A month after its final public events before renovations began, the Castro Theatre is undergoing the first phase of its glow-up, and restorers are already working on the elaborate, gilded ceiling.

After much argument, and no shortage of consternation about the removal of the orchestra-level seats in the theater, the project to renovate the 102-year-old Castro Theatre. Another Planet Entertainment (APE) holds the lease on the space and is overseeing the renovation, with the help of the same restoration expert who worked on Oakland's Fox Theatre back in 2007.

Jeff Greene of EverGreene Architectural Arts, showed KTVU around the upper-level cleanup and restoration work — atop a 35-foot-high scaffolding that now covers the main floor of the theater.

Pointing to a cherub covered in dust and soot, Greene says, "We cleaned this today."

And there were other elements to the painted ceiling details that likely no one in the last 60 or more years has seen, because they're covered with years of cigarette smoke residue and dust.

"There's two huge dragons here, and there are circular dragons in every single one of these panels," Greene said, pointing to more of the darkened ceiling.

Restoration on the ceiling and walls, which is happening before work on the lower level begins, is estimated to take about six months.

The project will also include a new sound system, new electrical wiring, a new lift apparatus for the organ, a new stage, and a new mezzanine-level bar area.

"We want to preserve the sense of this place so when people come back in, it'll be new and a surprise, and it will be as it was originally," Greene tells KTVU.

Like the Fox Theatre, which was renovated and reopened more than 15 years ago after five decades sitting vacant — and becoming home to squatters — the Castro is set to become a vibrant, multi-purpose venue that will host music and comedy events as well as the drag spoofs and film festivals that it always has.

There has been concern from the LGBTQ community that the theater won't be as available or accessible when it reopens for LGBTQ screenings and events. But after some very poor public relations efforts following the initial announcement of APE's takeover in January 2022, the company is trying to assure the community that they intend to be as inclusive as possible, and probably hoping to avoid boycotts down the line.

To that end, they put out this PR video Thursday, seen below, about the final event at the theater on February 4, which was a sing-along screening, with pre-drag-show, of Victor/Victoria.

"We know this is the most important LGBTQ gathering place in the country, if not the world. And we want that community to come here and feel like their palace has been restored," says APE Senior Vice President Mary Conde — sounding notably different than in previous public remarks.

There's no doubt that neither Another Planet, nor, apparently, the Nasser family who owns the theater, expected there to be such a public outpouring of anxiety and rage about the intended changes to the theater — and the way they delivered the news, without first holding any public meetings about it, was a key indicator of that.

What ensued was a year of campaigning against the takeover by multiple groups, and counter-campaigns from Castro merchants and others who want to see the theater brought back to life and busy again.

A rendering of the new orchestra-level tiers to be installed, via APE

One side worried that without the orchestra-level, cinema-style seating, film screenings would become few and far between, given the effort and expense of loading removable seats in and out of the space. The other side worried that if Another Planet backed out, the next step could be converting the beloved theater into a gym or other non-cultural venue — which has happened to other historic theaters like the Alhambra on Polk Street.

Repertory film screenings, while beloved to many in the neighborhood, were not always well attended, and it seems clear the Nassers were looking to ultimately make more money from the theater than they were. That, or they were no longer interested in managing the theater day to day.

The final judgment on the seating, and whether the seats themselves should be part of an interior landmarking by the Historic Preservation Committee, came from the SF Board of Supervisors in June 2023.

The theater itself was declared a city landmark in 1976.

APE says it hopes to have the theater back open for shows by Summer 2025.

Previously: Castro Theatre to Close For 16-Month Renovation Starting This Winter