade of the building to its interior spaces.

Another Planet officials said the company fully supports expanding the historic designation indoors.

Some of the Castro’s glorious backdrops are already on better display. Early work improved the theater’s lighting, which highlights interior details like the auditorium’s plasterwork and murals, the painted balcony ceiling, and the canvas portraits flanking the stage.

But it also reveals the century-old wear and tear on the place, like broken springs in Art Deco furniture and patchy carpets. To address features like these, Conde said, Another Planet is in contact with experts from renowned San Francisco architecture firm Page & Turnbull, which specializes in historic preservation; Richmond-based Phoenix Day period lighting specialists; and the conservation society Evergreene in New York, which has worked on sites such as the Herbst Theater in San Francisco and Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Details as insignificant as the redesign of the lost gilt plaster tassels on the ceiling and the restoration of the portraits around the central chandelier are also checked against historical records, including the search for Pflueger’s original drawings at the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive.

“It’s a beautiful theater,” Condé said. “Even with peeling paint and crumbling plaster, you can see through this to beauty.”

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