Teatro ZinZanni and its famed Spiegel tent are exploring the possibility of returning to San Francisco’s waterfront. (Courtesy Michael Craft)

Teatro ZinZanni and its famed Spiegel tent are exploring the possibility of returning to San Francisco’s waterfront. (Courtesy Michael Craft)

SF planners question second act for historic Teatro ZinZanni tent

San Francisco planners are hesitant to let the much-beloved Teatro ZinZanni tent take center stage at the show’s planned venue along the waterfront.

For more than a decade, Teatro ZinZanni hosted dinner theater shows in San Francisco before it closed in 2011 to make way for The City to host the 34th America’s Cup and for the construction of the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Piers 27 and 29.

Now, the entertainment venue wants to build a 25,000-square-foot theater — complete with the historic Spiegel tent that’s currently in storage — and a 200-room hotel for its new planned home along The Embarcadero atop a current parking lot.

The dinner theater show was previously performed in the Spiegel tent along the waterfront and included live music, comedy and acrobatic entertainment. The tent, imported from Belgium and named the Palais Nostalgique, is more than a century old and features stained glass windows, hand-carved wooden interior columns, polished crystal and antique mirrors.

“Guests are seated restaurant-style in this unique venue, and the action of the show takes place throughout the circular venue as an international cast immerses every part of the space ensuring all 300 guests have an incredible experience,” theater officials explained in a statement.

Last fall, the Port Commission authorized an agreement between Teatro ZinZanni and its financial partner, Kenwood Investments, to lease and develop the 57,170-square-foot site at Seawall Lots 323 and 324, which touch Broadway, Davis and Vallejo streets and The Embarcadero.

More details have emerged about the property development, including the hotel and theater designs, as well as the creation of 7,500 square feet of open space. The site is currently used as a surface parking lot, which generated about $1 million in Port revenue in fiscal year 2014-15.

But the Planning Department’s preliminary assessment of the proposal, released March 15, gives mixed reviews about the latest concept for the theater and hotel.

Constructing the Spiegel tent in The City’s Northeast Waterfront Landmark District, known for its commercial masonry structures, might not match the feel of the neighborhood, planners noted.

“The tent structure is unusual for the district and, while we acknowledge its uniqueness as a cultural artifact, may itself need to reflect greater compatibility with the district or be housed in a structure that reflects that compatibility,” city planners wrote in the assessment.

Theater officials, however, were quick to note the significance of the Spiegel tent to the project.

“[The tent] would help transform people and take them into another world; it actually became a real part of people’s experience,” Annie Jamison, chief operating officer of Teatro ZinZanni, told the San Francisco Examiner on Monday. “The tent for us is a really valuable piece of the experience for the customer.”

Jamison said the Spiegel tent will be housed in a glass-walled gazebo to allow pedestrians walking on The Embarcadero to view the backstage hallways.

“We’re excited about our vision for the tent,” Jamison said. “At night, you’ll be able to see the performers in costume moving around … it will be a fun way to engage in the tent.”

The Planning Department also questioned the current design for the site that could impact the public right-of-way along Vallejo Street, which “represents an important view toward the waterfront.”

Planners recommended relocating the theater to the north and pushed for more public access to the project’s open space, as well as the possible inclusion of an outdoor theater.

“The Planning Department is challenged to support the vacation of the Vallejo right-of-way in the manner currently proposed because the proposed Circus Tent will block views to the Embarcadero and impede physical connections to the waterfront,” the assessment reads.

Still, project leaders were not dismayed by the assessment.

“There’s a challenge here certainly to overcome, but we’re confident we’ll be able to overcome it,” Jamison said.

Jay Wallace of Kenwood Investments said the assessment will bolster the conversation between city planners and developers to help Teatro ZinZanni become a notable waterfront fixture once again.

“[City planners are] simply asking us to work with them and talk with them about the rationale for the glass gazebo and how important it will be as an overall cultural icon along the waterfront, and it really will be that,” Wallace said.

Teatro ZinZanni, which also operates a venue in Seattle, hopes to open at its new home in San Francisco in 2018.

EmbarcaderoPlanningPlanning DepartmentPort of San FranciscoTeatro ZinZanniwaterfront

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