Inside The North Beach Pagoda Theater (Image Source:

Once again, it was a little over a year ago that a plugged-in reader first dished up the scoop (and perhaps stirred the pot) on the history of the boarded up Pagoda theater in North Beach and the new owners’ plans to tear it down and build something new. Our reader’s prescient summary at the time: “Uh. Oh. Stalemate.”

Two months ago the developer’s latest proposal appeared to be making some headway, but a plugged-in reader quickly set the record straight: “…I live one block away from this eyesore, and already the word on the street is that [Aaron] Peskin, Nancy Shanahan, and the Telegraph Hill Dwellers are all geared up to fight this latest proposal, too. The only “hope” is that they will have finally annoyed enough people in this neighborhood so that they turn out against them (the Dwellers).”

And today, it’s another look inside (this time both literally and figuratively) the boarded up and beleaguered theater.

“The Pagoda, vacant for 14 years, has been caught up in endless squabbles over how it can be developed. Today it is a smelly, abandoned shell, home to hundreds of pigeons. Developer Joel Campos has a plan to build condominiums and a restaurant there, but some neighborhood activists believe Peskin and Shanahan are stalling the efforts.”

“Landmark” indeed.

22 thoughts on “Inside The “Landmark” Pagoda Theater (And Tussle) In North Beach”
  1. Now that I see the interior from this excellent Chronicle photo it appears to my untrained eyes to be an architecturally insignificant structure. It’s a standard masonry shell with a steel trussed roof, replicated thousands of times in west coast cities.
    Maybe the facade is worth preserving, but the shell itself is neither rare nor interesting.

  2. will someone think of the poor pidgeons!!!! we should turn it into a bird sanctuary.
    or maybe the entrance to a new underground subway system?
    might as well try, ’cause nothing else will ever get built here.
    quick question: out of curiosity, what do the Dwellers want with this property? do they have a suggestion, or do they only want to block things.

  3. ^^^They don’t want it to be a construction site for a year. Think of all that noise. Most only have 10 or 20 years left to live, so why deal with noise for 5-10% of your remaining life.

  4. ouch. that really hurts. I snorted liquid out of my nose on that one.
    maybe they’d be happier then if we put a mobile home there? we could demolish the site, then a few days later just drive the new house right there!
    It’s a nice part of town so I’m thinking a double-wide.

  5. Let’s all remember the Armory fiasco:
    For years and years neighborhood NIMBY’s fought it because it didn’t have the “right” mix of proposed new housing.
    The owners, justly fed up, sold the building to a porn studio. As it was not a change from the original zoning, no neighborhood input was required. The neighbors got what they deserved.
    Are you listening, Mr and Mrs Peskin?

  6. Absolutely confirmed – is now running their empire from the building.
    I used to live next door to the Armory from 2003-2005 and let me tell you that it’s a significant improvement. The windows are repaired and functional, the building is cleaned, they even fly various themed flags from the flagpoles!
    Before it was a hotbed of drug dealing, especially on the backside, and we were pretty sure there were squatters in the building – mysterious flickering lights in the few non-boarded up windows were a common sight.

  7. “…There’s a similar squabble over the Harding Theater on Divisadero at Hayes…”
    And an identical outcome – the Harding Theater is still vacant and dilapidated. It’s the exact same dynamic in play: for the activists, the good is always the enemy of the perfect, so we end up with nothing but blight.

  8. Yeah, there used to be a needle exchange at the Armory, but apparently The City has moved it since moved in. I actually think that most of MAC (Mission Anti-displacement Coalition) is pretty happy with the new neighbors, but I don’t know how the neighborhood at large feels.

  9. “It’s a nice part of town so I’m thinking a double-wide…”
    Funny you should say that. I live in one of the best neighborhoods of my town. Yet a stone’s throw away from my home is a double-wide. Even though it is on one of the nicest streets and surrounded by $2-4M homes, there it sits, a mobile home on a huge lot, flanked by sparkly newly remodeled luxury homes.
    Somehow I have a hunch that the next owner will be applying for a demo permit. Or maybe all you need to do is to contract with a trucking company.

  10. I have to echo sf’s comment. When was the last time you heard of a great new club or restaurant to go to in North Beach? I’ll still hit my usual haunts there (Trattoria Contadina, Tosca, O’reilly’s) but I haven’t heard of anything new there worth checking out.
    The Columbus/Broadway are is now awash with the bridge & Tunnel crowd, as well as thug/gansta wannabes – not a recipe for an enjoyable evening out.

  11. “…There’s a similar squabble over the Harding Theater on Divisadero at Hayes…”
    There are neighborhood activists in Western Addition? who knew?

  12. Somehow I think today’s Chron photos will help move along development at the North Beach site. There is obviously little to save there.
    Kink has been great as owner of the Armory. They’re very low-key (no signage or anything), and they’ve done a lot of improvement to the building. They bought it amazingly cheap! $14.5 million. (or $72.50/sq.ft.)
    here’s the SF Gate Story
    Seems like they’re restoring and holding it as an investment. They have proposed converting some of it to condos already.

  13. I guess I must just be different but I love the North Beach area, it has quite a lot of character and much more than SOMA or south beach in my view.
    Even with the pagoda (which is an eyesore, admittedly), I find the area really fun.
    Apparently I’m not the only one either: APA called it one of the top 10 best neighborhoods in the us
    It certainly has its problems, particularly Broadway & Columbus, but it has a hell of a lot of charm. I really wish I lived there.

  14. Excellent story by the Chronicle to shed some light on PesTkin and his wife and turn them into the most hated couple in SF.
    Pro-development folks need to grow a spine and just push the project through. Rally Newsome and get work done already.

  15. I live near this theater and remember in the 80’s when they used to do retro films similiar to the Castro. It was a great neighborhood theater. That market is very limited today with DVD’s as are single plex theaters, particularly when there is no parking. The Peskins really need to wake up and understand that as sad as it sometimes is, change has to happen. I do not want to see another Walgreens, coffee house or tourist oriented restaurant, but there has to be something that building can be used for that profits the owner and is good for the neighborhood (a Whole Foods type store would be wonderful, although we San Franciscians can’t seem to accept large scale retail without parking…)

  16. Note that the Chron’s Pagoda/Peskin-hit-piece is certainly the work of the campaign of one of the candidates for District 3 Supe. Kudos to them for publicizing a typical example of the Peskin land-use modus-operandum – other examples are Yogurtgate Parts I and II, the 701 Lombard eminent-domain taking and the Polk St. “John Barleycorn” downzoning. This is a reminder for people not to vote for more of the same “plywood’s better than evil capitalists” policies (including Peskin’s annointed D3 successor) come November.

  17. Live Smart – get real: the only Rallies that the Gavster is interested in these days involve $$$ to get him to Sacramento …

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