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Castro Theatre to Become Live Music and Events Venue After Renovation

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The Castro Theatre at night. The theatre has been closed since March due to coronavirus restrictions.
The Castro Theatre.  (Castro Theatre/Facebook)

The Castro Theatre, a 100-year-old jewel of the film community in San Francisco, is set to become a live music and events venue after a year-long makeover. The renovated theater will broaden its programming to include “comedy, music, film, community and private events and more,” according to a statement by the new operators.

The theater will be managed by Another Planet Entertainment, the Bay Area-based live music promoter which co-produces the Outside Lands music festival and operates the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the Greek Theatre, the Fox Theatre, the Independent and other music venues. Another Planet does not operate any movie theaters, or venues with regular film programming.

Currently it is unclear exactly how much film will be shown at the renovated Castro Theatre. Speaking with KQED on Wednesday, Another Planet CEO Gregg Perloff repeatedly said it was too soon to tell.

“I know this isn’t a great answer for you, but we’ve just started,” Perloff said, in response to questions about film programming. “This is really our first week talking to people. And we plan on talking to a lot of people in the community. And of course all the people who have rented the theater—find out what it is they’re all about and what they plan on doing. So I can’t give you definitive answers right now.”

As of Wednesday, Another Planet had not been been in touch with any independent film bookers who would book a regular daily schedule of films, Perloff said.

The Castro Theatre has been a central fixture of San Francisco’s Castro District since 1922. (Tobias Kleinlercher / Wikipedia)

“You don’t want to change the historic nature of the theatre,” said Perloff. “We absolutely want to do film. We absolutely want to honor the LGBTQ community. And so, what they’ve historically done, we want to do a lot of that. We also want to add to it by doing other things. What those other things are? Could be a lecture. Could be comedy. Could be music. We plan to try anything.”

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For the past decade, the Castro Theatre had been booked by Keith Arnold, whose experience working with Berkeley’s Fine Arts Cinema and the Sundance Film Festival informed the Castro’s repertory programming, which included movies both new and old on a daily basis. The Castro Theatre has also long been home to several film festivals like Frameline, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, among others.

Existing contracts with the Castro are being honored before renovation begins, Perloff said. Frameline’s executive director James Woolley said, in an email to KQED: “We are pleased to confirm that the Frameline46 San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival will proceed at the Castro Theatre, June 16-26, 2022.”

SFFILM, the San Francisco International Film Festival, is still scheduled to run April 21–May 1 this year, as well. (The Noir City film festival had planned to move to the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland this month before postponing due to the spread of the omicron variant.)

Construction on the theater will begin later this year.

A packed house at the Castro Theatre. (Courtesy of SFFILM)

“The Castro Theatre is a wonderful building that we will upgrade for more use in the future,” said Perloff in a statement Wednesday morning. “We want to activate and re-energize the building, making improvements to the customer and artist experience, including dressing room upgrades, restoring the marquee and blade and expanding food and beverage service.”

Additional upgrades would include a new sound system, sound, lighting, production, and heating and air conditioning system. An expanded backstage and lobby and a renovated marquee are planned, along with a restoration of the theater’s iconic neon sign.

Chris Nasser Padian, the vice president of Bay Properties Inc., which owns the Castro Theatre, called Another Planet “an ideal partner” for the Castro, “as they have a rich history with the City and in rehabilitating historic venues.”

Perloff said that Another Planet approached the Nasser family to make a deal for the building, and that, to his knowledge, no other promoters were in contention for management of the theater.

Today’s news answers a long-standing question on the lips of moviegoers over the past year and a half.

During the pandemic, while other independent movie theaters like the Roxie Theatre, the Balboa Theatre and the New Parkway Theatre cautiously re-opened, the Castro Theatre sat conspicuously dark, hosting occasional one-off concerts and events.

Most recently, the theatre hosted the world premiere for The Matrix Resurrections and a special screening of West Side Story with Rita Moreno in attendance.

A fundraising campaign for a new organ at the Castro Theatre, to be played by beloved fixture David Hegarty, had recently raised over $800,000 in donations. Perloff said that while there are no renovation plans for the stage that would make it impossible to install the organ, Another Planet has yet to get specifications for it.

“We got kind of thrown a curveball by this idea of a new organ,” Perloff said, adding that Another Planet has been in touch with Hegarty and the nonprofit CODA. “This is the kind of thing we’re dealing with in working out our construction plans: what does the organ need? So we’re certainly working or planning on working with CODA.”

Asked about moviegoers who think of the Castro Theatre as a family member, and are worried that they’re losing it forever, Perloff emphasized the upcoming restoration.

“They’re not losing it,” Perloff said of the Castro. “This is a labor of love for us. We make our money doing big shows like Outside Lands. What we’re doing is: this is a diamond, and we’re polishing the diamond. That’s how you should look at it.”

A grand reopening for the theater is scheduled for 2023.

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