by Thomas K. Pendergast
After more than a dozen years of slow and silent disintegration, it seems the final curtain
has fallen for cinema at the Alexandria movie theater. However, a new use for the grand,
old eyesore might make a splash.
Or it might just be one more wild idea that ends up all wet.
The current plans being offered by the new owners will include two swimming pools but
no movie theater. Time Space Group LLC, which owns two South Bay aquatic centers,
Saratoga Star Aquatics and Milpitas Star Aquatics and Fitness Center, has filed
preliminary project plans but has yet to file a formal application.
The new plan would put two swimming pools, the larger one about 60-feet long and
49-feet wide, on the ground floor, and classrooms for an after-school learning center on
the second floor. The third floor would be dedicated to office space rentals.
“This is just a thought. We haven’t submitted any formal application to Planning yet,”
said Yorke Lee, a manager-partner atTime Space Group. “That’s why we didn’t have the
details worked out. And, at this stage, we’d rather not have too much detail to report in
the media because the idea is not finalized yet. But the big idea, of course, is
a learning center.”
The rebuilding of the Alexandria Theater will cost approximately $7 million.
For decades the movie theater, located at 18th Avenue and Geary Boulevard, was a
landmark building during the glory days of the silver screen. It opened in 1923, and has
undergone remodeling and renovation twice before, in 1941 and 1976.
Competition from television and later home movie viewing eventually led to the
theater’s closure in 2004.
Since closing, the building has gone through different owners, and at one point the City
cracked down on a previous owner for neglecting the property and allowing
homeless people to squat in it.
The most recent owner was the Alexander Development Group, which bought the
building in 2014 and had plans to include a 250-seat movie theater in the building, with
the remainder of the space being used for retail space and a restaurant. But apparently
nothing really happened with that plan.
“Birds are living in the marquee and it’s falling down. It’s just really an eyesore and
we’re sick of it,” said District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer at a community
meeting in April.
“Two gentlemen that live in the South Bay have bought it. Before the owners were in
China. It was very hard to talk to them because they were just going
through a middle man. But now, it switched owners about three or
four times; these two owners I actually met.
“I did a walk-through of the Alexandria Theater with a historian
from the Historic Preservation Commission,” Fewer said. “It’s really creepy
now because there’s no lights and they pulled up all the seats. If you go behind the scenes
there’s these rooms that are like cages in the back; it’s kind of creepy.”
Fewer conceded that, at first, the idea of a swimming pool instead of a movie theater
seemed a little strange to her.
“I thought it was weird. However, the more I thought about it, I thought, you know, it
could be way worse,” she said.
Currently, the only two public pools in the area are Rossi Pool, on Arguello Boulevard,
which is owned by the City and run by the Rec. and Park Department, and
the Koret Center at the University of San Francisco.
“In San Francisco we have a huge gap of people who know how to swim and people who
do not know how to swim because of the access,” Fewer elaborated.
“Even the SF Unified School District has waved its swimming requirement to graduate
from high school because they don’t have teachers or facilities to swim. I have an open
mind with this because it has been an eyesore
for so, so long.”
Part of the difficulty in dealing with the property is the building itself, and its historic
status. In the Preliminary Project Assessment, planning department staff noted:
“The project site contains one or more structures considered to be a potential historic
resource; therefore, the proposed project is subject to further design
review by the department’s historic preservation staff.”
Addressing historic preservation of the building is a condition for any project approval.
“To assist in this review, the project sponsor must hire a qualified professional to
prepare a Historic Resource Evaluation (HRE) report. The project proposes
alterations to an historical resource and the HRE scope will require a Secretary of the
Interior ’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties analysis of the project. The
professional must be selected from the Planning Department’s historic resource
consultant pool,” according to the assessment by the department’s staff.
Across the street from the site is the Richmond YMCA, which does not have a pool. Some
recent media reports have suggested that the “Y” might expand its operations to include
the new swimming pools, but at this point it does not seem likely that this will happen.
“For quite a while that property has changed owners a number of times over the years
and the Y has regularly been trying to explore further understanding of the property,”
said the YMCA’s executive director, Andrew Ward. “To my knowledge the Y has never
gotten past any initial conversations where we could actually get inside and do some
due diligence and figure out what the status of the building is, and what it would actually
mean to transform it into a larger YMCA for the Richmond District.
“We have not had conversations that have really led to any movement with the YMCA
being able to expand there,” Ward said. “We would like to explore opportunities to
collaborate and help make a beneficial resource for the community. We’d love to do
that. I think putting some kind of investment in the Alexandria is good for the
neighborhood, so we hope that they’ll work with folks like the Y to make
the most of it.”
Ward said that at a recent preplanning community meeting he did have a chance to
discuss the YMCA’s possible involvement with Lee.
“I expressed our interest in helping them make the most out of that space. It was an
information session that they could explore, with the Y and other nonprofit
organizations, how to best utilize that space, if that’s indeed
an intention,” said Ward.
“Yorke Lee and his team clarified what they think will happen in those spaces
at that meeting. The spaces, at this point, will be operated by his company, so that
they will run aquatics and some kind of educational after-schoolbased
programs,” Ward said. “He didn’t have a lot of detail about what that would actually look