After a near-15 year vacancy, the Richmond District’s Alexandria Theater will be repurposed into a multi-story recreational and educational facility featuring a two swimming pools and office space.
With a 4-1 vote on Thursday, the San Francisco planning commission gave the greenlight to modified plans for the project by approving a conditional use authorization.
The original project plans, approved in 2013, included an adjacent residential building which has since been constructed, as well as commercial spaces on the ground floor, a restaurant on the second floor and a small theater at the corner of 18th Avenue and Geary Boulevard.
The project ultimately moving forward will feature an adult and a children’s swimming pool on the theater’s ground floor, and a learning center on the second floor that will host after-school educational programs and lend itself for community use in the mornings and evenings. It also includes the addition of a third level within the theater that will provide professional office space.
The project plans also call for locker rooms in the basement and a ground floor viewing gallery.
Architect Jonathan Pearlman told the commission that the theater’s historic features— such as a bronze railing, interior murals, a chandelier dangling from its ceiling, its historic exterior columns and box office— will be preserved. Built in 1923, the theater was renovated in 1942 and shut its doors in 2004.
After that, the building has changed ownership four times, while plans to revitalize it stalled.
Richmond District residents, including Commission President Myrna Melgar, said that the years-long vacancy attracted blight into the area.
Melgar said that as a former staffer to then-supervisor Eric Mar, she spent a lot of time working to address “all of the issues around the building,” such as “the effect on the commercial corridor” and “the issue of vagrants outside.”
“Thank goodness that somebody finally wants to do something with this theater,” said neighbor Patrick Connelly, adding that the building has sat vacant since he moved to the area more than a decade ago.
But not everybody was pleased with the project’s new direction, specifically because access to the poll would be membership-based.
“With the elimination of the cinema component, the public access is curtailed,” said Katherine Petrin, of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation. “After many years of construction and blight at the Alexandria Theater, the community deserves a better project.”
Geoffrey Gordon-Creed, board chair for the Richmond District YMCA, said that the organization “approached the various owners of this property” and sent a letter of intent to make use of the space. The YMCA is located across the street from the Alexandria on 18th Avenue.
“We didn’t get a response,” said Gordon-Creed. “The YMCA is concerned about this project and we want to make sure it’s a good project for the neighborhood and benefits the neighborhood. Right now we are not certain.”
No matter, the commissioners expressed concern over a continued vacancy at the property.
“I can understand that the community may be disappointed with not having a theater as it was discussed [in 2013] but when a building has been standing empty for that long, I’m getting very nervous about its future usability,” said Commissioner Katherin Moore.