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Crumbling 1920s San Francisco theater could become 76 homes

A screenshot of Google Street View of Alexandria Theater at 5400 Geary Blvd. at 18th Avenue in San Francisco. | Source: Google Street View

A beloved 1920s movie theater that fell into disrepair after closing could become homes if early-stage plans are realized.

The Richmond District’s Alexandria Theater may be turned into between 26 and 76 homes, a September 19 letter sent to the city and seen by The Standard says.

The letter asks SF’s planning department to meet with lawyers representing the theater owner’s, TimeSpace Group. The meeting wants to discuss changing previous plans to build swimming pools and offices inside the theater.

The letter shows the Saratoga-based real estate firm is pivoting away from the old plan which has been stalled for years.

This is the first time housing has been considered for the old theater itself, old construction permit applications for the building show.

TimeSpace has already built 43 “luxury condominiums” on the theater’s former parking lot, according to its website. Five of the units were permitted at below-market rates. TimeSpace and their lawyers, Colla and Ray, were contacted for comment.

The Geary Blvd theater has sat empty since closing in 2004 and the property has changed hands several times since its closure.

Planning department chief of staff Dan Sider said that the idea of building housing in the theater makes sense for the area.

“[Housing] is appropriate for this site, there’s no question, but everything else is an open book,” Sider said.

‘The Building Just Sits There’

The Alexandria Theater sits idle along Geary and 18th Streets in San Francisco, Calif. on April 13, 2004. | Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images | Source: Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Alfonso Felder, a longtime board member of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, said that turning the theater into housing exclusively would be less than ideal. 

“From a community perspective, everyone loses because the building just sits there and there’s this pressure to just see something built, and the original agreement gets lost along the way,” Felder said.

Felder agrees the city needs to build more housing and hopes there can be a commitment made to preserve the theater and allow public access to it.

“I’m hopeful that this can provide some public benefit in addition to housing,” Felder said.

Chris Verplanck, an SF-based historic preservation consultant, said that converting a theater into housing would see significant changes to the inside of the building.

“Typically the interior was the showstopper, it’s what people came to see,” said Verplanck. “If that’s not kept intact, I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

The theater is in Supervisor Connie Chan’s district, her aide told The Standard that Chan supports the idea of the theater becoming housing, but that Chan had not seen the letter and could not comment on the plans.

In the letter, there are three proposed layouts based on whether the project would be eligible for density bonuses under state laws, this could allow the housing project to be taller or more dense than current zoning would otherwise allow.

Depending on whether the project qualifies for housing density upgrades under SB-35 and the California Density Bonus Law, the project could range anywhere from 26 to 76 units, with many of the additional units being designated as affordable, according to the letter.