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This former SF gay strip club will get some more units

The Nob Hill Theatre was home to a live, all-male burlesque show for five decades until it closed in 2018. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard

The former Nob Hill Theatre was supposed to be demolished, but a revision to the plans now calls for a four-story addition, with four units topping a medical office and surgery center.

Dr. James Chen, an orthopedic surgeon, bought 729 Bush St. after the theater closed in 2018 to much fanfare and an auction of vintage memorabilia from a freewheeling, pre-AIDS period of gay liberation. According to SocketSite, Chen will live in a five-bedroom unit several floors above his eventual workplace, permits were filed with the city Monday.

The Nob Hill Theatre operated for five decades, in a relatively upscale part of town several blocks from the more overtly queer spaces in Polk Gulch and the Tenderloin, and a few blocks from the current home of Eros, which is now San Francisco’s only extant LGBTQ+ bathhouse. It wasn’t a movie theater that screened adult films like those seen in 1970s Times Square, but the home of an all-male stage revue—think Magic Mike or the Chippendales. Consequently, patrons may not have been exclusively gay-identified. The theater famously advertised its live shows with a prominent sign that read, “Touch Our Junk!”

The former theater's owners sold off numerous pieces of memorabilia, including this rather striking poster, seen on the last day of operation in 2018. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard

Chen has agreed to repair and reinstall that sign—sans slogan, however—making the ex-strip club one more exterior in San Francisco that telegraphs a link to its storied past. Its preserved facade will join the former Discolandia Record Shop on 24th Street (now a fast-food restaurant) and the Alhambra Theatre on Polk Street (currently a Crunch Fitness). 

The current plan also stipulates that “character-defining features” from the theater’s past will be maintained as well. While this might sound like a veiled reference to nude images or phallic artwork, it specifically landmarks the permastone wall that fronts the street. Often considered cheap and dated, that particular material is seldom prized by architectural historians.

The one-story Nob Hill Theater was erected in 1911. Prior to its tenure as a house of queer burlesque, it was home to a jazz bar named Club Hangover.