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News + PoliticsPromoter gets approval to turn Castro Theater into a nightclub—with few conditions

Promoter gets approval to turn Castro Theater into a nightclub—with few conditions

Some activists and commissioners unhappy with the idea that preserving community institutions is all about someone making money.

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Another Planet Entertainment will be able to move forward with its plans to transform the Castro Theater into a nightclub that also shows movies, city planning officials decided today.

The Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission, after some four hours of contentious public comment, approved the renovations of the theater and the permits that would allow APE to change the use to nighttime entertainment.

Courtesy Another Planet Entertainment

The coalition that organized to preserve the theater was deeply disappointed, with a representative saying that the two agencies rejected the community’s concerns.

“It feels very disappointing,” said Jen Reck, co-chair of the Castro Cultural District, told the commissioners.

The cultural district and the Castro Theater Conservancy has asked for a list of conditions to approve the APE project, and almost all of them were rejected.

In every case, representatives of APE said they couldn’t accept the conditions because they didn’t make business sense.

“I am quite disappointed in the unresponsiveness of the applicant,” Commission Member Katrin Moore said. “They dismissed every point, there was no ‘can do.'”

She continued saying she was upset by “the monetization of all cultural assets as soon as someone can make a buck off it.”

The final legislation includes little more than what APE promised in its community benefits agreement. In fact, APE’s Dan Serot objected to the idea of twice-annual meetings with the Castro Cultural District, saying that “it’s a lot of meetings and lot of oversight … we are in the business of operating a theater, not having meetings.”

The activists were talking about a few hours a year.

Among other things, APE objected to a requirement that a minimum of 50 days a year be devoted to LGBTQ+ programming, saying, as Serot put it, that it was “complicated” to determine what LGBTQ+ programming was.

Serot also objected to limits on private parties, saying it was too hard to determine what a private party is.

In the end, by a 4-2 vote, the Planning Commission approved the permits. Moore and Commissioner Theresa Imperial voted no.

Reck, who is also a San Francisco State professor, told us:

We’re upset. We’re disappointed. We’ve been looking to the city for leadership and to repair community relationships that have been frayed by APE’s takeover of the theater. With a few notable exceptions, that leadership has been lacking.

The fact that APE says it wants the theater to be an international hub of LGBTQ culture but doesn’t know how to determine what that means – because doing so is “complex” – that’s where the community comes in.

This is about community access to our community’s most important landmark. APE has done the bare minimum, and would have done less if not for our advocacy. We’re proud of that work. We’ll take some time to assess where we’re at before determining next steps.”

Peter Pastreich, executive director of the Castro Conservancy, said there are some positive developments:

The Castro Theatre has served its community for 100 years, successfully presenting film, comedy, live music, drag, and virtually every form of art and entertainment imaginable. Another Planet Entertainment’s plan will alter the physical and spiritual heart of the Castro Theatre, rendering it suitable mainly for rock and pop shows and private parties. 

The Conservancy developed a plan that would restore the historic and physical features of the theater and also restore it to its place as the center of LGBTQ and cinema culture in San Francisco and in the world. However, the Nassers own the theater, and we understand that they don’t wish to sell it and that APE has a lease to operate the theater for the foreseeable future. 

We are proud that in the last year, APE has made some important changes, including the motorized risers, and guarantees of minimum numbers of films and LGBTQ-related events. That would have not been possible without the work of the Friends of the Castro Theatre Coalition and the Conservancy. 

From the start, activists complained that APE wasn’t interested in reaching out to the community. As Lee Hepner, a longtime activist and organizer, testified, it took a year for the promoter to meet with community leaders, “and that speaks volumes.”

So now APE will close the theater for renovations, which may take several years, and it will reopen as a different type of venue. The Nasser family, which owns the theater, will make money. APE will make money. That, in the end, was what this was all about: Letting private actors make money on what many consider a community institution—because in today’s late-stage capitalism, there seems to be no way to make anything work unless someone is able to make a private buck.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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