Metro Theater (2550 Union) Proposed Facade
In front of San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission’s Architectural Review Committee this Wednesday, the application to convert the landmark Metro Theater at 2055 Union “to a health/fitness center and to alter the front façade, including replacement of the storefronts and the installation of new window openings.”

At the exterior, the work includes altering the front façade by replacing the storefronts and creating new window openings. At the interior, the work includes reconfiguring and dividing the existing spaces to create three full floor levels and one partial floor level. The proposal would preserve the murals within the auditorium intact by pulling the new floors away from the side walls. It would also uncover and preserve the Ionic columns, grilles, and urns located inside the auditorium. The work would eliminate the sloped auditorium floor and the remaining finishes of the interior.

As the theater looks today:
Union Street Metro Theater (www.SocketSite.com)
San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission Agenda: 9/15/10 [sf-planning.org]
2055 Union Street/Metro Theater conversion application [sf-planning.org]
Union Street’s Metro Theater: Saving Its Skin In Order To Un-Shutter [SocketSite]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by anon94123

    I have never understood San Francisco’s fetish to save movie theater facades, could someone help me? Both in North Beach, Geary and now here on Union these ‘historic” facades have no real architectural or cultural significance. People used to go to movies and purchase newspapers to get their entertainment and information, now they have the internet and television, so why can’t the city let go of these relics? Will San Francisco one day in the future want to preserve ATM machines because that is the way people “used to get cash”? One theater that has done a good job of saving itself is the Castro Theater and that is because they use novel programming selections and have allowed the theater to still have cultural relevance.

  2. Posted by abc

    Is this a done deal? If so, when will the gym be opened? Any details?

  3. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    anon94123 wrote:
    > I have never understood San Francisco’s fetish to save
    > movie theater facades, could someone help me?
    Many pathetic people who don’t have much of a life find a sense of purpose “saving” something like a movie theater façade…

  4. Posted by diemos

    I’ve always seen it as an extension of the “SF is special” meme. Allowing anything within the 47 sq miles of SF county to be thought of as outdated trash that should be torn down defiles the “SF is special” meme.

  5. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Preservation does make sense with limited judicious usage in places like SF that have such a short recorded history. But what is preserved seems to be driven by motives other than history. Theater facades in tony neighborhoods are preserved yet other buildings and structures with more historic relevance but further from the homes of the wealthy are ignored and allowed to be torn down.

  6. Posted by Denis

    This is just beyond stupid… This building is just a white box with almost no architectural detail. All they’re talking about is preserving the sign and the marquee. Suppose they agree to remove the sign and marquee but keep them in a vacuum sealed storage unit where they will be waiting until the resurgence of single screen movie theaters really starts to take off. Would that make people happy?

  7. Posted by tipster

    I assume you mean 2055 Union, not 2550, which is a residential block.
    And if it makes the preservationists happy, who cares that they keep an ornate sign, a few details, and otherwise gut the interior. Seems like a reasonable compromise.
    And it’s kind of fun to use a gym in a repurposed building. The Equinox downtown is in a stock exchange (I think) and they left a lot of the details there and its fun. The Alhambra is really pretty and a creative use of the space while keeping it very clear that it was a theater: they left the balconies and a lot of the detail. It’s a bit inconvenient (they used the existing bathrooms as the locker rooms and so they are way too small), but it keeps it interesting. I think this is a win for everyone.

  8. Posted by lolcat_94123

    I dig the saving of old movie theaters (granted I’m an OC guy – we did a lot of work to save the Fox Theater in downtown Fullerton).
    Better to have a cool old-school looking movie theater with something useful inside then the lame cookie-cutter box condos they sprinkle around mission bay.

  9. Posted by BobTheBuilder

    tipster: “if it makes the preservationists happy, who cares …”
    Well, the property owner, for one, cares about the financial burden of working around the constraints placed on the use of his property for no real benefit (we’re likely talking several hundred thousands). And then the Assessor of course wants to assess the owner extra for any work done on the preserved pieces (Mr. Ting’s people use the fallacious argument that you have added value to the property by remodelling with nice decorations on the outside and therefore you will be getting higher rents for the cool building).
    It might be “kind of fun” but why do you think your government has the right to force the owner to provide you this fun?

  10. Posted by sfrenegade

    This is yet another stupid choice for preservation. The building just doesn’t seem historically relevant in any way. I’m with Denis — just save the sign and marquee. The rest of the building is crap, and I bet very few people ever saw the interior details that they are preserving because it was a movie theater. It would be one thing if it had an amazing interior that was being saved, but keeping this facade is a waste of time, and keeping the interior detailing is too.

  11. Posted by noearch

    Basically agree with the notion that this is just another “stupid choice for preservation”..Often, in this city, historic preservation is used to stop progress and logical growth and change…and to allow some people to continue living in the past.
    This is a joke to save the theater sign in place, and yet the building is about to become a fitness center. So what does the sign have to do with the new function.
    Nothing. The building is not becoming a theater. Move on. Let the new owner make it a viable business, get rid of the sign.
    and at lolcat: I don’t get your point at all of having a “cool”, whatever that means, facade that has nothing to do with the new use.

  12. Posted by wiger toods

    Does it come with the red neon around all the edges too? It really sets off the grey palette they’ve chosen….

  13. Posted by napoleanpeskin

    The blank wall portion of the building is a historic landmark. Not over my dead small- person body!

  14. Posted by Invented

    Don’t know what to make of this at all. Sort of mishmashy. One option would be to put in massive industrial windows (similar treatment as the small ones below) for a Euro factory (?) look. Alternatively if we’re going with this (with the floors voyeuristically brought to edge of building) — let’s have some snazzy look-at-me lighting for the spandex crowd. Maybe marquis-like pulsating lighting on the periphery of the new windows. This is Union Street after all — why not amp up the seen/be-seen/body scene going on — through some architectural playfulness?

  15. Posted by NoeNeighbor

    The fetish about movie theaters is particularly bizarre. There are 5 or 6 decrepit theaters along Mission Street that scream to be demolished but apparently can’t be for historical preservation reasons. It would be nice if one of them was turned into a multi-plex but the rest could just disappear as far as I am concerned (and I like historic buildings).

  16. Posted by Jim

    For a city that supposedly hates L.A. so much we sure do love our Hollywood movie theaters.

  17. Posted by lol

    SF is a city of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its strip and each of these strips has a recognizable fixture. Often it’s theaters, but other times it’s a church (Church street), double parkers (Clement), entitled baby strollers (24th) and so on. These theaters happened to be built at or around the time these neighborhoods came to life. I think it’s a good thing to keep at least some of them. Sure they are generic boxes with a fancy front, but so are most victorians.

  18. Posted by marvinsnephew

    Anyone remember the Harding on Divisadero?? The exterior changes were much less intrusive than this and the owner was willing to recreate the marquee, but the preservationists killed that one because of interior changes to make it useful with the ability to make money by SAVING the old theatre. It would have been a huge boost for the Divis corridor. I think all of these theatres should be taken by eminent domain and turned into libraries!

  19. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    They found a compromise which keeps everyone happy, I don’t know what all the griping is about. I agree with NoeNeighbor about Mission Street though, that is the real eyesore. Is it really the historic preservation ordinance that is holding up fixing up huge sections of Mission Street or is there just not enough commerce to make it work?

  20. Posted by sfrenegade

    “There are 5 or 6 decrepit theaters along Mission Street that scream to be demolished but apparently can’t be for historical preservation reasons. It would be nice if one of them was turned into a multi-plex but the rest could just disappear as far as I am concerned (and I like historic buildings).”
    It has been done before in other cities. Anyone ever been to the AMC Empire near Times Square? (see URL) They kept the old facade, which actually was worthy unlike this crapbox, and turned it into the lobby for a massive 25-screen multiplex. It was pretty well-done, and I believe the theater is one of the highest volume in the U.S.
    It would be very difficult to do something like this in SF, however. The NIMBYs would kill it. Why would anyone want to invest in drawing up the plans, when development by committee will stall things for years only to doom the whole project.

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