When a movie house becomes homes: Alexandria Theater unveils new plan

Supervisor Connie Chan (right) and Yorke Lee (left), owner of the Alexandria Theater, announced on Tuesday a plan to convert the long-vacant Alexandria Theater into 76 housing units. Craig Lee/The Examiner

The Inner Richmond’s dilapidated Alexandria Theater could soon become housing as part of yet another revitalization plan for the long-vacant space.

San Francisco Supervisor Connie Chan and TimeSpace Alexandria LLC jointly announced Tuesday that The City and the building owner are exploring a development agreement to convert the aging movie theater into 76 housing units, with an unspecified amount being dedicated to on-site affordable housing.

Chan said that she would collaborate with the city attorney and the planning department, with additional input from the Office of Economic Workforce and Development, to ensure that the plan materializes. She introduced legislation in March to designate the theater as a landmark and preserve its marquee and blade sign, the latter of which was removed after it was damaged in a series of January storms. The legislation would also preserve the theater’s grand chandelier and art deco mural.

“San Franciscans want to see the history preserved, but we also want to move forward,” she said. “It’s time. I’m just so pleased that we are finally able to turn a new page for this historic site.”

Amid an ongoing housing shortage and homelessness crisis, The City must build 81,000 new homes by 2031 in order to meet its state-mandated housing goals. San Francisco officials have sought to speed up the process of converting unused commercial spaces into housing, including vacant offices downtown.

Chan said she would ask the Historic Preservation Commission to delay considering the theater a landmark so that The City could work on its development agreement.

Since the Alexandria closed in 2004, none of the plans to transform the space on Geary Street have come to fruition.

Local business owners have suggested that beautification projects could be done on the building’s exterior while work is done on the development agreement.Craig Lee/The Examiner

The last plan for the theater, located along one of San Francisco’s major commercial corridors, would’ve converted it into a multi-story mixed-use space with offices and two swimming pools. The planning department approved the project, but the COVID-19 pandemic and financial constraints shuttered those plans.

“I want to use our full strengths to speed up this process, hopefully to be a successful project, to be a win-win situation for everybody.” Yorke Lee, TimeSpace’s founder, said.

Sean Kim, co-owner of the nearby Joe’s Ice Cream shop, said that he was optimistic about the housing project as it offered a solution to a source of blight in the neighborhood. While The City explores Chan’s conversion plan, he suggested that beautification projects — like painting murals on the walls facing 18th Avenue — could be done to the building’s exterior in the meantime.

The City and developers will seek community once the plan’s details are finalized. Chan said it was important to preserve a piece of the neighborhood’s past while creating “a flexibility for housing and development because that’s what we need.”

“People said, ‘That’s not possible. You can only have one or the other.’ … We’re going to work this together and work it out because we can do this,” she said.

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