SOM recasts old San Francisco movie house for new role as a nonprofit theatre

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SOM's San Francisco office has transformed an abandoned cinema into a multipurpose performance and community venue for the American Conservatory Theater, a prominent arts organisation in the Bay Area (+ slideshow).

The Strand by SOM

The firm renovated the 20,000-square-foot (6,000 square metres) movie house to create a flexible theatre with two auditoriums, along with with a three-storey lobby and cafe.

The Strand by SOM

The building's cast stone facade was restored, and the concrete and steel structure behind was treated to create a more durable frame for the new spaces inserted. The facade was painted red, and new graphics and signage were added.

The Strand by SOM

"This project started with a 100-year-old building that had been a workhorse motion picture house. It had good bones and a great site on Market Street," said SOM design director Michael Duncan.

The Strand by SOM

The three-storey lobby makes the activities within the building visible to the street. Visitors and staff crisscross on stairways with perforated metal panels and look down to the lobby and cafe from cantilevered balconies. An LED screen shows rotating video art.



In many places the building's concrete frame is now exposed. Neon lighting from the 1950s was brought into the lobby, while existing plasterwork was preserved in the main auditorium.

The Strand by SOM

This space can be configured in a cabaret arrangement with 175 seats or in a traditional format to accommodate 283. The smaller black-box theatre can seat 120 for performances or be used for rehearsals and events.

Both spaces are also available to arts, education, and community groups through a space sharing agreement.

The Strand by SOM

The building originally opened in 1917 as the Jewel Theater. It was designed for silent films with live music accompaniment within a single 1,200 seat theatre.

It was rechristened The Strand in 1928, and operated continuously until 2003 when it was abandoned.

The Strand by SOM

It last operated as a porn house, as the neighbourhood had fallen into decline.

In recent years, technology companies like Twitter, Square, and Spotify have moved into the Central Market neighbourhood. The American Conservatory Theater adds to this revitalisation.

The Strand by SOM

SOM is a global practice with offices around the world. Among the firm's current projects are a new tower in Nanchang, China and a plan for a new capital in Egypt for seven million people.

Photography is by Bruce Damonte.