Harding Theater: Developer's Plan

Last week a plugged-in tipster noted for sale signs had been hung, and this weekend 616 Divisadero (a.k.a. the Harding Theater) hit the MLS listed for $4 million.

In the words of another tipster, “After years of paying debt service and battling with the planning board, the developers of the Harding Theater on [Divisadero] have thrown in the towel….”

Harding Hayes Street Lot (

It appears that the decaying theater façade will be preserved for the foreseeable future and the auditorium, lobby and storefront spaces will remain unusable.

Oh, and the adjoining underdeveloped lot around the corned on Hayes should be safe from becoming eight homes for neighborhood residents, business patrons and taxpayers anytime soon.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by tipster

    I guess the days of taking a bad location (e.g. next to the freeway on ramp, a bad part of the mission on which a “grande” building can be built, or next to Esprit park), putting up “luxury condos”, calling it an “up and coming area”, and getting yuppies, flippers, or whomever, to buy them, no, to FIGHT over them, are over.
    And so it turns out that location now DOES matter when selling a property. If you can sell it at all, that is.

  2. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    I would say just raze the whole lot and build condos, except that fact the the theatre is next to the Independent.
    But razing the theatre and putting in new commercial makes a lot more sense, although the 16 condos over on Hayes is still a good idea.

  3. Posted by FSBO

    After selling for $1.68M in June 2003, the property was on and off the market several times in 2005-2006 at prices of $2.35M (for the theatre only?) and $3.5M (for the whole lot). The owner will probably make out OK if someone steps up and pays $4M this time. Big if though.

  4. Posted by zzzzzzz

    I would say the market value is just about zero, because the only use which will be permitted is as a theater. And of course, none of the groups that zealously demanded “preservation” of the Harding will be generously coughing up the bucks to renovate the theater, much less subsidize its inevitably money-losing operations. This is a triumph for blight, pure and simple.

  5. Posted by fluj

    Tipster, is there any specific reason you posted that comment in this particular thread?

  6. Posted by Rillion

    tipster – developers are still delusion and condos would have gotten built here if it hadn’t been for the nimby’s that want someone to spend millions of dollars to restore a theater that will then lose money. I do not think this one project says much about the state of the market (which isn’t good but that isn’t what sunk this one).

  7. Posted by BDB

    Fantastic, I love it.
    Let’s have it sit there for another 30 years as an empty shell.
    I say we move some Dutch squatters into it, and see how they like that.

  8. Posted by Adam F

    i have lived near this piece of crap for 10 years now. the “save the harding theater” people are total f-ing morons. and to tipster: i guarantee you those condos would sell, even in this market. if just being old is historic value, then this theater hits the mark. but being old is about all the historic value it has. its been vacant for almost 20 years now, no? the douchebag nimbys won this one…but knowing who the developer is, he’s not going broke anytime soon either.

  9. Posted by David Mercanus

    Save the Harding people are partially or mostly (I can’t tell) the friends, owners, and workers of the Independent.
    They want to preserve their rock and roll lifestyle. Down with the yuppies, man!

  10. Posted by Michael

    NoPa passed “up and coming” a few years ago.
    NIMBY’s will be NIMBY’s. It’s the Planning Commission that should be run out of town if this doesn’t get built.
    What a complete joke.

  11. Posted by ex SF-er

    your tax dollars hard at work.
    this is the poster child for NIMBYism IMO.
    after the last 20 years why anybody would pay $1M much less $4M for this is a true puzzle to me. You have an established anti-development cartel here.
    A lottery ticket only costs $1 and has a higher chance of success IMO.

  12. Posted by Adam F

    on top of all that. i bet you none of these nimby’s backyards are anywhere near the harding theater. i bet they never come to divisadero st like the rest of us and have to stare at this turd all the time.
    i was under the impression they had worked out all the noise stuff with the independent, but its true that those new homeowners will get a stick in their ass once there’s a line next to their front door and they’ll start complaining.
    it doesnt need to be condos, there are great commercial opportunities for that space as well. maybe the new owner should stick with those.

  13. Posted by tipster

    “Tipster, is there any specific reason you posted that comment in this particular thread?”
    The current owners didn’t buy that place to run it as a movie theater.

  14. Posted by Alan

    Maybe the folks at want to pick up a movie theater in a NIMBY fire-sale to complement the NIMBY fire-sale armory they bought to film their material! 😉

  15. Posted by rr

    Well, the lesson here is that the loudest voice, not the most reasonable voice, wins.
    If this comes up for debate on an new proposal, I’ll be sure to attend the meetings and shout just as loudly for doing something as the NIMBYs are shouting to do nothing.
    I live less than a block away and he theater is a dump. It needs to be replaced with something else. However, it’s not as bad as that theater in north beach. That’s the current quintessential example.

  16. Posted by Adam F

    waiting for someone to come out in support of the harding theater here…with a rational explanation of their cause…bueller? bueller?

  17. Posted by BDB

    there aren’t really any residential near the independent right now I guess.
    To the left, where the line usually lines up is the Alouis radiator repair place.
    Not really exactly sure what’s behind it in regards to the block.
    There’s a hospice or senior living place on hayes that’s closest to it I guess.

  18. Posted by sfx

    we’ll shake up those squares for sure this time, man!

  19. Posted by CameronRex

    Alan @ 10:11 – Just what I was thinking….maybe for screening of new releases? 😉

  20. Posted by natoma_head

    Adam F: I’ll take you up on that.
    If it’s true that most of the Friends of Harding are from the Independent, then it makes sense to fight this development. Putting condos right next to the Indie is probably a bad idea. Sooner than later, the owners will be complaining about the noise coming from people in line/leaving those shows. Additionally, the increased property values that condos+retail would put on that block will pretty much ensure that the Indie’s lease will be up real soon and the new rent sky high. If you like the Indie (& my guess is that the Friends of Harding do), then you too should be against this development since it would probably lead to the Indie going bye-bye.

  21. Posted by EH

    Then why not fight instead for some kind of covenant on potential development? Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? The way it reads, The Independent will only be able to survive while surrounded by blight, so the smart money is in dragging (or keeping) the neighborhood down? Still doesn’t make sense to me (though I’m sympathetic to the issues you fear).

  22. Posted by Jimmy (Bitter Renter)

    Looks like the developer will do just fine on his investment. And on the plus side, the new owner will know exactly who his enemies are and how to defeat them.
    Perhaps they could put termites into the foundation or spread some kind of black mold? Or maybe just inject water underground to cause the building to subside… There’s gotta be some way to accelerate the decay of a building and force the neighborhood to do something.

  23. Posted by San FronziScheme

    the developer will do just fine on his investment.
    I am not sure. It hasn’t sold yet. This situation could drag on forever, like the Hugo Hotel on 6th at Howard (with the “defenestration” sculpture of suspended furniture where the owners have been asking a wish price for a long long time. The place has been vacant for close to 20 years or so.

  24. Posted by David Mercanus

    The Independent’s (the club) owner owns the building. he wants a rock club, not to be a developer.
    He’d make out better moneywise in the long run by selling this, but I don’t think he cares.

  25. Posted by Jimmy (Bitter Renter)

    Suppose you have a portfolio of 20-30 properties, some are being developed, some are “in planning” etc.
    What do they all have in common? Each one is just a line item on an Excel spreadsheet in your computer. You, as the developer, have no emotional stake in any of the outcomes (except perhaps if you lose money). You don’t live in the neighborhood, and if the place sits and rots for two or three decades but you eventually make $7M in profit, then you’re happy.
    Its not like the owner’s life is on hold because of some NIMBY lawsuit or whatever.

  26. Posted by Jimmy hater

    Is that so Jimmy? Can you tell me how exactly you know so much about the owners personal finances?

  27. Posted by adam f

    i have a sense of the owner’s of the harding’s finances…they’re both doing fine with or without this project. at this point, they just dont need the headache.
    as for the Independent. i want it to stay right where it is without any of the problems that the soma clubs have had since the dotcom days.

  28. Posted by Jimmy hater Hater

    I wasn’t talking about this owner. I was talking about a hypothetical owner who had “20-30 properties.” And why would he mix his personal finances in with the finances of his business? His personal finances could be in complete disarray while his business is fine. Or vice-versa.
    Some posters here seem to have an emotional stake in the outcome of this redevelopment effort. But I would be very surprised to learn that the developer, presumably experienced in dealing with the SF planning department and NIMBYs from all over the city, probably has no emotional stake at all.

  29. Posted by natoma_head

    “The way it reads, The Independent will only be able to survive while surrounded by blight, so the smart money is in dragging (or keeping) the neighborhood down?”
    Not exactly. The best scenario for the Indie would be for the Harding to remain a nighttime/entertainment venue (i.e. bar/resto/club/etc). Residential doesn’t usually mix well setting right next to a club/music venue.

  30. Posted by sf

    WTF?!? Who the hell plans to turn an old theatre into condos?? It’s kind of like turning a stock exchange into a fitness center. Maybe if they had better or more creative plans something could have been built here.

  31. Posted by FSBO

    Tropic Thunder (the movie) is playing at the Independent tonight. How loud is that? How about Leon Russell on the 15th – can he still crank it up? I don’t begrudge the owners of the Independent for doing whatever they feel is in their best interests (as long as it is legal). I’m glad that the Independent exists. I totally agree with an earlier post that the blame should fall on the planning department. Is there any rationality left anywhere in our city government?
    As for the owner of the Harding property, records show it is the Divisadero Hayes LLC with an address the same as the real estate company with the listing. I’m sure they are doing fine too – but think about the time and energy that must have been consumed by this failed project.

  32. Posted by SocketSite

    To be clear, the proposal is not to convert the theater into condos, but to only remove the backstage and fly tower at the rear of the building and construct eight units fronting Hayes and extending across the end of the lot (see illustration above).
    The retail space fronting Divisadero along with the main auditorium of the theater was proposed to be renovated with a non-residential use TBD.

  33. Posted by sf

    Thanks for clarifying, this is a confusing development as described.

  34. Posted by adam f

    the listing broker of the harding is one of the owners.

  35. Posted by BDB

    Last week I saw someone coming out of it,and trying to padlock the top lock, said guy was about 5’5″ and couldn’t reach, so he had to have a guy waiting at the bus stop help him.
    It was a comedy of errors, as his helper was about 80, and had no idea what he was being asked to do.

  36. Posted by Mike Kirby

    Damn straight, I’m a NIMBY.
    When I first moved to this neighborhood, nobody went out of their way to come here. It was a real neighborhood, with shops that were there for the residents. I live around the corner from the theater. I’ve already watched our cozy neighborhood’s character change into somewhere much less pleasant to live as ever hoitier, toitier expensive bars and restaurants attract rude, boorish people from other neighborhoods to see-and-be-seen here.
    I say let the Harding rot down to the foundation before giving the unpleasant people who are overrunning my long-time favorite bars a place to live mere steps distance away.
    Of course, none of you critics of the wonderful thing that has happened have made a single mention of the efforts underway to purchase it, preserve it and use it for an art space… something that would REALLY benefit the neighborhood.
    For TWO HOURS neighbors stepped forward in front of the planning commission and tried to prevent the condos. and the planning commission listened to what the people who would be most affected said. I for one feel gratified. It’s about time things started working out for the best.
    “Blight”. Feh. Who cares? The yuppies who were so rude to me last weekend at a bar that I’ve been a regular at for years are the real blight, impinging my quality of life FAR MORE than the empty facade of the Harding. I don’t care what you think about me or my neighborhood. I’ve been happy here, and I intend to remain so. And what I say counts. Unless you live in the neighborhood, your opinion is not just worthless but worse than worthless… because you’re trying to ruin my quality of life.
    We already lost the firehouse to get an unneccesary, overpriced supermarket and condos. Art space, rotting ruin, I don’t care what becomes, or doesn’t become, of the Harding… As long as it isn’t condos. Let ’em develop somewhere else.

  37. Posted by Mike Kirby

    And before anyone asks, I’m not associated with the Independent in any way, except as an occasional patron who likes having it around the corner from me.

  38. Posted by Fishchum

    Mike – I don’t suppose anyone who “stepped up” and spoke out against the condos (including yourself) offered to buy the property?

  39. Posted by ChrisNLoHaight

    I’d like to comment on Mike’s post. I completely get his concerns, our neighborhood is one of the last to be without a Starbucks, however something has to go into all those empty spaces (a growing list) along Divis, preferably something people use so it generates revenue for the city. An example of a new business I think is good is Nopa, and although I acknowledge it gentrifies the neighborhood and will probably change its makeup, it is owned and operated by locals, employs people in the neighborhood and uses local produce, and is a popular destination for a lot of us in the neighborhood before and after a show at the Independent. The Popeye’s franchise across the street does none of these.
    I don’t have exact answers what we should allow this theater to become or not become, however I do know it does nothing positive for the city or neighborhood if it stays a graffiti billboard.

  40. Posted by Michael

    “Under Klestoff’s latest proposal, two ground-floor stores would face Divisadero Street through windows in the original facade, additional stores would be built into the building, and a marquee and sign that previously adorned the front entrance would be replaced.
    The main auditorium and mezzanine would be preserved, but the backstage and much of the rear of the building, including the so-called fly space, which was built above the original stage to support live acts, would be demolished to make way for a five-story condo building.”
    Doesn’t sound much different than what was proposed before.

  41. Posted by Dirk Rockland

    A theater can’t operate without the backstage and flyspace. There isn’t enough demand for just movies, but there IS enough demand for performance space.
    This is about preserving something irreplaceable.
    Condos can be built anywhere. I don’t see condos bringing in long term jobs. Just more people in an already scarce-on-jobs city.

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