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I walked by last week and peeked up to the Nokia construction sign and could see right through the back of it to Broadway. I walked underneath and yup: the marquee is gone. I wonder how they spirited that thing away? Doubtful it’ll be reused elsewhere.
The phone number is disconnected and the website does not come up. Sad. Everything about this place looked great. Last time I checked the site was when they were showing all those Roman Polanski movies that were rotating around town the time of the Pianist’s release.
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
Wednesday, November 3, 2004 (SF Chronicle)
Castro Theatre in turmoil over sudden sacking
Ruthe Stein, Chronicle Senior Movie Writer
The manager of the Castro Theatre quit Tuesday — the latest of several
staffing shake-ups to cause concern about the future of the venerable
movie palace, mecca to film lovers in the Bay Area.
Stacey Wisnia, who has managed the Castro for more than four years and
worked there for eight, said she resigned in part to protest the abrupt
firing last week of the theater’s long-time programmer, Anita Monga.
“I really am upset about how they fired Anita, who is definitely one of
the most highly regarded programmers in the country,” Wisnia said. “It
makes me worry about the direction the theater is heading in."
During her 16 years as the Castro’s director of programming, Monga
developed a national reputation for her eclectic scheduling, mixing
first-run features with classics and the offbeat. Her final schedule for
the theater includes the original "The Manchurian Candidate,” a tribute to
cinematographer James Wong Howe, a week’s worth of “Godzilla” movies and
“Tarnation,” a new documentary about a young man’s relationship with his
mentally ill mother.
Monga said Castro owner Ted Nasser summoned her to the theater last
Tuesday to tell her “I would immediately have no contact with the theater.
I can’t even begin to think what is in their minds,” she said, referring
to the Nasser family. The Nassers built the Castro and have owned it since
1922, but took over active management only in 2001. They have installed
new seats and made other improvements.
Stacks of letters have been sent protesting Monga’s dismissal and
expressing concern for the quality of the films the theater will now show.
Although Monga said she was “shocked” by her dismissal, this outpouring of
support “has been so moving to me” and confirmed her belief in the
Castro’s significance. “It is a San Francisco treasure and I worry about
it now.” Assistant manager Christian Bruno, who recently e-mailed almost
everyone in the film community to complain about turmoil at the theater,
also has been fired. Office manager Kelly Rausch resigned Friday in
Nasser isn’t saying much about what’s transpired. “As an employer, it is
not my habit to speak about staffing changes,” he said Monday.
But his wife, Karen Nasser, went out of her way to assure local theater
patrons that there would be no major changes at the Castro.
“No thought has been given to exhibiting films like the multiplexes show,
” she said. “The Castro has shown unique films, hosted film festivals and
special events for many, many years. We expect and look forward to
continue to work with each and every one of the film festivals and special
"Karen is hankering for the job (of film programmer) because she thinks
is glamorous and easy,” said Elliot Lavine, an independent distributor who
used to program films at the Roxie. “She has no idea of what goes into it,
and Ted wouldn’t know a good movie from an ashtray."
It is believed that the Nassers would like to screen more family fare.
Karen Nasser recently initiated Sunday morning children’s films such as
"National Velvet” and “Cheaper by the Dozen."
"I think they would like to see less of things like ‘Tarnation,’ ” said
Marcus Hu, owner of Strand, an independent distributor whose films often
play the Castro. Wisnia said the Nassers have “complained about the gay
content of some of the films.” When a double bill of “Proteus” and
“Superstar in a Housedress,” both gay-themed, did not do well at the box
office “it seemed to set them (the Nassers) off in a way.” According to
Wisnia, they also were unhappy with a Bruce Weber photo on a recent
program cover showing men with their shirts off and their arms around each
Insiders say the Nassers have been furiously calling festival heads to
assure them the welcome mat is still out at the Castro. But at least one
festival curator, Eddie Muller, who puts on the popular San Francisco Film
Noir Festival at the Castro in January, may go elsewhere.
“I have no intention of doing it without Anita, and I am seriously
considering an alternative venue because of this development,” Muller
Gary Meyer, founder of Landmark Theatres who now operates the Balboa,
predicts that there may be more defections. “The Castro is very expensive
to rent, and you don’t want to go to a place where the staff and the
environment are not right for what you are doing,” Meyer said. Other
options for film festivals include the Palace of Fine Arts and the Herbst
However, Meyer doubts that the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay
Film Festival would consider a move because the Castro is in the heart of
the gay community. “They want to be at the corner of Main and Main."
E-mail Ruthe Stein at
I walked into the Metro Twin while it was playing Manchurian and another film. I considered one night recently going up to catch Open Water again, just to say I saw a movie there. The larger auditorium is so strange with the high rake of the converted balcony seats, and the ‘main’ auditorium is odd with it’s small size and those two statues on the sides of that itty bitty screen.
I took a couple of shots before I was told no. I wish I got a better one of the cool front neon. sigh Maybe it’ll do a quick reopen before the ball smashes another chunk of New York coolness away.
Sorry, those who didn’t know, I had posted this statement “Iâ€™ll be there Sunday, for the last show of The Village at 10:15 pm” on the 30th, but I guess that wasn’t enough time for it to be read.
I had heard August 5th from the theater itself, then when I went online I saw that they were closing on the 1st.
I also wanted to get there a little earlier to take some pictures. I did get a few, but didn’t do the ‘four corners’ thing I wanted to do showing the vast space and many seats.
We arrived via 44th so we could walk up to the large marquee one last time, bought our tickets, were given the coupon sheet for a free entry to 34th Street and a free upgrade to Reserved Seating at the 34th. This was ‘Loews’ gift' for 30 years of service.
The guy taking tickets was cool. He was talking with one of the people from the Cinemaniacs documentary and laughing and said, This is it! The last night!
Got some popcorn and a final hot dog, said hi to staff worker Noble who I had been talking to since I learned of the end, he mentioned he was moving over to the Loews State, and I went to sit down. There were a 150 people maybe. Took one pic and someone noticed my Cinerama shirt and it turned out to be some guy who works at Film Forum.
Watch the movie, and it was really dull. Completely boggles my mind that Loew’s would not only book a big opening film for only three days, have the studio make up brand-new marquee image tiles that will only fit this one marquee for three days, but that if they knew they were closing and didn’t want to just end the run with Spider-Man 2 (which really would’ve been a much more wonderful note to go out with), then why not rent some print like Titanic or some big event movie that people might actually clap at and let us have a go? They obviously knew people were upset enough to print up these coupons, even though they really just want us to completely bypass the 42nd Street Loews and head to 34th, which is bland bland bland bland. Nice, but bland.
Top of the screen had the same old projection problem they’ve had for years (just slightly fuzzy at the top and not completely full). I’ve been going to the Astor Plaza for 12 years and it’s always had that. A couple of times I actually went to other theaters just because I needed the better projection. Still, glad I saw Lord of the Rings 3 there on opening day, Christmas Day 2003, as it was completely and entirely sold out. So much fun!
So the Village is ending, I grab my video camera and go all the way to the last row in the center, just over that back exit, to shoot the final closing curtain. I almost wondered if they were going to do it. There were some workmen looking at the black masking cloth. The curtain closes, one guy up front stands up and claps and I do the same. There were only 12 people in the theater at this point. A few were walking around looking at the various vantage points, much as I’d been doing since I learned of the imminent demise of the space.
I saw each film here since I learned the news: Van Helsing, Shrek 2, Harry Potter 3, Spider-Man 2, the Village. I kinda wanted to catch Spider-Man 2 again on the big screen, but the week got busy.
The end was pretty awful. After the screen closed I panned the camera around, and they were reopening it. Then these burly gristly guys who drink beer started pulling at the black curtains. Then a guy was walking around with a flashlight. Then ladders and other tools and ropes came in. I asked one of the guys, Is it possible this space might be used for movies again? He said, Well, we’re taking the speakers now, so those will be gone. I’m cutting the screen open to get to the speakers in back. The projectors are going, so they’d have to replace those. So I don’t think they’re going to show movies here again.
I wanted to get a nice shot standing in front of the Broadway bulb overhead as you entered, and I did, but the guys are in the background on their ladder, already taking the place apart moments after the credits were over.
The theater staff just wanted us gone. As we were taking pics they kept telling us the theater was closing. I took a couple pics of the mammoth stairs, one of the eternally closed back exit where the theater manager had a little open-air ‘office,’ opened up the video camera for one last ride up that long escalator to the street, and exited out the front.
Had to walk down the long corridor hallway that also has the entrance for the Minskoff, just because it was always so fun to walk down that hallway to catch a flick in the Square.
And that’s it for the Astor Plaza, the last witness to Times Square’s over-the-top motion picture swelling. There’s one mute witness, waiting for a renter, but at one million a year it seems unlikely. The Loews State is a very dim memory, having a hey day for a few short years until the two megaplexes opened on 42nd. Once that dim light is extinguished, there will be nothing but memories of what movie-going was like in Times Square. Or that Times Square even had movie theaters.
I remember Titanic playing there for a week or so recently. It was a little jarring to walk down the street and see Titanic up there again several years after it had opened. Kinda wish I saw it again, just for that large effect. My first Titanic screening was in one of the little boxes at the Chelsea 23. Not as cool. Did see it once at the Astor.
Now I really wish I saw 2001 twice. I remember how they just dumped that thing out there. I remember it was a supergreat experience and people did clap and cheer when it played.
I know W——– likes to rag on all of us young people for the crime of not being old enough to be alive to visit New Yorkâ€™s grand old movie palaces, but the Astor Plaza was my first big giant theater experience in New York, and no matter how much he wants to put on his jackboots and stomp all over my pleasant memories, Iâ€™ll have them.
Iâ€™ll miss my event movies in Times Square. I loved standing in a line in TIMES SQUARE to see a movie in a giant theater with a big crowd. I loved leaving a movie in TIMES SQUARE and seeing everyone bustling around, and the long lines outside even recent features like Lord of the Rings. I loved seeing the Grindhouse logo and Shaw Brothers logo in a TIMES SQUARE theater during Kill Bill. As a little kid I used to dream about seeing movies in Times Square. I moved here in 1992 and 42nd was already boarded up. I think there was one multiplex operating on the Deuce. Never made it in there that I remember. Visited the Embassy a couple times for crap like Judge Dredd. Ran into a couple of the porno places right before they went away, but the movie-theater New York I used to dream about was long gone by the time I got here.
I got one night at the Bleecker Street Cinema before it was gone. Saw The Kingdom at the Anjelika 57. The nondescript and bland Art Greenwich was at least a neighborhood theater for me. I saw Donnie Darko last night in a modern box on 42nd.
As crappy as the projection had been for years, as terrible as those faded posters for King Kong and Superman II were all those years, going down into that â€˜hole in the groundâ€™ was always a great experience for me. It felt pretty wild to go down such a long escalator to experience a new film. And that huge lobby and the standees all around. Especially before the two 42nd Street theaters closed, back when the Astor was THE place to go, and lines would form and huge audiences would show up.
Iâ€™d prefer not to have my heart stomped on during the final days of the bare tendrils of memory I can drag out of todayâ€™s soulless New York. But itâ€™s a “free country,” which means we can pee on each otherâ€™s tears all we want.
Me, Iâ€™m going to remember the Astor Plaza fondly.
Iâ€™ll be there Sunday, for the last show of The Village at 10:15 pm. Watching the curtains close, and holding back a sob. That â€˜hole in the groundâ€™ is leaving a hole in my heart.
Nope, it’s closing on Sunday, August 1st.
Our Gift To You for Three Decades of Movie Magic At Loews Theatres Astor Plaza 1.
Visit Astor Plaza 1 in Manhattan at 1515 Broadway during its closing weekend (July 30 – August 1, 2004) and you will receive a handout with three coupons valid for Loews Theatres 34th St.:
In addition, Loews will conduct a raffle for an Annual Pass. The Astor Plaza 1 will be screening the highly anticipated new blockbuster from M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs”), “The Village”, starring Joaquin Pheonix.
*See Coupon for details
The Village ( PG-13 2hr 00min )
Friday 07/30/2004 11:45 2:30 5:45 9:15 12:30
Saturday 07/31/2004 11:45 2:30 5:45 9:15 12:30
Sunday 08/01/2004 12:45 4:00 7:15 10:15
August 5th is the last day.
I’ve been going here for every film since Van Helsing since I heard the news. Spider-Man 2 was fun with the audience. I’ve been spending some time looking around the theater.
So it’s definitely August 5th, according to the staff there. That’s less than a month. Most likely Spider-Man will still be there and there will be one final show, and then it’s gone. One of the last two Times Square theaters, and one of the last two large single-screen theaters left in Manhattan.
A sad day in New York it will be.
For a rare chance to see the inside of this 299-seat neighborhood theater, the Asian American Independent Film Festival is running its festival in July, 2004, and using the 59th Street as one of its screening facilities.
When I walked by the 59th Street last week the pre-lobby area had a bunch of cardboard boxes scattered around behind the safety gate, and one of the glass doors was left open. I’m looking forward to walking into this neighborhood landmark again. The mini marqee alone will be great to see lit up again. The theater is right around the corner from the skytram to Roosevelt Island.
After reading these posts I had to make my way over to the Sutton and it’s shocking to see what’s been done to the facade. It makes no sense. It isn’t just a mild chip or hack here and there. The entire front has been hacked and hacked all over. I am amazed that anyone was able to do this without anyone noticing. It’s definitely an undeniably vandalism. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I caught Kill Bill Vol. 2 on its last night here on Thursday and they were only selling tickets on the inside at concessions. The door to Sutton 1 is right next to Sutton 2. The upstairs is very strange. If you’re sitting on the side it’s hard to enjoy the film. The bottom theater is fine and a fine experience.
I’ll head back over for the Broadway documentary going on now. It’s so odd to see such a nice large marquee and signage in a once character-filled city like New York, laying beneath a vandalized facade, and knowing that this too will be erased from the city’s character and another soulless square bland building will then exist here.
It’s amazing it’s legal to destroy property like this. It’s so obviously not a proper job of whatever they said they were doing.
According to nytheatre.com’s Broadway theatre listing page, the Broadway currently has 1752 seats.
And yes this is where “Steamboat Willie” starring Mickey Mouse had its world premiere, November 18, 1928, which is recognized by the Disney company as the official birthday of Mickey Mouse. Steamboat Willie was actually Mickey’s third film, but the first two were silent (“Plane Crazy” and “The Gallopin' Gaucho”) and were swept aside in the rush to talkies.
Bonnie and Clyde was made even cooler with an appearance by the film’s director Arthur Penn. These two consecutive series were incredible. It seemed like a new light had shown on Manhattan theatergoing. Jaws was PACKED! I believe Blade Runner may even have been sold out. The Exorcist was an experience like none other, and with William Friedkin and Ellen Burstyn both there… priceless.
I’ve been hoping someone would pick that idea back up again, but now reading over the posts I wonder just how much it must cost to make Radio City run for a night. As many noticed, so many of these screenings were packed. Seeing a movie with 5,000 other people is just incredible.
Does anyone know who organized these film series? To this outsider they sure seemed easy to run. If you can charge $40 for a show ticket and do okay with all the hydraulics and smoke machines of a concert, you should be able to have a film projected for $12 a ticket times 5,000 tickets. Older films are just not that expensive to rent. Even if they’re collecting 35% of the door, sharing $60K for projecting a film print just doesn’t seem like bad business.