Prospects were bright for San Francisco’s Strand Theater when it opened in 1917. First a silent film cinema, it went on to screen talkies for decades. But it eventually went to seed, showing porn movies. A vice squad raid shuttered the Strand in 2003. Years of decay and squatters followed.
With the neighborhood now revitalizing, the Strand caught the eye of the American Conservatory Theater’s board members, who were hunting for an intimate venue to complement their 1,000-seat Geary Theater. Plus, ACT’s costume shop happened to be two doors down. When the board then showed the abandoned Strand to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design director Michael Duncan, what struck him was its rust-red exterior back-dropped by the green-tinged curtain wall of the San Francisco Federal Building by Morphosis. “The red and the green really vibrated,” Duncan says. “So we souped it up, making it a red that could not be ignored.”