Having shuttered in February of last year, plans to convert the historic Clay Theater at 2261 Fillmore Street into a retail space have since been drawn. And a formal application to proceed with the conversion is now working its way through Planning.

As proposed, the theater’s façade and marquee would be restored and preserved, as would select interior features, such as the auditorium’s mouldings and proscenium arch, but the theater’s lobby and mezzanine would be removed, the raked auditorium floor would be leveled, and the building would be converted into a single 4,400-square-foot retail space, a Conditional Use Authorization (CUA) for which will need to be approved by San Francisco’s Planning Commission.

Unbeknownst to the owners of the building, the Landmark Clay Theater had been losing around $120,000 a year when the property was acquired for $4.8 million in 2008. And in 2009, the new landlords reduced the theater’s rent from $11,288.39 per month, plus property tax and insurance, to a flat $3,500 a month in order to keep the theater in place, a move which has resulted in a cash shortfall of around $72,000 a year for the landlords, after debt service, over the past 12 years.

To quote the project team: “Theatre operation at [the] Clay is not viable by any stretch of imagination.” But if the conversion is approved and pre-Covid rents on the street return, the project team is estimating the space could demand over $43,000 in gross monthly rent. We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

22 thoughts on “Conversion of Historic Clay Theater Closer to Reality”
  1. Barry’s Bootcamp, Orange Theory and Soulcycle are probably scrambling to submit plans for this space. It’s not easy to find the large, open spaces that gyms and fitness classes need in these wealthy, residential areas of SF.

    And yes, the artistic culture of SF is dying and being replaced by yuppie gyms and coffee. It is what it is. At least it’s supporting health, filling a unique space, and driving foot traffic.

    1. I’d rather see a residential tower. Why should the historically disadvantaged parts of the city have to shoulder all the new development? Not holding my breath though. Pac heights is BANANA Central.

        1. “Limited to 40 feet” isn’t a limit at all these days, with the state density bonus and other enabling laws. So someone could probably manage to get 70 or 80 feet in there without any ability for SF to block it.

          But a “tower” that is not.

    2. Interesting. My initial thought was that there’s already plenty of vacant retail on that stretch of Fillmore, but you’re right that none of it is that much space.

      1. Pre-covid, that stretch of Fillmore was achieving the highest rents for retail space in the city, outside of Union Square.

        1. And note what has happened to Union Street. Lots of empty storefronts, gentrification at its most obvious – all pre-covid. No longer a lively, fun street. Downtown’s not looking so great either. Fillmore Street is heading that direction…

      2. In part, due to the fact that a Conditional Use Authorization (CUA) is needed for the development of any non-residential uses within the Upper Fillmore Neighborhood Commercial District that are larger than 2,499 square feet. Smaller commercial spaces/uses are allowed by right.

        1. Oh and don’t forget that if the proposed use is Formula Retail (god forbid) that would require a CUA as well!

    3. Change cannot be stopped but only slowed, as long as people die change will progress. All we are is dust in the wind.

  2. Theatre operation at [the] Clay is not viable by any stretch of imagination

    I won’t question the claim – there are so many better things to offer up unsupported speculation about !! – but it seems weird it went from operating to “beyond…imagination” so quickly. True, there was the Pandemic, but I wonder if it wasn’t operating at a loss for some time; if so, I guess some silent applause for the effort….this is was a true throwback to the Nicekelodeon era.

    1. We might suggest spending some more time with the numbers we provided above. The theater had effectively operated at a loss for over 12 years, subsidized by the building’s owners since 2009.

      1. Well the Clay wasn’t the greatest space, but it’s really a shame that high or low, Lumière or Alhambra, big or small, Clay or Metro, neighborhood or destination, Bridge, Alexandria or West Portal, no (non-multicrap) theater seems to be able to make it work. The vogue is still open! I’m going to make the trek over while it’s still operating.

  3. The only historic theater left in San Francisco will be the Castro (if it ever reopens). You’ll have to come to Oakland to see what all the Movie Palace rage was about. Long live the Grand Lake!

    1. The Balboa was ruined decades ago when they split it into two screens. The sightlines are terrible and there is soundbleed between the two screening rooms.

  4. Used to go to Fillmore to walk the dog at the park
    till that dog gave the Fillmore his very last bark.
    Used to go to Fillmore to see a show at the Clay
    and put out my back on those seats stuffed with hay.
    Now go to Fillmore to look at the Bro’s
    who TikTok drunk in nothing but…

  5. Who owns this building and why have they been running it like a charity, especially when they bought it not knowing that the Clay was losing money every year?

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