The Alexandria Theater at 5400 Geary Boulevard and 18th Avenue. And yes, we 311’d “le poop”.
Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the closing of the Alexandria Theater on the corner of Geary and 18th Avenue. The decade since its closing has been one of ongoing neighborhood blight, with the building slowly deteriorating and suffering from vandalism, as promised development plans never get underway.
The theater was opened in 1923 by Samuel Levin, a movie theater entrepreneur who was in business with his two brothers, Alex and Joseph. It was noteworthy for being the first theater to install a sloped floor for better viewing from every seat.
But the building is best known for its architectural fathers, the well-known Reid Brothers, who designed the movie house with an Egyptian theme, mixing elements of ancient Egypt, Minoan culture, and classical detailing. The brothers designed upwards of twenty movie houses in San Francisco, including the Balboa Theater.
In 1941, the theater underwent extensive remodeling and all that really remained of the original design were the stone pillars on its facade. United Artists then purchased the theater in 1976, converting it from a single screen theater into a 3-screen multiplex.
The Alexandria Theater, 1942
Interior of the theater, 1942
The theater, after struggling financially, closed on February 16, 2004 – one week after being sold to a group of investors, Alexandria Enterprises LLC, which owns it today. [SF Heritage]
Since its closing, the theater has been a source of blight for the neighborhood. A favorite for graffiti hounds, the walls along 18th Avenue and the entrance are often tagged.
Trash collected in the entrance to the theater and vagrants sometimes slept out in front of the theater under its protected alcove. Ownership resorted to erecting unsightly cyclone fencing around the front entrance, and throughout the last 10 years, trespassers have broken into the abandoned building and squatted for periods of time, one time causing a small fire.
The exterior of the building has had its share of travails as well. In April 2011, high winds unhinged the blade marquee of the theater. Repairs were made and the sign finally got a much needed, fresh coat of paint. High winds caused more damage two years later.
The decaying entrance alcove to the theater, featuring a peeling, water-damaged ceiling
So what do the Alexandria owners plan to do with the aging building?
For the last few years, plans have been shared with the community for a new development on the property, which would include a 221 seat theater and commercial retail space in the theater building, and a mixed use development on the back parking lot with retail space on the ground floor, residential units above, and underground parking.
The proposed development would preserve original architectural elements of the art deco building, including the domed roof that was part of the original theater before it was sectioned off when it became a multiplex. The ornamental decoration on the facade of the theater building would also remain, including the blade sign (though the 1-2-3 numbers would be removed from the sign, an addition made in 1976).
The plans also indicate that some (or all?) of the original murals inside the building would also be preserved and on view.
But to this day, no work has started on the property. A quick search of the records at SFDBI shows that no new building, electrical or plumbing permits have been filed since the project approval came through.
“The Planning Commission’s approval is good for three years. Within that period, a building permit needs to be filed and issued. Once a permit is issued, the Department of Building Inspection or Building Department may grant extensions to start work and to complete work if the sponsor needed additional construction time,” Mary Woods of the Planning Department told us last April.
The back lot of the Alexandria Theater on 18th Avenue. The proposed redevelopment includes
building a 4 story residential building on the back lot.
At various times, the property has been for sale to the right developer. This expired listing from Marcus & Millchap Real Estate Investment Services was last updated over a year ago, and references the “Project Near Full Entitlement from City of San Francisco”.
Let’s not forget the illegal drama regarding the building’s plans and permits. In 2010, Jimmy Jen, a formerly licensed civil engineer, was arrested for allegedly forging the signatures and stamps of two licensed engineers on documents related to more than 100 construction projects throughout the city between 1990 and 2007, including those of the Alexandria development project.
Jen was often hired as an “expediter” for projects to move them through city approval channels more quickly. Rather than hiring a licensed engineer to review his clients’ construction projects, he allegedly impersonated unwitting engineers.
Jen’s ex-wife, Nancy Jen, was also reportedly the largest stakeholder in the Alexandria Theater project. [SF Examiner] Jen’s case went to trial in July 2013, but we were unable to find the outcome. But his wrongdoings on the Alexandria development’s paperwork did not hinder the project according to city officials.
At this point, most residents have an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude about the Alexandria Theater redevelopment. After 10 years of neglect, it’s time for this large neighborhood landmark to be rehabilitated and put back into use.
Let’s hope that the owners and developers don’t wait until day 1,094 of their three year permit period to get started. Or worse yet, abandon the project altogether, leaving the Alexandria to continue its decade plus run as a neighborhood eyesore.
A rendition of the planned development at the Alexandria Theater
The proposed residential apartments that would be built on the lot behind the Alexandria on 18th Avenue