New and Venerable Institutions: Castro Theatre

The Castro Theatre is the jewel of the neighborhood, even when it's the "C  tro."
The 1,500-seat Castro Theatre at Castro and Market is the City's last great movie palace. Long a screen for revivals of great classics and film festivals, the Castro has risen in recent years as a venue for live, on-stage appearances by stars whose films are shown here. Recent guests include Piper Laurie, Esther Williams, Carol Lynley, and Lorna Luft. Other event programs include the Sing Along Sound of Music and holiday concerts by the San Francisco Gay Men's Choir. Designed by architect Timothy Pflueger, the 1922 facility replaced the original Castro Theatre which was located a few doors down at 479 Castro, where Cliff's Variety now stands. Janet Gaynor, the San Francisan who won the first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1926, was an usher here in her youth when she was known as Laura Gainor.

In 2001, a community-based movement to restore and rehabilitate parts of the Castro Theatre was announced by founder Tom Reilly. The theatre's owner, the Burlingame-based Nassar Brothers, also announced intentions to take over day-to-day operations of the theatre from current lease holder Blumenfeld Theaters. The Nassars, who had not directly operated the theatre since 1976, retained longtime program director Anita Monga and indicated that they would maintain the venue's character.

Three years later, in the autumn of 2004, the Nassars sent shock waves through the Bay Area film going community when they fired Monga and other key employees of the theatre. The family attempted to assure the gay community that homophobia was not at work, that they would not tinker with the Castro's gay content. One former employee who was not involved in the 2004 personnel changes at the Castro told Mister SF that a Nassar family member was interested in taking over Monga's position because the family member believed the job to be "glamorous and easy." With her national reputation throughout the film distribution industry, Monga is viewed as irreplaceable by City filmgoers.

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