SOM Revives The Strand

Skidmore Owings & Merrill (San Francisco) designed the renovation of San Francisco's historic theater known as The Strand. 

The Strand was the “Jewel” of San Francisco when it opened in 1917, but by the 1990s, the former silent movie house was used for video pornography, and was eventually boarded up for more than a decade. The revived Strand, designed by SOM, opened recently as the second home of the American Conservatory Theater.

The redefined space houses an intimate 285-seat proscenium theater, educational facilities, a public lobby and cafe, and a 120-seat black box theater and rehearsal space. The program is inserted within the shell of the former 725-seat cinema, overlaying essential modern theater elements on top of the raw backdrop of the original building.

A retro EGD program harkens to the theater’s glory days. The SOM Graphics and Branding studio was tasked with creating the Strand’s identity—one clearly identifiable as ACT, a 50-year-old institution, but tailored to reflect the new space and its mission. Focused on new work, emerging artists, arts education, and community outreach, the Strand’s identity had to convey the unadorned immediacy of experimental theater and reflect the gritty, transitional aspects of its surrounding neighborhood.

Inspired by the practice of using stencils to label theatrical sets and equipment, the SOM team customized the nonprofit’s existing logo and accompanying typefaces into stencils.

This theme was carried throughout the environmental graphics and signage, from the exterior blade sign to interior wayfinding and donor recognition. 

In the center of the lobby, a 500-sq.-ft. perforated LED screen is visible from the street. Referencing the Strand’s cinematic history, it serves as an audience engagement tool and a venue for locally produced video art. 

Metal-framed pink-neon letters from the cinema’s marquee, installed in 1959, were salvaged and incorporated in the design of the new lobby café. 

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