San Francisco officials and arts activists hope to turn the old Strand Theatre on Market Street into a performing-arts magnet. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)
San Francisco officials and arts activists hope to turn the old Strand Theatre on Market Street into a performing-arts magnet. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

The renaissance of San Francisco’s mid-Market neighborhood took another step forward today, with leaders of the city’s American Conservatory Theater joining city officials to break ground on a $32 million remake of a moribund movie palace that goes back to the vaudeville era.

ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff said the two small theaters planned for the Strand will serve as a magnet: “In this space, we hope to produce new work, to engage new artists, young artists, local artists, we hope to share this space with a lot of community partners here, many of whom surround us here. This is a neighborhood filled with arts.”

The Strand, on Market between 7th and 8th streets, is close to another theater and a dance company, and there are plans for a new arts complex two blocks away.

Some arts groups are worried that tech companies moving into the neighborhood – like Twitter and Dolby Laboratories – will raise rents and kill the arts district just as it is getting started.

KQED’s Cy Musiker reported his tour of the Strand with Perloff last month, a visit that showcased how far the old theater has fallen:

Market Street at night was once ablaze with the marquees of vaudeville houses, movie theaters and dancehalls like the Gaiety, the Hub, the Odeon and the Paris.

“This street used to be like the Great White Way in the ’50s, lit up with theaters up and down Market Street,” says Carey Perloff, artistic director of American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. …

“… This was a single-screen movie theater, and then it did repertory, and then it did bingo, then it did ‘Rocky Horror Show,’ then it did a lot of porn,” Perloff said. “And then it was sealed up in 2003 by the police. And when we first walked in, it was just covered by dead birds and other things.”

Inside, the theater is filled with rubble. The air is thick with plaster dust, and you can smell the mold from the groaty, old green seats.

Perloff points out graffiti of a hypodermic needle and the words “junkies for life” painted on the wall.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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