If you care one way or the other over the controversy regarding the Castro Theatre's seats, you may want to carve out some time to speak up at a crucial hearing on the matter this Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.
The now 14 month-old-and-counting controversy over Another Planet Entertainment (APE) taking over operations of the Castro Theatre, and their extremely contentious plan to remove the seats and replace them with occasional temporary seating more akin to a standard concert hall, has a big City Hall meeting scheduled for this Monday that could change the fate of the theater. After the SF Historical Preservation Committee voted in February to recommend extending the theater’s landmark designation to “add interior features to the designation,” (or in activist terms, “Save the Seats”), that recommendation goes before the SF Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee this Monday at a 1:30 p.m. meeting.
Whether you’re a “Save the Seats” person or an advocate for APE’s renovation and revivification plans, that meeting will be live on SFGovTV. If you want to chime in for public comment, the number is (415) 655-0001, and the access code is 2499 108 6654. The committee will not be making the final decision, but they will make a recommendation that will certainly carry a lot of weight when the matter eventually goes before the full SF Board of Supervisors.
That February 1 vote by the Historical Preservation Committee recommended that the owners preserve “the presence of seating” in the theater. Folks who want to see the permanent seating retained hope to change that language to landmark and preserve “fixed theatrical seating configured in movie-palace style.”
“It isn’t about the physical seats themselves, but what they ensure,” executive co-chair of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District Advisory Board Stephen Torres tells SFist. “And what they ensure is that legacy programming that is important to the livelihood of this community, this vulnerable community and its cultural legacy, is better ensured by retaining this theatrical seating format and the rake of the floor as a theatrical venue.”
But the theater’s owners, the Nasser family, told the Chronicle through their attorney that preserving that fixed seating would “put the continued viability of the Castro Theatre into severe jeopardy.” They argue that the theater cannot live on movie screenings and LGBTQ programming alone, and the Castro’s only path to financial viability is by offering standard live music concert programming with removable seating.
That removable seating “is the best way to ensure the future of the Castro Theatre. It’s the only way,” APE spokesperson David Perry told the Chronicle. “No one wants to see the theater closed. Another Planet wants it open with enthusiastic crowds of concertgoers, film lovers and members of the community.”
That’s not convincing to preservation advocates, who see no guarantee that APE wouldn’t rip out the seats, and then back out of their commitment to manage the theater, with the damage already done.
“Another Planet is a tenant. Like any other tenant, they could leave a year or two from now,” Torres tells SFist.
“The theater could cease to be the Castro Theatre and become a rock-climbing gym, or some other purpose,” he continues. “That is the real danger; that these changes are allowed to be made, and they’re allowed to demolish the rake of the auditorium and tear out the seats. There’s nothing preventing it from being something else. That’s the important part of this historic preservation language.”
Another joint hearing of the Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Commission looms on April 13, where APE will seek, among other things, a recommendation to sell alcohol and liquor on-site. That may be a path to using the theater’s dark nights to host private events, like banquets or weddings. (Or as one heckler shouted at an August 11 community meeting, “Weddings for billionaires?”)
The bit of news the Chronicle broke in their article today was that Supervisor Aaron Peskin had tried to broker a compromise between the two sides at a secret meeting in the fall.
“It ended badly and I told everybody to leave,” Peskin told. “Nobody could agree on anything, and I felt that I was wasting my time.”
Whether he likes it or not, as a member of the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee, Peskin will have another one of those contentious meetings on his hands this Monday at 1:30 p.m.
Image: Steven Bracco, Hoodline