The San Francisco Theater History Timeline will get a new entry later this month when ownership of the iconic Orpheum and Golden Gate theaters change hands.
The Ambassador Theater Group, a UK-based live entertainment juggernaut with offices in London, New York, Sydney and Cologne, and venues across England, Germany and on Broadway, announced this week that it had acquired the Orpheum and Golden Gate theaters as well as the Fisher Theater in Detroit.
The theaters join a growing US portfolio that includes the Saenger in New Orleans, the Majestic in San Antonio and, starting in 2017, a 40-year lease for the Colonial in Boston, the historic testing ground off Broadway.
No motivation for the sale was provided by former owner Robert Nederlander, who said in a press release that he was “confident that the ATG team will continue to nurture and take over the strong foundation that we have established with these theaters in their respective communities it will be very successful in this next decade. “
Nederlander continues to operate the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts and the City National Civic of San Jose.
ATG, which bundles content, venues, tickets and services in its inventory, was founded by Sir Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire. As part of its strategy, the company has strong relationships with theater makers, including one with Sonia Friedman Productions, the vision of the haunting play “The Jungle,” which premiered at the Curran Theater in Spring 2019. Shortly thereafter, the two-part spectacle “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” followed, which took a break from COVID last year.
When most of the live entertainment in the US was indefinitely interrupted, ATG spokesman Rick Miramontez of New York agency DKC / O & M responded to a question at the time of this transaction: “ATG believes the theatrical landscape is back They are continuing their master plan to acquire theaters across the country, as they have in Europe. “He adds,” They also love the San Francisco market. It’s a goal and an important one. “
DKC / O & M is also the national representative of the Curran, owned and operated by Carole Shorenstein Hays, the former main partner of Nederlander on SHN-The Best of Broadway, the predecessor of BroadwaySF.
However, Miramontez, who had not commented on the Curran in connection with the Orpheum-Golden Gate acquisitions, confirmed that “Potter” will reopen as soon as security protocols allow and that no changes are planned for the local management of BroadwaySF. which promotes a season 2021-22 with some dates from July for the tour of the Tina Fey musical “Mean Girls”.
Broadway tours find their home at the Orpheum Theater on Market Street. (Courtesy BroadwaySF)
Theaters started out as movie houses
Opened in 1926, the 2,200-seat Orpheum Theater on Market Street near Hyde Street – originally called Pantages like its sister theater in Los Angeles – was home to the dwindling days of variety and silent films. Until the stock market crash of 1929, it was sold to RKO Studios, renamed and became the location for the first cinema. A few blocks away on Market and Taylor Streets, the 2,300-seat Golden Gate Theater is a few years older but has a similar history.
Both venues deteriorated in the 1960s when exercise habits changed. After the heyday of the widescreen Cinerama madness, the Golden Gate was a victim of the “twinning” trend, which was dividing large theaters to accommodate more shows. In 1972 it got dark.
The Orpheum was revived as a live entertainment venue in the 1970s with a nine-month production of “Hair” that fitted right into the sketchy mid-market scene. A few years later, the Civic Light Opera Company moved in, renovated it, and starred in 1977 with Debbie Reynolds in Annie Get Your Gun. They folded in 1981.
In the late 1970s, Carole Shorenstein Hays, daughter of a well-known real estate developer from San Francisco, and the high-ranking James Nederlander, a member of the legendary Broadway management family, teamed up to form the manufacturing and presenting company Shorenstein-Hays-. Nederlander offers “The Best of Broadway”. They bought and renovated the Golden Gate in 1979 and the Orpheum in 1981 and rented the Curran Theater on Geary Street. All three were then extensively renovated, most recently in 2018 for both the Golden Gate and the Curran.
Starting with “A Chorus Line” in 1979, SHN presented almost every Broadway hit that toured the country. Some productions “sat down” for a long time, including the record-breaking five-year run of “The Phantom of the Opera”, which began in 1993 at the Curran. Shorenstein Hays became a 1987 Tony winner for Fences and continued to build her presence on Broadway. (Since then she has made seven more trips to this podium.) Relations with Nederlander became strained over the proverbial “creative differences” and a lawsuit was initiated in 1991, but it was broken off.
The partnership finally ended in 2014 when Nederlander retained the Orpheum and Golden Gate and Shorenstein Hays took over full operations of the Curran and retained a non-operational stake in SHN. Lawsuits for non-compete violations followed, and the case was finally settled in 2019 when Shorenstein gave up her part of SHN, which was renamed BroadwaySF. The Orpheum and Golden Gate are now owned by the UK Ambassador Theater Group, and Shorenstein Hays retains ownership of the Curran.
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