San Francisco, CA – The show will again go on at long dormant Presidio theater

posted by ThrHistoricalSociety on June 7, 2017 at 4:33 am

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From the San Francisco Chronicle: The methodical restoration of the Presidio’s Main Post has transformed military barracks into museums. Homes built for officers now house investment firms. The guardhouse is a visitors center.

So there’s something anticlimatic but satisfying in the plans for the Spanish Revival movie theater that has sat empty since the U.S. Army handed off the Presidio to the National Park Service in 1994. A $30 million makeover will bring the atmospheric relic back to life — life as a theater, a variation of the only role it ever played.

“My father and I came here 45 years ago to watch Hal Holbrook do ‘Mark Twain,’” said Margaret “Peggy” Haas, whose foundation will develop the building with the blessing of the Presidio Trust, which manages nearly all of the 1,491-acre enclave at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. “We want it to be a space that’s as flexible as possible, and affordable as well.”

The two-year project will restore the 1939 structure, including such long-gone details as a wooden ticket booth within the white concrete arches, while upgrading it for 21st century needs.

theater By John KingJune 6, 2017 Updated: June 6, 2017 3:59pm

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The old Presidio Theatre, closed since the National Park Service took charge in the 1990s, will reopen after a face lift. Photo: Beck Diefenbach, Special To The Chronicle Photo: Beck Diefenbach, Special To The Chronicle The old Presidio Theatre, closed since the National Park Service took charge in the 1990s, will reopen after a face lift.

The methodical restoration of the Presidio’s Main Post has transformed military barracks into museums. Homes built for officers now house investment firms. The guardhouse is a visitors center.

So there’s something anticlimatic but satisfying in the plans for the Spanish Revival movie theater that has sat empty since the U.S. Army handed off the Presidio to the National Park Service in 1994. A $30 million makeover will bring the atmospheric relic back to life — life as a theater, a variation of the only role it ever played.

“My father and I came here 45 years ago to watch Hal Holbrook do ‘Mark Twain,’” said Margaret “Peggy” Haas, whose foundation will develop the building with the blessing of the Presidio Trust, which manages nearly all of the 1,491-acre enclave at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. “We want it to be a space that’s as flexible as possible, and affordable as well.”

The two-year project will restore the 1939 structure, including such long-gone details as a wooden ticket booth within the white concrete arches, while upgrading it for 21st century needs.

This includes making the stage deeper and larger to allow for full theatrical productions — part of a larger effort by Haas to reimagine the former movie house as a nonprofit, 650-seat venue that will attract everything from plays to concerts to talks and school graduations.

That differs from how it functioned in its heyday. Shows like Holbrook’s were the exception, as were appearances during World War II by such mainstream idols as Bob Hope and Jack Benny. On-screen diversions were the norm at the theater, located around the corner from the Main Post’s central parade ground.

As part of the makeover, two small wings are to be added on the west side of the 10,000-square-foot structure. One would hold service areas for the stage, with a discreet loading dock and a “green room” for headliners. The other is conceived as a glassed-in pavilion, with an elevator and grand staircase leading to a new below-ground space that features accessible bathrooms and a concession area.

The addition of new to old isn’t easy in the Presidio, which is a national historic landmark district and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. That’s why previous theater proposals have stalled, including one a decade ago that would have doubled the original’s size to create, in essence, an art house cineplex.

Not so this time: State Historic Preservation Office and federal reviewers have signed off on the design by the firm Hornberger + Worstell.

“There were a lot of iterations and a spirit of collaboration” during the back-and-forth with government planners, said Frederic Knapp, the preservation architect who worked on the project with Hornberger + Worstell.

The additions will be subdued, a contemporary take on Spanish Revival complete with terra-cotta roofs as a counterpoint to the red-clay tile roof of the original theater. They’ll be accompanied by a paved courtyard by RHAA Landscape Architects where events can spill outside the building as needed.

The theater’s main entrance is on Moraga Avenue, around the corner from the parade ground and its procession of six red-brick barracks from the 1890s, five of which will have been restored by this time next year. Besides adding a fresh set of activities to the Main Post, the structural rebirth will provide a venue for arts groups with few other options in an increasingly expensive city.

That’s what drove Haas, a philanthropist who is active with the Children’s Theatre Association of San Francisco, to put her foundation to work as a developer. Three years ago she approached the Presidio Trust. “I looked at the old theater, thought about what could be done and thought, ‘Wow, the city really needs this,’” said Haas, who in the past has made six-figure donations to theater restoration efforts in Marin County, where she resides.

Haas, a descendant of Levi Strauss, is not the first of that lineage to hasten the Presidio’s renewal. The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund helped finance the restoration of Crissy Field’s marshes, as well as trails and overlooks throughout the park.

She will also establish a nonprofit to operate the theater, which seeks to open in fall 2019.

The structure is in good shape, with board-formed concrete encasing a steel frame, so seismic upgrades will be relatively minor. Re-creating lost details won’t be difficult, since the Army blueprints remain. But there’s asbestos everywhere and a pervasive smell of mold. Sections of the auditorium ceiling look as if they could collapse.

By 2019, the decay will be forgotten — and the show will go on.

Story link: http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Again-the-show-will-go-on-at-long-dormant-11198048.php#photo-13035073

ABOUT THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA: Founded by Ben Hall in 1969, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) celebrates, documents and promotes the architectural, cultural and social relevance of America’s historic theatres. Through its preservation of the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, its signature publication Marquee™ and Conclave Theatre Tour, THS increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.

Learn more about historic theatres in the THS American Theatre Architecture Archives and on our website at historictheatres.org

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Comments (1)

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