San Francisco Castro Theatre’s marquee taking a beating

By: Andrea Koskey | 10/15/11 4:00 AM
Examiner Staff Writer

The Castro Theatre’s marquee has been hit hard by delivery trucks twice in the past two months, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Now the building’s owner is struggling with ways to prevent future destruction to the historic sign before something devastating happens.

“Each time the marquee is hit, it weakens membranes on the sign,” said Don Nasser, the theater’s managing director and a member of the family who owns the Castro. “It’s only a matter of time. We wonder how long or how many beatings it will take before it really suffers severe damage.”

Nasser said drivers pull up to the curb — which was designated as motorcycle parking two years ago — thinking they are far enough away and upright. But the trailer often leans with the slope of the road and hits the sign, sometimes causing thousands of dollars in damage.

The theater was originally built in 1922 as a movie palace, and it still operates that way. The stage has been expanded to allow for live shows as well. But major changes or alterations are forbidden due to the building being designated as a historic venue by The City in 1977.

When parts of the building such as the marquee are damaged, they must be custom made and replaced — and that can be expensive, according to Nasser.

For instance, last month a truck ran under the marquee and took down all the lights and damaged the sheet metal, costing the building owner about $8,000 to repair. In August, another truck backed into the north side of the marquee, requiring bulbs and neon lights to be replaced. That cost about $3,000.

“It’s substantial damage and it’s very expensive to replace,” Nasser said.

Nasser, though, doesn’t blame the trucks. He said many times they might not even know what they’re doing. To prevent any further damage, however, Nasser and other theater managers are talking to The City about possible solutions, such as extending the curb a few feet to prevent trucks from hitting the marquee, or adding planters to prevent parking.

Gloria Chan of the Department of Public Works said several options are being discussed, but no specific plans have been made.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose district includes the theater, said marquee damage is a concern and he would like to see measures taken to protect it.

“This is one of the most iconic and distinctive features of the neighborhood. We need to do all we can to protect it,” Wiener said. “We’re hoping for a solution that would be very inexpensive and an effective fix.”

Wiener said any work done to the sidewalk will likely have to be paid for by the property owner.

Nasser said depending on the plan, the theater would have to scrutinize costs, and any solution will take time.

“We all know The City is rather complex; you can’t usually get approvals done quickly,” Nasser said. “We just want to prevent further damage.”

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