Supervisor Mandelman to propose removing Castro Theatre 'fixed seating' language at Tuesday's full board meeting [Updated]

Supervisor Mandelman to propose removing Castro Theatre 'fixed seating' language at Tuesday's full board meeting [Updated]Crowds wait to get into Castro Theatre for CAAM Fest. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
Steven Bracco
Published on May 15, 2023

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the Castro Theatre landmark designation update. And District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman has informed Hoodline that he plans to propose removing the contentious 'fixed theatrical seating' language from the landmark update.

"I will be offering an amendment at the full board to restore the language forwarded by the Historic Preservation Commission," explained Mandelman.

The vote comes almost a year and a half after Another Planet Entertainment (APE) took over programming at the 100-year-old Castro Theatre.


The update to the Castro Theatre landmark designation will be considered on Tuesday. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

 

Last week, the Land Use and Transportation Committee voted 2-1 to advance the landmark update to the full board with Supervisor Dean Preston's amendment change to include "fixed theatrical seating in movie palace style."

APE has proposed much-needed renovations of the neglected Castro Theatre, along with removing the orchestra-level seating and replacing them with four-tiered sections of platforms with removable seats.

Tuesday's vote will mark the culmination of Mandelman's proposal to update the Castro Theatre's landmark designation to include "the full historical, architectural, aesthetic, and cultural interest and value of the Castro Theatre." Public comment will not be taken on this item.

However, Mandelman opposed the amendment change at the April 17 Land Use meeting explaining that "ultimately even if made, it is not clear the amendment would prevent the city approving or APE not moving forward with their plans for the theater."


Four of the proposed seating options at the Castro Theatre. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

 

Ahead of Tuesday's meeting, Mandelman told Hoodline "I do not believe that resolution requires the inclusion of the specific reference to 'fixed seating' that the Committee added to the landmarking ordinance."

"I am grateful to my colleagues on the Land Use Committee for their consideration of the landmarking and the time they spent on the issue," added Mandelman. "Plainly lots of folks in the Castro and the broader community people are passionate about the theater."

"It has been my hope all along to find a resolution that allows for the continued operation of the theater as a venue for film and other entertainment, one that activates the theater as much as possible, contributes to the neighborhood economy, and allows for much-needed and long-deferred investments in the building," said Mandelman.

Earlier this year, Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) recommended the expansion of the Castro Theatre's landmark designation.


APE's latest rendering of the proposed standing-room-only floor plan. | Image: Castro Theatre

 

APE's plans are supported by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (Castro CBD), Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association (EVNA), Frameline Film Festival, SF Gay Men's Chorus, Castro Organ Devotees Association, Movies For Maniacs, and the recently formed Castro resident group Neighbors for a Restored Castro Theatre (NRCT).

"We're excited for the Board to follow HPC's February vote to landmark the historic interior without binding the theater to an outdated business model," said NRCT co-chair Mike Murray.

After conditionally supporting APE's plans, the Castro Merchants are set to vote in June in favor of the proposal without conditions. The vote comes after a shakeup on the board with Cliff's Variety co-owner replacing Flore Dispensary's Terrance Alan as president.

The Castro Theatre Conservancy (CTC), Castro Theatre Coalition, Castro LGBTQ Cultural District (CQCD), SF Heritage, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club, and others have opposed APE's plans to remove the orchestra-level seating. [Full disclosure: Steven Bracco, Hoodline's Castro reporter, is a board member of the CQCD and member of the Castro Theatre Coalition.] Alice co-chair Mawuli Tugbenyoh tells Hoodline that the group is not a member of the coalition and has not taken a position on APE's plans.

"I am disappointed with Supervisor Mandelman‘s stance on this and I look forward to a better future," said CQCD district director Tina Aguirre. "I remain skeptical that APE is the right business to do this."

"There is a very deep lack of cultural humility on their part and it represents a danger to the preservation of LGBTQ people, places, and culture," added Aguirre.


Members of the public at the April 17 Land Use & Transportation Committee meeting. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

 

"Mandelman's legacy can be the Warfield — occasionally activated on a desolate corridor with no connection to the surrounding neighborhood — or a Rafael [Film Center], a regularly programmed hub of an activated and vibrant corridor," said CQCD co-chair Stephen Torres.

Hoodline asked neighborhood community groups including the Castro CBD, Castro Merchants, CQCD, RCT, Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, and Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza if they had received any funding from APE or any groups opposed to the plans. Hoodline can report that all the groups confirmed they had not received any financial support.

Public records indicate APE has spent approximately $91,985 since January 2022 lobbying public officials including Mayor London Breed, Mandelman, and planning department staff through Alex Tourk's Ground Floor Public Affairs.

Earlier this month, the CTC proposed either buying the 100-year-old Castro Theatre outright or signing a long-term lease if given the opportunity. Last week, the Nasser family released a letter rebuking the proposal.

A joint hearing between the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and Planning Commission to consider a Certificate of Appropriateness along with a change to the planning code is tentatively set for May 18.

Immediately following the joint hearing, the Planning Commission will consider the planning code change and a conditional use permit to allow bars on the theatre's first and second floors.

Update 5/16:

Today's Board of Supervisors vote has been postponed until June 6 due to the absence of a supervisor.

District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani is not able to attend today's meeting due to a family emergency.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman tells Hoodline that he will be requesting a continuance.

It's also likely that Thursday's joint hearing of the Historic Preservation Committee and Planning Commission will be continued. SF Planning chief of staff Dan Sider tells Hoodline, "We’re waiting for a formal action at the Board of Supervisors today."

Hoodline will continue to update this story as we learn more.

4:00 p.m.:

Following today's Board of Supervisors meeting, Thursday's joint hearing of the HPC and Planning Commission has officially been continued until Thursday, June 8.