Another Planet Entertainment, the organization that launched Outside Lands and operates the Fox Theater in Oakland and Bill Graham Civic Auditorium among other venues, has signed a deal to take over operations of the historic Castro Theatre. And, sadly for film buffs, this means it will largely cease to be a repertory movie house — however it will continue to host film festivals and other film events.
The Castro Theatre has mostly sat dark for the past two years, after closing during the start of the pandemic and only reopening for a few select screenings in 2021, and for the Matrix Resurrections premiere last month. And today we get word that the families that have run theater since it was built have decided to hand over operations to Another Planet in 2023.
The plan, as it stands, is for the theater to close for a "six- to eight-month renovation" prior to a grand reopening next year, and for the theater to become more of a live entertainment venue with music, comedy, community and private events, as well as film. And in addition to installing a new screen and projection equipment, Another Planet expects to invest millions of dollars into updated electrical systems, an updated sound system, new lighting, ventilation, and a new marquee. The iconic neon sign, also, will get a refurb.
While the Castro has, for decades, played host to live events, they were — like drag queen Peaches Christ's Midnight Mass series — often film-related. And one can imagine there being conflicts down the line between the pressures to fill the schedule with sell-out acts and the tradition of showing old movies.
In some reassurance to Bay Area film buffs, Sarah Fink Dempsey, VP of Marketing at Another Planet, tells SFist, "Another Planet Entertainment plans on continuing the rich tradition of film festivals at the Castro. We look forward to working with the festivals that have historically taken place; the planned improvements include updated equipment to enhance the film experience."
The Nasser family, descendants of the Nasser Brothers who built the theater in 1922, are framing the change as a next chapter for the venue.
"After operating the Castro Theatre for nearly a hundred years, we have chosen to partner with Another Planet Entertainment for the next evolution of our historic theatre,” said Chris Nasser Padian, vice president of the family property group Bay Properties, in a statement. "Another Planet is an ideal partner, as they have a rich history with the City and in rehabilitating historic venues. Bay Properties is excited that the partnership with APE will continue the legacy of the Castro Theatre and Castro neighborhood."
No doubt, the Castro neighborhood has needed a boost, with a plague of retail vacancy in recent years and a palpable decline in nightlife energy that was compounded by the pandemic. But some culture clash could come into play here down the line, depending on how the programming goes. A theater that has primarily hosted drag queen events, LGBTQ film festivals, Q&As with old movie stars, a longstanding silent film festival, and vintage double-features suddenly becoming a popular music venue that draws constant crowds will likely rile some denizens of the 'hood — but we'll see! At 1,400 seats, the theater has half the capacity of the Fox, and therefore wouldn't be a logical choice for any big musical acts — but the capacity could change if seats are removed.
As Another Planet co-founder and CEO Gregg Perloff tells the Chronicle, "We want people to say Another Planet has changed the cultural identity of the Bay Area. We want this neighborhood to really explode with this pairing."
First up, though, will be dealing with the city to get renovations done — on a historic landmark no less. And Another Planet says that events already on the schedule — though the theater has not published a schedule in almost two years — will happen as planned pending the closure for a renovation.
Update: Hoodline has word, via Another Planet, that a Centennial Celebration for the theater is in the works for June 22nd, and they are working with Bay Properties on the planning. And they are also holding dates at the theater for both Frameline and the SF International Film Festival this year.
Photo: Pistor Musiol