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Arts & Entertainment

Castro Theatre vote paves way for major renovations at historic San Francisco venue

Orchestra seats at the Castro Theatre | Isaac Ceja/The Standard

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 6-4 Tuesday afternoon to allow for the removal of the Castro Theatre’s seats by taking out an amendment to the historic landmark designation that required “fixed theatrical seating in a movie palace style.”  

Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Joel Engardio, Matt Dorsey, Myrna Melgar, Rafael Mandelman and Ahsha Safaí voted in the majority to remove the amendment requiring seats physically affixed to the floor; Supervisors Connie Chan, Aaron Peskin, Dean Preston and Shamann Walton represented the minority. 

Supervisor Hilary Ronen was not present and excused from the meeting, and Safaí arrived late.  

A second vote to accept the decision as a whole went 9-1, with only Peskin dissenting.

The move means that the seats on the raked floor—which has been the subject of extensive hand-wringing and the “Save the Seats” slogan—could be torn out to make way for the retractable, motorized seating that’s part of Another Planet Entertainment’s renovation plan. 

Tuesday’s decision clears the way for the Berkeley-based promotion company—which also operates the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and Oakland’s Fox Theater—to transform the iconic movie palace into a multiuse venue. 

The vote had been delayed from the May 16 Board of Supervisors meeting, in what has been an ongoing saga regarding the theatre’s future, and likely came as a surprise to the city’s preservationist community, which had predicted a majority to vote in their favor at a recent town hall on the subject organized by the nonprofit advocacy group San Francisco Heritage. 

It’s not, however, the final decision. The Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission will meet Thursday to discuss the appropriateness certificate—which is required to make renovations to a historic landmark—and nightlife entertainment permits for the project. 

The supervisors in favor of removing the amendment said they did not want to kill Another Planet’s renovation plan before it even had a chance to be heard, which the requirement of fixed seating would likely do. 

“It’s not the seats that make the Castro Theatre,” said Engardio. “It’s the people.”