The now-shuttered Regal UA Stonestown Twin movie theater apparently has some claim to a historic designation, which could throw a monkey wrench into a proposed 2,900-unit housing development.
The ongoing knock on San Francisco is that we’re not building any housing, which is not entirely true. There are a few very exciting and very large developments in the pipeline, not the least of which is the proposed 2,900-unit residential village in the Stonestown Galleria parking lot, a seemingly ingenious retooling of an area that had outgrown its previous, suburban-mall-esque use.
Part of the plan for that gigantic facelift-slash-housing development is the destruction of the Regal UA Stonestown Twin movie theater, and replacing it with an eight-story, 170-unit housing complex that represents 6% of the project's overall housing component. But the Chronicle reports on a possible historic designation for that theater, which already has developer Brookfield Properties drawing up alternate plans with fewer units.
Mind you, this is not even the Stonestown movie theater we know today, the Regal Stonestown Galleria ScreenX. That newer movie theater with the wild and crazy moving seats and other gimmicks opened in 2021, whereas the Regal UA Stonestown has been closed since 2020. And there may have been some brief, shining period where the old theater was a significant attraction, but it is now more of an eyesore concrete husk than anything else, and any historic designation seems as farcical as that old historic laundromat saga from a few years back.
Yet it could have some historic worth on a technicality, because it's the only element of any historic value, at all, on the proposed development site. The Chronicle reports that, via a piece of the larger project's environmental impact report (EIR), the 1970-built theater "was eligible to be listed under the California Register of Historic Resources due to its ‘New Formalist’ architecture style, which the report says is ‘rare’ in San Francisco.” The theater is not actually on the Register of Historic Resources and likely never will be, but this suggests it could be eligible.
But this still has Brookfield Properties developing contingency plans, should they need them — because the Historic Preservation Commission and Board of Supervisors may have the last word on this. One of these alternatives is to knock off 70 units from what was planned on this particular site for 100 units total, built behind the existing facade and lobby, to keep whatever historic elements should need to stay in place; another alternative is to knock off 160 units for a mere 10-unit building, to preserve more of the old structure.
There is no current groundswell of sentiment to save the old theater’s facade. But the SF Historic Preservation Commission did hold a very preliminary hearing Wednesday, and feelings were a bit mixed on whether this old building has real historic value.
“When I look at this building, it’s just another old theater that’s pretty much dead,” commissioner Chris Foley said Wednesday, per the Chronicle. “We really have to go and let this developer get this thing approved.”
Commissioner Kate Black disagreed. “I feel very strongly that we have few examples of this style of architecture in the city, and this is the only remaining theater done by [architect George K. Raad] that has survived, and it’s a very good example of this style of architecture,” she said.
This issue is already generating a healthy number of outrage tweets, but nothing may come of any of this. And the project has far larger challenges than the movie theater; they have to get zoning changes to the neighborhood, and there are environmental impact reports galore still due. The residential village is likely years from breaking ground.
But if some ticky-tack historic designation at an insignificant ex-theater does end up driving down the number of units built, this will feel like a move we have seen before.
Image: Wes M. via Yelp