Cine Latino, one of the Mission’s oldest theaters, may not screen another double feature, but if all goes according to the building owner’s plans, it will soon house a restaurant and a gym.
The owner, Vera Cort, said the project fits her family’s ethos.
“We just buy, we fix it up, then we keep it,” she said.
In addition to a gym, Cort said, the estimated $1 million project will include a branch of Busboys and Poets, which describes itself as “a restaurant, bookstore, fair trade market and gathering place where people can discuss issues of social justice and peace.” The Washington-D.C.-based company has had its sights on the Mission District since at least 2010, according to Grub Street SF, and in 2011 was in conversation with the Mission’s Modern Times bookstore.
If the company’s other locations are any indication, Mission residents can expect comfort food and a bar, as well as open mic and spoken word nights. The flagship store features an “open discussion series” called A.C.T.O.R. (A Continuing Talk on Race).
As for the gym, Charles Hemminger, the project’s architect, said it will fill a vacuum.
“There’s just no health fitness facility for a very large radius around this area,” he said, adding that the company that is expected to move in is known to offer low monthly membership fees.
Cort said that she has solidified a deal with a Florida-based gym but does not want to disclose the company’s name this far in advance.
It’s still too early for Cort to know when the building will be open for business, partly because it depends on the type of construction the tenant businesses decide to perform.
Cine Latino has been vacant for over 20 years. When Cort bought it, Hemminger said, it was so decrepit that she has had to construct “a brand-new building inside it”; when that is complete, she will “rebuild a new building on the outside.”
“That’s what renovation of a big old theater is about,” said Hemminger. “Because you’ve got these enormous, tall walls, you’ve got this big sort of box … and it needs to be structurally rebuilt.”
The building’s side and rear walls are done and crews are working on the front, which will take another month to complete and is the last piece before the roof can go up, according to Cort. She estimated that the roof will take roughly six months to complete.
With plans for an “occupiable” rooftop accessible to both businesses, customers will be able to enjoy the nice weather.
“The reason I chose to spend some money to do it is because the Mission has some of the best weather in the city,” said Cort. “I said, why waste this space? It’s great.”
“I imagine Busboys will have readings and signings up there, and the fitness people will do pilates or yoga.”
Hemminger said they will restore Cine Latino’s original façade and marquee, which are in disrepair, as well as the now-absent arched windows that previously lined the front of the building.
Cort said that she feels she is contributing to the neighborhood because the building will no longer stand empty or be considered a blight. Breathing new life into the old Cine Latino was also something of a sentimental endeavor for her.
“We were looking for another piece of property to trade into,” she said. “That [Robert's] mother sang there was just icing on the cake,” she said, referring to her late husband.
“It was called the Wigwam Theater, and it was a vaudeville theater then.” When she lived in Potrero Hill as a child, Cort recalled, she would walk to Wigwam to see her future mother-in-law perform.
Cort has poured her own money into Cine Latino. “There’s no borrowing,” she said.
Hemminger said that rehabilitating Cine Latino is the kind of project that needed “a family like the Corts,” who have “a longer vision and have the equity behind them.”
“In the last five years, the banks wouldn’t lend on a property like that. They’re not going to let you borrow money to buy it, then borrow money to construct it. So you’d have to own the property,” Hemminger said. “These [single-screen theaters], all over the country, they’re very hard to finance.”
Cine Latino’s renovation has hit many setbacks since the Corts acquired the building in 1998, including some personal ones.
When her husband became ill, “he was disappointed that he couldn’t finish the projects that we started. Because when he got sick, we stopped.” Robert Cort died of cancer in 2004.
Cort took a year to mourn. She contemplated whether she should sell everything and let someone else deal with the building, she said. In the end, she decided to do it herself.
“He was very aggressive about starting something and finishing it. And that rubbed off on me,” she said.
There have been other holdups along the way. Touchstone Climbing Inc., which owns the Mission Cliffs climbing gym, had signed on to inhabit the building, but after the community responded negatively, Cort let them out of their lease. Then she had to find new tenants.
Cort was also busy with construction on some other properties she owns, including the buildings containing Southern Exposure art gallery and the recently opened Central Kitchen and Salumeria.
Currently, the only thing holding Cort back from breaking ground for the Cine Latino project is the roof.
“I’m not going to put my signature down until I see a roof,” she said. After that she’ll commit to a commencement date.
“Now, if you go up there, there’s no roof,” she said. Reinforcing it with steel is “probably all we can get done this year. And maybe pour the concrete, I’m not sure — weather permitting.”
After that, the businesses can come in and do their own construction.