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Shuttered Alexandria Theater evades upkeep

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The long-shuttered, three-screen theater on Geary Boulevard and 18th Avenue has become a haven for homeless and has contributed to so much blight along the bustling Richmond district strip that neighbors and businesses are pleading for something to be done.

“There are a lot of homeless people sleeping there,” said Yevgeniya Lapa, an employee of the Europa Plus market across the street. “They use it like a restroom. It’s dirty.”

Built in 1923 by the famous San Francisco architecture firm Reid Brothers, the Alexandria Theater was once the most popular movie house in The City, known for its glamorous Egyptian-style décor. However, after being shuttered six years ago, the 2,000-seat theater has remained empty while the owners and The City wrangle over details and the red tape of development — each pointing fingers at the other as to why the project has not moved forward.

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Meanwhile, a city loophole has allowed the blight to continue without anyone being held responsible or penalized.

The storied movie theater sits idle with a crumbling façade, a boarded-up box office and a once-vibrant entrance riddled with flies and the stench of urine. The building has become an ideal canvas for graffiti, and cardboard strewn at its front doors acts as a bed for transients.

“It’s an eyesore,” said John Miller, 74, who lives nearby.

Delays in cleaning the property and developing a more viable use for the space are partly due to economic hardships, as well as a disconnect between city planners and Alexandria Enterprises LLC — the building’s foreign owners — said Supervisor Eric Mar, who represents the district in which the theater is located.

The owners, who also possess the neighboring parking lot, plan to develop apartments, a restaurant and other businesses on the theater site, Mar said.

The plans include leaving a 250-seat boutique theater and keeping much of the building’s historic amenities intact, including its façade, murals and art deco features, representatives for the owners said Monday.

But the slow-crawling project has been bogged down in bureaucracy, said the representatives.

The owners claim they wanted to break ground a year after the theater was closed, but could not due to bureaucracy within the San Francisco Planning Department.

Planners say the owners have altered the plans a number of times and have been difficult to contact.

Meanwhile, The City has not forced the owners to maintain the property. A new law forces owners of vacant or abandoned buildings to maintain and secure the property or be fined. However, two businesses operate at the back side exterior of the theater building.

The Department of Building Inspection, which oversees enforcement of vacant property, said it is under the impression that the nearby Richmond YMCA uses parts of the property.

The YMCA said it rents 13 parking spaces in the parking lot, but only uses the theater’s movie marquee sign to advertise its center.

The small businesses and the YMCA connection has not red-flagged the property for blight, despite community complaints.

Mar said he wants to close any loophole that has kept the building’s owners from cleaning up.

“When I walk by there frequently … the entry area is such an eyesore,” he said. “[The building] may be dangerous.”

A DBI inspector will examine the site today to make certain the property has good reason to not be called vacant or abandoned, spokesman Bill Strawn said.

Mar said he is trying to locate the developers to discuss the property. He said he wants to ensure the community has a stake in its future. The Planning Department will issue environmental documents within the next couple of months, Mar said.

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maldax@sfexaminer.com

 

New development

Among the amenities proposed for the Alexandria Theater building and parking lot:

– 6,550 square feet of retail space
Location: atop existing 18th Avenue parking lot

– 46 residential units on four floors
Location: atop existing 18th Avenue parking lot

– 136 underground parking spaces
Location: under existing 18th Avenue parking lot

– 250-seat boutique theater at the upper level
Location: within theater building

– 8,000-square-foot restaurant
Location: within theater building

Source: Supervisor Eric Mar



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