Alexandria Theater Site Could Get New Life


The Alexandria Theater on Geary Boulevard and 18th Avenue has descended into blight since its closure in 2004. Photo by Jerold Chinn / SF Public Press.

The dilapidated Alexandria Theater might actually get renovated by early next year, saving at least the facade of the Richmond District landmark. But the new building would not look much its predecessor on the inside, with entertainment giving way to needed housing and retail.

The owners want to revamp the theater by building apartments where there is now a parking lot. Their proposal could reach the approval stage by next January — if the owners get their act together before December, said Mary Woods, a staffer at the San Francisco Planning Department.

The housing portion has dragged on because it kept changing, and it also had to weather a five-year environmental review. But ever since the theater shut in 2004, Richmond District residents have complained about blight — graffiti and homeless people sleeping under the entrance. City officials, neighbors and the owners have been debating these ideas for years with little to show for it, said Richmond District resident Linda Lyon. “It would be nice to see it in my lifetime — to see it done,” she said.

Supervisor Eric Mar said he wanted to remedy the blight while preserving the historic theater. It became an issue in the last election, as his well-funded opponent, David Lee, excoriated Mar for letting the theater go empty for years. “My hope is that the current ownership is really able to move forward through the planning process so that we can have a spot that is really benefitting the neighborhood,” said Mar, who was re-elected on Nov. 6.

The owner, Alexandria Enterprises LLC, wants to add retail storefronts in the first floor, a restaurant on the second floor and possibly a single-screen, 200-seat theater. The company would build 37 housing units in the parking lot and possibly more retail space, with two floors of underground parking.

Jonathan Pearlman of Elevation Architects said many of the theater’s exterior features will be kept, including the signs and marquee. The first floor and main staircase would remain mostly intact.

Ron Miguel, a former planning commissioner and member of the Planning Association for the Richmond, reassured neighbors at a recent community meeting that the run-down theater will be renovated and reopened. “It’s really coming close,” he said. “That dark building across the street and parking lot will come into fruition.”

Ronald Yu, a representative for the company, said he remains optimistic. He said the “biggest hurdle” was the environmental impact report last year. The owners put up a chain-link fence to prevent homeless people from sleeping at the main entrance. Yu said that a janitor comes in twice a week to paint over graffiti.

The owners will not set a construction start date until the Planning Commission approves the project, Yu said. Renovations to the theater building would most likely happen before the housing construction.

Woods said residents could contact her with concerns about the project before a public hearing is set: mary [dot] woods [at] sfgov [dot] org.

The Richmond District Blog has posted the latest theater plans and renderings online.

Owners of the Alexandria Theater recently erected a fence to discourage homeless people from sleeping under the marquee. Photo by Jerold Chinn / SF Public Press.

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