San Francisco


Dramatically framed by Morphosis’s glassy Federal Building looming behind it, the revived Strand theater, a gleaming red experimental performance space and education center for the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, clicks into its site on San Francisco’s Market Street like one of the final pieces of a complex puzzle.

Long neglected, the surrounding Central Market and Tenderloin districts have in recent years benefited from neighborhood regeneration efforts and the city’s economic boom. The Strand—which began its life on the Great White Way theater row in 1917 as the Jewel movie house, later became an adult cinema, and finally was abandoned in 2003—was becoming progressively more conspicuous: an eyesore along a rapidly emerging corridor. 

An intensive restoration, renovation, and adaptive-reuse project breathes new life into this century-old cinema while providing a second facility for a 50-year-old nonprofit arts organization. But it is also a linchpin, nodding to the civic center and its cultural institutions across Market Street while knitting together the vibrant retail district to the northeast and the burgeoning residential and commercial development to the southwest—where Twitter and other tech companies are putting down roots.

Over 80 percent of the Strand’s steel and concrete structure was salvaged and reinforced, load-bearing systems were retrofitted, and seismic upgrades were made. To transform the 725-seat single-auditorium movie house to meet A.C.T.’s needs for live theater and performances, a Master of Fine Arts program, as well as youth classes and rehearsal space, SOM’s team of architects and structural engineers slipped three flexible spaces into the building’s carapace.

Visible through full-height storefront windows, and just beyond the sidewalk where the homeless still camp out, a crisp, white three-story lobby animates and is animated by the street life. “The idea was to open to Market Street and engage,” says design director Michael Duncan. “We wanted to connect and the Strand to become a meeting place,” adds A.C.T. administrative project manager Denys Baker. To create this grand entrance while reducing loads (the building sits along the underground BART and Muni rail systems), the team ripped out an existing floor. This welcoming space invites passersby in to linger at The Strand’s café, watch mesmerizing images cross an enormous LED screen, or climb up to one of the cantilevered steel balconies to gaze down at those below. Here, the interplay of activity inside and out is an improv theater in its own right. 

 Above this space, on the top level behind restored casement windows, a 120-seat black-box theater, paneled in thin strips of reclaimed wood, can accommodate multiple configurations for rehearsals, classes, and performances.

In the belly of the original cinema, the architects inserted a proscenium theater with movable risers for seating for up to 285 people. To bring the scale of this high space down and make it more intimate, while providing a framework for adapting acoustics, the team hung a series of perforated metal panels from the ceiling. And the proscenium serves double duty as a shear wall, stiffening the middle of the building. But care was taken to preserve the spirit of the old facility, and particular details have remained, such as graffiti backstage, which memorializes some of the less savory activity that took place during the Strand’s squatter days. “We wanted to honor each era of the building and expose its history, and not take all of the kinks out,” says Duncan, pointing to the original plaster walls (now painted a vibrant red), pilasters, and moldings, and noting that this had never been an ornate theater, always a workhorse. “But with the intervention, we wanted a contrast,” he says.

On a recent fall afternoon, the lobby buzzed as teenagers hung out after class, and the older set socialized over coffee. While serving as a marquee for this thriving arts program, the building has quickly become a beacon for the neighborhood and an emblem of its evolution.  



Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

One Front Street

San Francisco, California, 94111



Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Architecture and Interior Design:

Michael Duncan, FAIA, Design Director

Gene Schnair, FAIA, Managing Partner

Keith Boswell, FAIA, Technical Partner

Maurice Hamilton, AIA, Senior Technical Architect 

Gayle Tsern Strang, AIA, Project Manager

Aaron Jensen, AIA, Senior Design Architect

Joan Young Park and Beatrice Hsu, Technical Designers

Sally Anderson, Specifications

Yuji Nishioska, Lisa Hedstrom, Richard Henocha, Jeffrey Bajamundi, Douglas Smith, Eric Cole, Project Team


Structural Engineering:

Mark Sarkisian, PE, SE, Structural Engineering Partner

Neville Mathias, PE, SE, Senior Structural Engineer

Joanna Zhang, PE, SE, and Jeffrey I. Keileh, PE, SE, Structural Engineers

Graphics and Branding:

Lonny Israel, Graphic Design Studio Lead

Nicholas Gerstner, Graphic Design Project Manager

Brad Thomas, Daniel Maxfield, Pauline Cheng, Designers


Interior designer:

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP


Environmental graphics and branding:

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP



Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, structural engineer

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, MEP design engineers

BKF Engineers, civil engineer

Anderson Rowe & Buckley, Inc., mechanical design-build engineers

Decker Electric Co., Inc., electrical design-build engineers

Pribuss Engineering, Inc., plumbing design-build engineers



Lighting Design:PrichardPeck Lighting, Inc.


Acoustic Engineer: Charles M. Salter Associates, Inc. (as well as security and telecommunications)



Page & Turnbull, Inc., historic preservation consultant

The Shalleck Collaborative, Inc., theater consultant

Equity Community Builders, LLC, development manager/project manager/financing consultant

Rick Unvarsky Consulting Services, Inc., LEED® consultant


General contractor:

Plant Construction Company LLP



Bruce Damonte, 415-845-6919



Structural system

Retrofitted metal deck roof diaphragm over original steel trusses

Ductile reinforced concrete and reinforced masonry shear walls

Reinforced concrete slabs and beams

Steel and composite metal deck floor framing

Reinforced concrete foundations and grade beams


Exterior cladding

Cast stone relief: Original 1917

Mold-cast glass fiber reinforced concrete ornamentation: Giampolini Courtney, with Architectural Facades Unlimited



Single ply membrane roofing system: Sarnafil



Upper story wooden window restoration: Wooden Window

Storefront windows: Kawneer



Glass: Old Castle (insulated glass with SOLARBAN 60 low-e coating)

Skylights: Old Castle (laminated glass with SOLARBAN 60 low-e coating + silk screen design)



Entrances: Kawneer



Pulls: Rockwood

Emergency: Von Duprin


Interior finishes

Paints and stains: Sherwin Williams

Wood grille wall panels (black box theater): 9Wood

Plastic laminate:Abet laminate, Wilsonart

Lobby Café counter top: Caesarstone

Floor and wall tile: Crossville Retro Active (restrooms)

Concrete floor finish (lobby): (Custom) Bay Area Concretes, Bradley Concrete

Flooring (black box theater): "Worthwood" Oregon Lumber Co.

Carpet: Mohawk Prodigal


Special interior finishes unique to this project

Perforated metal staircase (lobby): (Custom) Concord Iron Works/Wade Metals
LED screen tiles (lobby): Luxmax Winvision, Luxmax, USA

Perforated metal panels (proscenium theater ceiling, balcony): (Custom) Concord Iron Works/Wade Metals



Chairs: HighTower Four Cast FOUR (cafe and black box theater/multi-purpose room)

Mobel "Opus" seat (proscenium theater)



Interior ambient lighting:

 Lighting Services Inc. LumeLex 2026 Series LED Track System

Elliptipar Fraqtir LED Ceiling Uplights

BK Lighting DeltaStar SSL LED Monopoints

Color Kinetics Fuse Powercore LED Cove Lights

Lucifer Lighting Zero Siteline Downlights and Impact Steplights

Pinnacle Lighting Edge 2 Recessed Slot Fixtures



Boca Flasher HPNLS Series Cornice Uplight

BK Lighting DeltaStar and Micro NiteStar SSL LED monopoints at canopy


Dimming System or other lighting controls:

Electronic Theater Controls Unison Architectural Controls and Sensor3 Theatrical Dimming



Elevators: KONE Ecospace

Accessibility provision: Garaventa Genesis (Lift)



Water-saving fixtures: Sloan, Toto



Energy management or building automation system: Echo Management


Interior signage

Donor wall plaques: (Custom) Thomas Swan Sign Co.

Custom Neon Tubing: Greg King

Light box – houseboard: DSA Phototech


Exterior Signage

Glass and steel canopy: (Custom) Concord Iron Works; laminate glass silk screen design by Old Castle
Metal and LED light blade sign: (Custom) Thomas Swan Sign CO.