If you looked at the Strand Theater on San Francisco's Market Street as recently as last week, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the historic building's best days are behind it.
But thanks to one of the country's leading theater companies, San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater, the Strand's future is looking considerably brighter. A.C.T. purchased the space last Thursday with big plans to revive it.
Opened as a movie house nearly a century ago as part of the Grauman theater chain, the Strand survived for decades during the city's main commercial drag's slow decline into squalor, largely due to the installation of the underground BART train that pushed many of the small business owners out of the neighborhood.
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While all the other movie theaters that previously dotted Market Street gradually shut down, the Strand persevered until 2006, eventually switching its format to daily triple bills and bingo nights.
During the last decade before being shuttered, the theater exclusively screened skin flicks.
Since then, the building's red facade and iconic marquee have fallen into disrepair--a crumbling edifice stuck in the past as the rest of San Francisco, embodied by the modernist Federal Building that now towers over the Strand from the other side of the block.
A big part of the ambitious City Hall plan to transform the once-blighted the mid-Market area that houses the Strand into a walkable hub of culture and commerce has been convincing arts organizations, like A.C.T., to move into the neighborhood.
"Activating long vacant buildings around Central Market and the Tenderloin is key to improving the area," said San Francisco Mayor Lee in a statement. "A.C.T.'s purchase and activation of the Strand is another important step in cultivating a unique identity for the neighborhood that will bring new jobs and bustling crowds to the area."
Financed largely though a gift from A.C.T. Board member Jeff Ubben, founder of investment firm VentureAct Capital, the company's will convert the Strand's current 800-seat space to a smaller, 300-seat venue targeted toward experimental fare.
"This is a great chance to have a small, more intimate space in which we can take the kinds of artistic risks on new material and young artists and new forms that are more challenging to do in a 1,000-seat theater," A.C.T.'s artistic director Carey Perloff told the San Francisco Chronicle.
In addition to the performance space itself, A.C.T. intends to install a rehearsal space that can be used for cabaret performances as well as a small cafe. The company is launching a capital campaign later year to raise the necessary funds for the renovation.
The Strand is just the latest in A.C.T.'s expansion into the neighborhood. The company has long operated its costume shop on the same block as the Strand and opened a small performance space, appropriately named The Costume Shop, directly underneath it late last year.
A.C.T. has had its eye on building a theater complex in mid-Market for some time now. Early last year, there was some talk of a $100 million plan to buy the triangular lot on the corner of Turk and Market and convert it into something nearly identical to what the company eventually decided to do with the Strand.
A.C.T. hopes to have the renovated theater open for performances by the end of 2014.
Check out this video tour of the A.C.T.'s Market Street costume shop: