Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on June 22, 2022
Nonprofit seeks to stop plan to remove seats from Castro TheatrePhoto: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

A nonprofit has formed specifically to thwart plans by Another Planet Entertainment (APE) to remake the interior of the historic Castro Theatre to be more conducive to live music events — and specifically the group wants to stop a plan to remove all the seats from the theater's main level.

Opponents of Another Planet's plans for the Castro Theatre emerged immediately in the days following the January announcement that the company was taking over the management of the theater from its longtime family owners. Fans of the theater and neighborhood groups fear that in turning the Castro into a concert venue, despite pledges by Another Planet to continue to host film festivals and occasional screenings there, the theater will cease to be the beloved home for repertory film that it has been for decades.

Plans for changes to the interior, while not yet approved by the city Planning Department or the Historic Preservation Commission, include the partial leveling of the Castro's main floor and creating three cascading tiers for standing-room audiences going down to the stage. Seating would remain, presumably as-is, on the upstairs mezzanine level. Another Planet has said that the new configuration will still allow for seated shows and screenings — a similar renovation over a decade ago at Oakland's Fox Theatre, which Another Planet manages, allows for removable, stacking chairs to be placed on the tiers at some events.

Now, a group calling itself the Castro Theatre Conservancy has launched a petition and they spoke to the Chronicle today, expressing their anxieties about the coming changes to the theater — as well as some sour grapes about the fact that Another Planet got this contract. It turns out, as Castro Theatre Conservancy Executive Director Peter Pastreich explains, he and some other conservancy members approached the theater's owners, the Nasser family, back in 2020 about leasing and managing the theater themselves. They were concerned, at the height of the pandemic with the theater continuing to be dark, that the Nassers might use this moment to sell the building.

"We didn’t want it to fall down or close, so we began searching for a way a nonprofit could help keep the Castro what it is for the community," Pastreich says.

Now the group is likely to devote time to lobbying against city approvals for APE's proposed changes to theater, though that may not do anything to preserve the Castro as a full-time movie house, as long as APE is in charge.

As the group notes on its petition, the preservation of the orchestra-style seating is part of an expanded landmark designation for the theater that Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has already submitted for approval.

"My key concern is by removing seats and leveling the floor it would change the theatrical experience,” says filmmaker Dan Geller, a member of the conservancy, speaking to the Chronicle. “I understand why they’re making it a multiuse space — I think that model can work in a lot of places — but I’m concerned that once you rip those seats out, it’s hard to put them back in that original historic configuration.”

The Castro Theatre Conservancy boasts a roster of high-profile "supporters" while they still seek nonprofit status. These include filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Joel Coen, Rob Epstein, Barry Jenkins, Philip Kaufman, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, and Alexander Payne, as well as actors Dana Delany, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton, and the likes of David Byrne, Armistead Maupin, and Leonard Maltin.

Sister of Perpetual Indulgence Sister Roma is also part of the group, and as she tells the Chronicle, "Do we really need another concrete concert hall when glamorous film houses are disappearing around the country? Absolutely not. It’s so important to preserve this historical treasure.” 

No one likely expected that big changes to this landmark were going to happen with squabbles. So we now see the first of what will likely be many salvos in this battle, before all is said and done.