The end of an era for San Francisco's gayborhood

A look back at the gayest moments in Castro Theatre’s history

The Castro Theatre’s famous marquee

San Francisco’s famous Castro Theatre, a landmark in LGBTQ history, is about to go through some big changes. The iconic art deco theatre in the Castro District is being renovated into a live music space with programming controlled by Another Planet Entertainment.

The concert promotion company is known for operating the Fox Theater in Oakland and hosting San Francisco’s Outside Lands music festival. The company plans to spend millions of dollars on the renovation. This includes installing a new screen and updating the sound system, lighting, ventilation, and video equipment.

It is unclear if they will continue with the camp screenings that the Castro Theatre is famous for. Over the years it has become known for its pre-screening drag shows, sing-a-longs, and audience participation.

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The theatre opened June 22, 1922, and still dons the original architecture. But in the 1970s, it became a cultural, economic, and political hub for San Francisco’s LGBTQ community. When the theatre first changed ownership in 1976, programming shifted to cater to the iconic gayborhood and highlight gay directors like Andy Warhol and John Waters.

Another Planet has confirmed that events already scheduled for this year will go on and they’ll hold off on renovations. That includes the San Francisco International Film Festival set for April 21 to May 1, and the Frameline45 San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival taking place June 16 to 26.

That gives you at least a few months to take in the Castro Theatre and all its history. In celebration of that queer history, GayCities has rounded up some of the gayest moments in this iconic theatre’s life. 

The Castro Theatre’s gayest moments

Community care

In 1976, members of the LGBTQ community who lived in the Castro were pushed to give the theatre landmark status. When it became San Francisco’s 100th historical monument it was for its historic architecture. Though, it is likely the first to have any relation to the LGBTQ community who made it happen. This is also when the dancing, booing and sing-a-longs the theatre is known for today began.

Gay films spotlighted

The first gay film festival in the country started in 1977 at the Page Street center but has been held at the Castro Theatre since 1981. Frameline, a non-profit that supports the LGBTQ film industry, was created the same year. Frameline still hosts the festival, with the 45th-anniversary show happening at the Castro Theatre in June. 

AIDS on the big screen

The Castro hosted the premiere of Arthur Bressan’s “Buddies,” the first dramatic movie about AIDS. The Sept. 12, 1985 showing was part of the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival. President Ronald Reagan said the word “AIDS” in public for the first time five days later. Unfortunately, the film’s director Bressan and main actor Geoff Edholm both died of AIDS a few years later.

Harvey Milk’s neighborhood

In 1984, the Castro Theatre hosted the premiere of Rob Epstein’s Oscar-winning documentary, “The Times of Harvey Milk.” Then the Harvey Milk biopic “Milk” in 2008, which features the theatre. This premiere was hosted by people from Milk’s career and the actors who played them. The event benefited the Hetrick Martin Institute, which is home of Harvey Milk High School, Larkin Street Youth Services, the Point Foundation, and the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center.

Peaches Christ’s iconic shows

The San Francisco native is a filmmaker, actor, emcee, and drag queen extraordinaire. Peaches Christ, a self-described cult leader, shows each of her new productions at the Castro before they tour. These self-produced events regularly draw over 1,000 attendees. 

Upon hearing the news of the Castro’s makeover, Peaches tweeted:

Blockbusters becoming queer 

Photo by Gooch.

Last month the Castro Theatre hosted the premiere of “The Matrix Resurrections,” the franchise’s fourth installment. With a cast full of queer icons like Neil Patrick Harris and Lana Wachowski, this might be Hollywood’s gayest blockbuster.

RELATED: ‘Matrix’ premiere in SF was a who’s who of gay Hollywood

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