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Letter: Owner not responsible for Park Theatre's condition
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on Feb 5, 2009
Robert Brooks' letter to The Almanac last week blamed the Park Theatre's owner for its run-down condition. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Wednesday, February 4, 2009, 12:00 AM
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Posted by Sue Kayton
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2009 at 9:01 am
The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about a similar problem with a single-screen movie theater in SF. Read their article at
S.F.'s Metro theater: Tired preservation tale
Thursday, February 5, 2009
In what is becoming an on-going theme in San Francisco, preservationists are fighting plans by a developer to renovate an antiquated theater. In this case it is the Metro on Union Street, built in 1924. Boarded up and abandoned for two years, the theater is another victim of the poor economics of running a large, single-screen movie theater.
Historical preservation is a nice idea. In a perfect world, cities would set aside funds to save the lovely old buildings from the past. But the reality is that neighborhoods, even trendy ones like Cow Hollow, are struggling and need the shot in the arm a large renovation project like this could provide.
The historians need to wake up and smell the popcorn. When they delay potential projects for years, hoping to save gilded trim on ceiling columns, they are doing a disservice to the very neighborhoods they insist they are trying to help. It happened with the Pagoda in North Beach - vacant since 1994 while groups squabbled - and it is happening on Union Street.
"I'm just sitting here looking at an eyesore," said Peter James, who has run Fog City Leather across the street from the Metro for 20 years. "We've got 15 vacancies on the street already. The neighborhood, I think, would like to have anything in there."
The group advocating to preserve the Metro, the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, is comprised of proud San Franciscans who ardently believe in rescuing the glories of the past. The group gets credit for raising the money to buy and save the historic Vogue Theatre and brokering a deal to renovate the Marina Theater on Chestnut (although with a Walgreens as prime tenant). They insist that they are open to any sensible idea for the Metro.
But the features the group wants to "landmark," or legally designate for preservation, would severely limit options for a developer. For example, it wants to preserve the "sloped auditorium floor with fixed seating."
"What in God's name are you going to do with a 10,000-square-foot building with a sloping floor? Skateboarding?" asked District Two supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who opposes the landmarking. "I really like these guys, but on this I find myself yelling at them."
Although members of the foundation insist that they are not wedded to the idea of a large, single-screen movie theater, you don't have to talk to them very long before they begin to wax nostalgic about the days they spent in the lush, old movie palaces.
It's a nice thought, says Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for the National Association of Theatre Owners, but unrealistic.
"A lot of the old movie theaters are quite beloved," he said. "But at some point you have to look at the cold economics. What we are seeing is a higher number of screens and fewer theaters."
Developer Sebastyen Jackovics, who wants to put a high-end gym in the Metro, is frustrated.
"This is like landmarking phone booths when everyone has cell phones," he said.
Unfortunately, variations on this conflict have been a regular feature of San Francisco city planning in the last few years.
The foundation has no legal authority over a private building like the Metro, but the city has a long history of taking preservation advocates into account. Groups like the foundation are often well-connected politically and can tie up projects for years with challenges and complaints.
Besides the Pagoda in North Beach, for which a renovation plan was finally approved in January, there are several empty sites across the city: the Alexandria in the Richmond, the New Mission in the Mission and the Harding in the Western Addition.
"This is ridiculous," said Alioto-Pier. "We cannot continue to have these giant, vacuous open spaces in the middle of neighborhoods."
Developers offered up a plan for the Metro that would preserve the historic murals inside and also retrofit the interior, which is seismically unsafe. They also had a version that would have included a 200-seat theater. Meanwhile, the foundation has suggested a rough idea that would have some 300 seats.
So there's room for compromise? Not on your life.
"I don't want to be a warrior or a fighter," said Katherine Petrin, an architectural historian who wrote the landmark report for the Metro. "But if we capitulate, it is going to be gone, done. I'm not going to do it."
I've known some of the members of the foundation for more than 20 years. They are decent, civic-minded people. I would hate to describe them as obstructionists.
But right now, that's how they look.
The hearing for landmarking will take place Feb. 26 before the city's Planning Commission.