Exclusive: SF’s Castro Theater transforms into a live event venue with music, comedy and more

“The Matrix Resurrections” will premiere at the Castro Theater in December 2021. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

the Castro Theater, a San Francisco gem that has hosted countless film festivals and premieres, is about to get a facelift.

The century-old theater, known around the world as one of the symbols of San Francisco’s historic LGBTQ Castro district, will be renewed as a live event venue featuring music, comedy, movies and more. Another Planet Entertainment is resuming its programming.

Berkeley’s independent concert promotion company – which organizes hundreds of local concerts each year at venues such as the Greek Theater in Berkeley, the Fox Theater in Oakland and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, as well as co-produces the Outer lands music festival in Golden Gate Park – signed a long-term contract, with plans to revitalize the theater with a new marquee, cutting-edge technology and new programming for a proposed grand reopening in 2023.

“This opportunity has presented itself, which has never presented itself before, and we are excited to beginGregg Perloff, CEO and Founder of Another Planet Entertainment, told The Chronicle in an exclusive interview.

Castro Theater will still show movies, new operator Another Planet assures clueless movie fanatics

Another Planet plans to expand the 1,400-seat venue’s lineup to include live music, comedy and community events. The Castro will still screen some movies, but the changes are sure to be life-changing for many Bay Area film organizations and moviegoers who have packed the Castro for decades.

“It’s heartbreaking, devastating and not surprising,” said Marc Huestis, who has presented special events at the Castro Theater for 40 years that have brought movie legends like Jane Russell, Rita Moreno and Patty Duke, among others, to the theater for screenings that typically included pre-drag shows and onstage conversations with the stars.

His last event at the Castro was a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” in 2018, where the film’s star, Kim Novak, was interviewed by Film Noir Foundation director and Turner Classic Movies host Eddie Muller.

“Even before COVID, it felt like the (cinema) repertoire was kind of on its last legs,” Huestis continued. “It makes me very emotional because it’s such an important cultural institution and the heart of not just the neighborhood but the city.”

Another Planet officials have confirmed that the events currently on the theater’s schedule will proceed as planned until the start of renovations at a date yet to be determined. Including the San Francisco International Film Festival – one of the oldest film festivals in the United States – scheduled for April 21-May 1 and Frameline46 San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival June 16-26.

“We’ve heard glimmers that there are changes afoot, and the last two years haven’t been easy for theaters, have they? But certainly, seeing the whole story today – it’s great,” Anne Lai, executive director of SFFILM, told The Chronicle.

But Lai said she would like to work with Another Planet to organize future festival events at the Castro.

“I know there will be a shift in that it may be less film-centric, but we hope there will be an opportunity to continue showing films at the Castro,” Lai said. “Otherwise I think it would be a big loss when you think about the history and the impact of what this place has been over the decades.”

Frameline executive director James Woolley shared the same sentiments.

“Today’s news of the change in management at the Castro Theater marks the start of a new chapter in the life of the beloved Castro Theater on the eve of its historic 100-year anniversary,” he said. declared. “We look forward to continuing Frameline’s legacy of bringing the best of new LGBTQ+ films to the Castro Theater and partnering with Another Planet Entertainment for years to come.”

In the meantime, Another Planet’s first priority is to rehabilitate the building at 429 Castro St., which had lain dark for the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic – with the goal of rehabilitating the marquee and the neon lettering “Castro”. on the blade outside the building.

“We’re going to bring it back to be perfect and beautiful because it’s so iconic,” Perloff explained, the former president of Bill Graham Presents.

Heklina, left, and Peaches Christ on May 23, 2015, during ‘The Drag Queens of Comedy’ at the Castro Theater. Photo: James Tensuan

He said many of the planned changes won’t be noticeable to the average customer, such as a new electrical system, wiring and an expanded backstage area, among other renovations.

Another Planet also wants to improve the customer experience. Perloff said his company would spend “millions and millions of dollars” installing a new screen, updated sound system, lighting, ventilation and video equipment. There are also plans to expand the hall.

There are also other ideas floating around that will take shape once the building is closed for about six to eight months of construction, pending timely city permits, Perloff said.

“After 100 years, everyone and everything needs a makeover,” Castro co-owner Steve Nasser, whose grandfather built the theater which opened in 1922, told The Chronicle. The economics of the film alone were not enough to modernize, improve and renovate this historic property.”

Drag performer and event producer Peaches Christ, who still has a contract to produce a live event and theater screening that was delayed in 2020 due to the pandemic, said she is “adapting still in shock and trying to be optimistic about what this could mean.

“Thank goodness it will always be an event space and a theater. Sometimes it’s necessary as part of saving these spaces (to make changes), but of course the worried, worried queen in me feels like maybe we’re losing the community gathering space” , said Peaches Christ. “I have often described the Castro Theater as a place of worship. It is my church and it is a spiritual place that has an important meaning.

The Castro Theater will remain owned by the families of Bay Properties, Inc., Steven Nasser and Elaine Nasser Padian. The Spanish Baroque-style building was designed by master modern architect Timothy Pflueger and updated in the 1930s with the Art Deco marquee, sunburst chandelier and famous neon sign.

It became a San Francisco Historic Landmark in 1977.

The theater has gone from screening silent films to international film festivals, directory programming and sing along. It recently hosted the star-studded US premiere of ‘The Matrix Resurrections’.

“The Castro Theater has had a long and grand history as a movie theater…now it will embark on a new journey and create a new story,” Nasser said. “The family is proud to be able to contribute to this historic makeover.

Actors outside the Castro Theater for the premiere of “The Matrix Resurrections” on December 18, 2021 in San Francisco. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2021

Indeed, Perloff said he hopes the revitalization of the Castro will uplift the neighborhood in the same way as the reopening of the Fox Theater for downtown Oakland or the Independent on San Francisco’s now bustling Divisadero Street. .

“We want people to say that Another Planet changed the cultural identity of the Bay Area,” he said. “We want this neighborhood to really explode with this twinning.”

Chronicle editors G. Allen Johnson and Tony Bravo contributed to this report.