Castro Theater's future prompts lively debate

There was a full house at the Castro Theater Thursday night.

Community members gathered to voice their opinions on proposed changes to the historic theater.

It was a lively and passionate debate about its future.

The theater's management wanted to add removable seats to accommodate a variety of events.

Opponents spoke at the meeting and said those changes go too far.

Members of the public who arrived early received a rare behind-the- scenes tour of the theater.

Another Planet, the company managing the theater, reached out to the community about its renovation plans.  

Neighbors came to find out about the future of the theater.

"They've got to make money.  They can't let it be empty all the time. The crowds are different than they used to be," said Mark Abramson, who lives nearby.  

Another neighbor, Mary Edna, said: "There was a time when it sounded like the Castro Theater might go away and it wasn't looking good."  

But plans to make the theater a multi-use venue and put in removable seats have been met with fierce opposition

Many said the big picture is about being able to host events such as live concerts without changing the look and feel of the theater's original design.

"They've come up with a system to put chairs back in, folding chairs, temporary chairs.  That's not what this theater was conceived to be," said Peter Pastreich, executive director of Castro Theater Conservancy.  

Mary Conde, senior vice president with Another Planet, showed KTVU the artist rendering of what the theater will look like with the new seats.

"We're very much aware that this is the Castro Theater in the Castro. We want to lean on that heritage. We don't want to do away with it," said Conde.  

Another Planet showed a video designed to demonstrate its commitment to preserving the theater and serving the LGBTQ community.

But opponents raised concerns about  affordability of events after renovations that are estimated to cost $10 to $12 million.

"There's no other theater like the Castro Theater.  And unless the LGBTQ community can access it, we're really, really grievously harmed," said Jesse Sanford, co-chair with Land Use for the Castro LGBTQ Culteral District.

"It will still be the community safe space and beacon that it has always been," Conde said there will be  public meetings with the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission. 

If all goes as planned, Conde expects the renovations will start in Spring of 2023.
Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU