Sunday, November 16, 2008

Harding Theater developer gives up

The owner of the Harding Theater property, Mike Klestoff, has finally given up on the idea of developing that eyesore that has been the centerpiece of the Divisadero corridor for years. Hard to blame him. Back in 2005 Supervisor Mirkarimi led an effort to block his proposal to build condos and retail space on the property. David Tornheim led a bunch of preservationists who were shocked at the idea of anyone tearing down a theater where, like, the Grateful Dead once played, dudes. The last straw for Klestoff was the Planning Commission's decision last week to do an EIR on the historical significance of the building.

Klestoff has a right to be miffed. Why didn't the city just do the EIR four years ago, when Mirkarimi and the preservationists threw up the first roadblock? It's not as if the Planning Commission is particularly sensitive to landmarks, since they have okayed UC's proposal to trash a state and federal landmark site at the old extension property on lower Haight Street.

All this obstructionism will be in vain if the preservationists can't come up with the $4 million to buy the property, restore the theater, and make it a sustainable project. If they can't do that---and there's no indication that they can---the Harding Theater will remain what it's been for years: "a blighted, dormant and vandalized hulk," in Robert Selna's words.

What vandals did to the inside of the Harding

Some history on the project

Robert Selna

SF Chronicle

Once a popular Divisadero Street Jazz Age venue, the Harding Theater has featured vaudeville acts, silent films, talkies, Grateful Dead shows and Baptist sermons over its 82-year life. For now though, it will stay a blighted, dormant and vandalized hulk. Preservationists convinced the city's Planning Commission on Thursday to stall a condominium project at the site until a study determined how much the theater's historic value would decline if its stage were removed as part of the new project.

That was enough for owner and developer Mike Klestoff to throw in the towel and announce Friday that he plans to give up his plans and sell the theater. Klestoff has worked with the city for five years on his plan to build condos while preserving most of the Harding's auditorium. He also wanted to restore its marquee and name sign. The fight boiled down to Klestoff's unwillingness to preserve the theater's stage and orchestra pit. He said he needed the space to accommodate his project---eight condominiums with parking. Preservationists said the stage was one of the building's most important assets. Klestoff said Friday that historical reverence comes with a price: $4 million.

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