Another Planet Entertainment hails supervisors' Castro Theatre vote, protesters dismayed

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday decided not to approve a move, which would have prevented changes to the interior of the historic Castro Theatre

The board voted 6 to 4 to exclude language to add the theaters' orchestra seats to the building's landmark designation. The move would have prevented the new operator of the theater from changing its interior to include removable seats to host concerts and other live events. 

A group of protesters, who have adopted the slogan: ‘Save the Seats,' gathered outside City Hall in support of preserving the original seating. 

Organizations like the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and the Castro Theatre Conservancy banded together in protest against the APE's plans by creating the Friends of the Castro Theatre Coalition. Activists say the fixed theatrical seating is as character-defining as the building's exterior, which first received landmark status decades ago. 

Last week, the Castro Merchants Association, a group that also previously detested the plans, also voted to no longer oppose the renovations. 

Castro Theatre

"With fixed seating already, we have diverse programming. We want to keep diverse programming without turning the Castro Theatre into a nightclub," said one protester. 

Another Planet Entertainment (APE), which began operating the theater last year, says the proposed renovations are the only way to keep the theater financially viable. 

In a statement, David Perry & Associates, who represents Another Planet Entertainment, said this was a win for APE and thanked the supervisors. "Everyone who treasures the Castro Theatre, the Castro neighborhood, and the film and LGBTQ programming that is so much a part of both should be grateful tonight. An irreplaceable international icon now has the ability to be preserved, restored and to evolve for this and future generations," Perry said. 

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes the Castro, wrote on Twitter: "Both supporters and opponents of Another Planet Entertainment have treated the landmarking of the Castro Theatre as an opportunity to relitigate merits of APE's project. I am not comfortable doing that especially if the intention is to kill the APE project." 

Reasonable minds can disagree on the different visions for the Castro Theatre, and the likelihood of some alternative to the APE project being able to proceed in a way that will not result in an indefinitely shuttered Castro Theatre," Mandelman said. 

Supervisor Ahsha Safai said that as a city planner and the son of an architect, he is for progress and preservation simultaneously, and voted in favor of APE's plans.  

Supervisor Joel Engardio said that the Castro Theatre does need to be saved, but it's not going to happen by landmarking fixed seats: it needs to be able to offer a wide variety of events to stay alive. 

"It's important to note that physical seats are not what brings the Castro to life, people do. That's why we must create spaces where a new generation can make new memories in a magnificent old building outfitted for the future," he said. "A theater completely preserved in amber and closed will not help the Castro neighborhood -- a thriving theater will." 

During the meeting, opponent Supervisor Aaron Peskin quoted a 1977 letter from Harvey Milk that urged the preservation of the Castro Theatre, warning that landmarks can never return once they're gone. 

He added that APE will need to invite the Castro's vibrant community into the conversation to gain support, rather than pick it apart. 

"I believe that unless a genuine effort is made to develop robust and enforceable condition of APE's use with real community oversight, this is a rift that will last and not be healed for a long, long time," Peskin said. 

Supervisor Dean Preston, who also voted in opposition to the measure, said APE could still find a way to better preserve the theatre while making the space more accommodating to live events.

"Or if they don't want to, they can make space for someone else to come in, as many community groups have suggested," he said. 

The theater had historically built out a calendar full of film screenings, including matinées during the week and regular double features. Film programming has been scaled back since Another Planet has taken over. 

A Castro Theatre protester who wants to Save the Seats.

They do have a Tina Turner tribute set for Friday where they'll screen ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It' followed by a Movies for Maniacs presentation of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ on its 35th anniversary with special guest Charles Fleischer (who voiced Roger Rabbit) set to appear in person for a Q and A. 

Frameline film festival, a Castro Theatre mainstay, is slated to kick off its 10-day run on June 14. 

Later this week, the San Francisco Planning Commission and the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission will host a join meeting to vote on whether APE is permitted to add a bar, tiered seating and other changes to the theater's interior. 

Bay City News contributed to this report.

The Castro theatre is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with film festivals.

Castro Theatre