San Francisco Theatre Initiative Reaps Pleas From Both Sides
October 25, 2004 4:31 PM
A proposed ordinance requiring authorization for the demolition or change in use of a San Francisco movie theater prompted debate at today's Board of Supervisor’s Land Use Committee meeting.
The ordinance, a more permanent extension of temporary legislation, which was put in place earlier this month to curb theater demolition, will necessitate a conditional use of authorization for any project that closes down a neighborhood theater.
Under the proposed legislation, property owners that wish to knock down or change the use of a theater would be required to demonstrate that the theater is not economically viable, that any historic architecture will remain standing and that the impact of such a closure would not harm nearby businesses.
District 1 Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who is cosponsoring the legislation along with District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, feels that the damage to local businesses and neighborhoods is a powerful reason to back the initiative, using the contentious 4 Star Theater in the Richmond as an example.
“I am absolutely certain that if the 4 Star closed its doors tomorrow, it would create a domino effect of the local businesses,” McGoldrick said. “This is a theater that kids walk to, where parents can know they’re nearby and safe.”
The 4 Star Theater has been front and center in the recent debate. The historic theater, which was built around 1920 is now the subject of an intense battle between owner, operator and SF State alumnus Frank Lee and the Canaan Lutheran Church.
Lee has leased the land at 2200 Clement St. for the past 12 years, trying several times to purchase the real estate. Canaan Lutheran submitted a successful offer in 2001, and will fully take over the land in 2005, when Lee's lease ends. They have been working for years with an architect, and have plans to demolish the theater and erect a church.
If the theater ordinance passes, the Canaan Lutheran Church will have to go through the processes stipulated by the law, an obstacle they do not feel is fair or necessary. The group is asking for an exemption based upon their non-profit, religious status if the theater legislation is approved.
“We have waited a very long time for our church,” said Canaan Lutheran Pastor David Tin. “We want our church to be the spiritual home for our members and the neighborhood.”
Lee, however, believes that the life of the 4 Star has just as much impact on the neighborhood.
“We’ve worked for 12 years to build up this theater,” he said. “We screen independent Asian and American films that would otherwise not be seen in the Bay Area. I ask that the Board know and understand the importance of these theaters.”
The importance of independent theaters resonates with Zee Lo, an actor and producer who had three of his movies run at the 4 Star.
“To get movies shown in big theaters, you have to be a big star,” Lo said. “We need to have a place for independent movies to be shown. I really do sympathize with the church, though… perhaps we can come up with an alternative solution that would be beneficial for both groups.”
The proposed ordinance on theater preservation will be up for a full-board vote on Nov. 2. To learn more about the preservation of the 4 Star Theater, please visit www.save4star.net.
For information on other historic theaters, please visit the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation at www.sfntf.org.
View story on San Francisco Neighborhood Theatre Foundation: http://xpress.sfsu.edu/archives/life/001909.html
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