San Francisco's Castro Theatre taking a few days off

The Castro Theatre doesn’t plan to run shows on Mondays and Tuesdays for at least the next month, but managers and owners say although it’s a cost-cutting measure, the shorter weeks aren’t indicative of serious financial struggles.

Questions arose about the 89-year-old landmark after blog posts and a television news report suggested it might be suffering a plight similar to the Haight-Ashbury’s Red Vic Movie House, a financially troubled single-screen theater that is asking for donations on its website.

In the age of Netflix, when ­second-­run and vintage movies can be easily seen outside the theater setting, the Castro has relied on niche programming such as silent movies accompanied by live music, film festivals, celebrity appearances and even sing-a-longs. Some of these shows provide the Castro with a single lump sum, and thus lessen its reliance on movie ticket sales, which are always a risk in a large, 1,400-seat single-screen setting.

“It’s all about packaging,” said Bill Longen, the Castro’s technical director. “We won’t just run ‘Casablanca,’ we’ll run a Humphrey Bogart festival.”

Owner and operator Don Nasser said even though the Castro is in better fiscal health than it was during the last decade, it isn’t immune to the new market realities and will continue to seek special events. And it just so happens, he said, that this April looks like a slow month for content, and Mondays and Tuesdays are the slowest days for moviegoers.

“It’s not a financial move, it’s a management move in terms of making sure we have the best product available for people to see,” Nasser said, adding that he’s not sure when the Castro will go back to seven days per week. “It will vary from month to month.”

Event producer Marc Huestis said the down days might actually provide more flexibility for scheduling special events on shorter notice. Since 1994, Huestis has brought countless celebrities to the Castro, but he said despite their fame, the Castro always steals the show.

“There’s no other place,” Huestis said. “That theater is bigger than any of the people in there.”

Originally established at the current site of the Cliff’s hardware store on Castro Street in 1910, the second and current Castro Theatre was opened in 1922 by seven Lebanese brothers named Nasser. Although it changed hands in the late 60s and again in the 80s, it returned to the Nassers in 2001, when the building also underwent major renovation.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

History of the Castro Theatre

1910: First Castro Theatre opened by seven Lebanese brothers named Nasser at the current site of Cliff’s hardware store on Castro Street

1922: Second and current Castro Theatre opened by the same family a few doors away

1969: Surf Theatres leases and operates the Castro, bringing in repertory programming and redefining the theater for the gay community

1980: Blumenfeld Theatres leases and operates the Castro after the previous company is shuttered

2001: Nasser family retakes and renovates the Castro

2004: Inner turmoil results in the exodus of several key management figures, including owner Theodore Dennis Nasser

2005: Don Nasser, another second-generation family member, takes over operations

Source: Bill Longen, technical director and historian at the Castro Theatre

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