Film Society, theater owner resume talks

The owner of the Clay Theater has invited leaders of the San Francisco Film Society to meet on September 13 to resume discussions about the Film Society’s desire to lease the historic Fillmore art house.

Graham Leggat, executive director of the society, said he is eager to proceed. “It’s certainly progress,” Leggat said. “It’s a better sign. How good it is remains to be seen.”

At the same time, owner Balgobind Jaiswal — who also owns the Blu and Cielo women’s clothing boutiques on Fillmore Street, as well as the building that houses Marc by Marc Jacobs — has retained an architect who is exploring how the Clay might be reconfigured to accommodate two or three smaller theaters. And he may seek to build four townhouses on top of the theaters to help fund the project.

“We are committed to keeping it as a theater,” Jaiswal said. “We are trying to find a long-term solution, rather than being back in the same situation in two years.”

Jaiswal has retained Charles Kahn, a Berkeley architect who he said “has worked with Landmark Theatres and is quite familiar with the problems of single-screen movie theaters and how to go about making the theater more viable.” Kahn helped transform the Shattuck Theater in Berkeley and has advised on the repurposing of the Metro Theater on Union Street.

Leggat said he expects to meet with both Jaiswal and Kahn. “It’s a question of the details,” Leggat said. “There’s nothing entirely sacrosanct about a single-screen theater. It would strictly be a question of how good the designs are.” The bigger issue, Leggat said, is what kind of improvements the building needs and who pays for them.

Neighborhood residents — led by Art Persyko, who lives on Lafayette Park — for two weeks handed out leaflets supporting the Film Society’s plan to take over the operation of the theater. After the Clay got a reprieve on August 28, Persyko and others appeared before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission on September 1 to raise awareness of the plight of the theater. If the commission designates the Clay a city landmark, that would protect the architecture. Any change of use would require a conditional use permit. The addition of residential units might also require an environmental impact report.

UPDATE: A neighborhood rally in support of the Clay was held on September 8 across the street from the theater at Long Bar, at 2298 Fillmore. Scores of neighbors attended, including leaders of the Film Society and the owner of the building.

Read more: “How the Clay dodged a bullet