Redevelopment of “Junky” Nob Hill Theater Closer to RealityJanuary 30, 2023
Purchased by a doctor for $2.7 million in 2018 and subsequently shuttered, the revised plans for redeveloping the iconic Nob Hill “Touch our Junk” Theater at 729 Bush Street, which had operated as a gay night club and male porn venue for 50 years, were conditionally approved last month.
Rather than trying to raze the historic theater, as was originally proposed, the revised plans now call for a four-story addition, which would still yield four residential units across the addition’s top three floors, including a five-bedroom unit for the aforementioned doctor who is planning to operate in a new 7,250-square-foot medical office building and surgery center below.
In addition to agreeing to retain the building’s historic “Nob Hill Theatre” sign (which will be temporarily removed, repaired and reinstalled in its existing location), its permastone cladding (which will be temporarily removed, repaired and reinstalled in its existing location) and other historic elements of the theater’s facade, the theater’s existing entry and auditorium space is to be repurposed as the foyer and waiting room for the medical building, complete with “character-defining features” and exhibits of the theater’s historic past.
And while permits for the redevelopment have yet to be issued, the project’s conditional approval is now official, having not been appealed nor found to require a more detailed environmental review, thanks to the mitigation measures outlined above.
Comments from Plugged-In Readers
I assume that enforcement of historic preservation is done via a complaint-based system. I wonder how long it will take before the owner begins strategically removing the exhibits of the theater’s historic past. Posters of gay male sex shows in a waiting area are unlikely to be good for business.
I went there one and only one time. There was a straight couple in the audience. The gentleman was very generous to the performer, eventually stuffing hundreds into his socks as the young fellow serviced the wife.
Theater of operations?
The editor does us a disservice by not mentioning the Dr’s specialty. If they’re a urologist or something in that area of the body, it would explain a lot and also offer lots of opportunity for bad jokes and references to the 2013 movie Behind the Candelabra.
This City is ridiculous sometimes.
Why in the world are they doing a setback?
Otherwise the “historical” facade would have to be demolished, and America is such a young country that people think 50 years is basically ancient history.
Huh. It’s not often I find myself feeling genuinely sorry for doctors wealthy enough to buy and redevelop land in the middle of San Francisco. But here we are. Landmarked permastone? Required vintage porn advertising in your waiting room? I don’t know which one’s sadder.
Gives new meaning to “between a rock and a hard place” doesn’t it ??
The building is not landmarked. It was only designated as *eligible* for registration on the California Register of Historic Places, and even registration does not prevent a building from being torn down or redeveloped (it may require more CEQA review). The developer is voluntarily agreeing to retain the facade, likely to build goodwill with Planning and the neighborhood.
It’s not really a “voluntary agreement” when the Planning Commission rejects your plans and threatens a lengthy additional process, with no clear timeline on resolution, unless you submit to their changes. Who voluntarily replaces 250 sq ft on three floors with a setback?
The setback is a separate issue and not required to preserve the facade (there is a tower building down the block from me with a historic facade and no setback). And, they could proceed without the setback and reasonably argue that it would better align with the existing streetscape (since none of the existing buildings have a setback).
That the developer is choosing to try to reach consensus with the neighbors and the planning department is his business.
And, if you think developers don’t have to compromise elsewhere, think again. I have some family members in Indianapolis, a city which has *far* less zoning and permitting controls than SF (almost nonexistent by comparison) and which is quite pro-development, and even there developers have to deal with demands from planning and complaints and threatened lawsuits by neighbors and neighborhood associations. That’s called the cost of doing business.
It is “not required” but the Planners “recommend” it as a “clearance path” to build:
> Vertical Addition Setback – Set back vertical addition a minimum of 1 – structural bay from existing front wall. [Between proposed column lines M and N, approximately 10′ +/- from front property line].
I’m not saying it’s not possible to push through, it just takes money and time (which costs money).
I haven’t checked recently, is there some shortage of medical office and/or surgery space in The City?
The reality is that this doctor is undertaking this to pad the bottom line of his practice, by avoiding commercial rents when this project is complete. After he finishes, he won’t have to pay a landlord and the portion of his revenue he presumably is paying now to a commercial building owner in an area zoned for this type of service delivery, he’ll get to keep after he pays for this project, with the concomitant tax benefits accruing to him as well. I don’t fault him for this, it’s a smart middleman elimination move, but I don’t find myself feeling sorry for a doctor wealthy enough to buy and redevelop an existing historic theater building in the middle of San Francisco and ‘Don’ shouldn’t either.
I’m finding the comments a little narrow minded, to be polite about it.
Not everyone shrieks at the sight of the male body or a penis. Consider it’s a fact of life for women to see sexualized images of women on the daily. Sex of all kinds is totally normal and so are all the variations in how people experience it. I can imagine this being the practice of a cosmetic surgeon focusing on LGBTQ clientele and/or sex workers all of which would love knowing they’re seeing a sex positive, LGBTQ welcoming doctor. My extremely successful gay doctor had art featuring the nude male form in his practice. I felt it was quite appropriate and made me feel 100% welcome, especially after having a prior doctor decline to shake my hand after I corrected him that my partner was male.
While change is inevitable, the scouring of all forms of variation from the SF landscape is a bit depressing.
Now I’m thinking of the Seinfeld episode where Bryan Cranston’s dentist character kept copies of Penthouse in his waiting room.
i’ve known a few people who worked there and can assure nothing tawdry went on there
the business should’ve moved to somewhere near the Castro or Polk a long time ago
If this makes it into the national news, San Francisco will be mocked across the country. And rightly so.
San Francisco will be “mocked” because a long-closed, old theater is being redeveloped into a medical office and housing? If people mock SF over that, then they have *way* too much time on their hands and the joke is on them. It’s pretty common for developers in many cities to preserve parts of a historic buildings facade (and it has been done with many buildings in SF and elsewhere). The lobby homage is the *developer’s choice*, and I assume to build some goodwill with Planning and the neighborhood. It’s interesting, but not required. The building is not landmarked, and certainly its interior has *zero protection*. The city has only designated the building a historic resource *eligible* for registration on the California Register of Historic Places, and even registration does *not* prevent a building from being torn down or remodeled (it may require additional CEQA review for a project). The surgeon who will operate his practice in the building has stated he wants to be a good steward of the building’s history and is voluntarily proposing retaining certain facade elements & highlighting its history.
you said: “The developer is voluntarily agreeing to retain the facade, likely to build goodwill with Planning and the neighborhood.”
The proposed redevelopment should be uncontroversial and capable of approval on its merits. The idea that one would need to be a “good steward” of this property’s history as a porn palace is ridiculous. If the planning commission and neighbors need to be fluffed in this manner, they deserve to be mocked.
It is up to the surgeon’s patients to determine whether they want a doctor with advertisements for porno movies in the waiting area.
Dixon, again, the city is *NOT* requiring that either the façade be retained or that the lobby have a display about the theater’s past. And, frankly, it is none of your business what the developer legally chooses to do with his property. And, it is also, none of your business what the surgeon’s patients may or may not want, especially if you are not one of his patients. Obviously, the surgeon has determined that his patients would not care about the vintage posters in his lobby. And, those who would, are free to go to a different surgeon.
In addition, most people in the U.S. have a *LIFE*, and I can assure you, they do not care about, let alone would they take the time to “mock,” what happens in SF with a small medical office building developer going through the approval process. Of all the things that anyone might criticize SF for, this would be at the very bottom of the list.
“If the planning commission and neighbors need to be fluffed in this manner”
– I see what you did there.
I always loved the fact that the “Junky” Nob Hill theater was located on “Bush” street. Of course the Bush was displaced by manscaping during the last few years of the theater’s existence. Wonder why no mention of the dungeon themed basement playground where for $5 bucks you could wander around….Uhm meeting people hiding behind walls. Sad this place fell on “hard” times. It was an interesting playground for awhile.
I’ve been here a couple times around the turn of the century. It was a fun experience as a young buck new to the city. But as a card carrying member of the LQBT (I’m old school) community, I could care less if this eyesore were torn down. And the “historical” posters inside the proposed offices are silly and quite condescending to the gay community IMO.
And historic preservationists wonder why they get no respect…Exhibit A, anyone?
I don’t think they wonder that at all. In this case I think they would see politics at work… a
vocal minoritygroup using a mechanism intended for one purpose to push an…other agenda. Much as the CEQA has been hi-jacked.
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