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War Memorial Opera House Seat Upgrade Project

Stage Directions • Theatre Buzz • October 23, 2020

The San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Opera’s home is getting a makeover. Here’s a timelapse video of the historic War Memorial Opera House — one of the last Beaux Arts structures built in the United States — getting new seats installed in its orchestra section. Up until 2020, the opera house boasted the same seats it had since its opening in 1932. The changes in this video took place between September 21 and October 8, 2020. The new seats are designed to pay tribute to the heritage of this great institution, while improving accessibility and comfort for all patrons.

The seat replacement project for the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center is taking place between September 2020 to January 2021 during the continuing COVID-19 venue closure this year. This is the final phase of seat replacements within the War Memorial Opera House, the historic Beaux-Arts theater that serves as home to both companies as well as a venue for numerous Bay Area and visiting organizations. For this final phase of the project, all seats in the Orchestra, Grand Tier, and Dress Circle sections of the War Memorial Opera House will be replaced, improving comfort and sightlines in the auditorium. The creation of new accessible seating areas is also included in this final phase, furthering the organizations’ commitment to maximizing accessibility for all patrons.

While preserving the historic integrity, beauty, and acoustics of this cultural landmark, improvements in the theater will include new custom seats, replacing the seats original to the 1932 building (maintenance on these seats over the years has included reupholstering and some renovation to the Orchestra section chairs). The new seats, designed to reflect the aesthetics of the Opera House, will have greater leg room, be positioned at a more comfortable height, and will reflect the latest in ergonomic support.

Conceptual rendering of new seating, for illustrative purposes only, and may not be exactly as shown. Courtesy of SF Opera and SF Ballet

Sightlines to the stage from the Orchestra section will be improved by the new seat design and a subtle staggering of seats along the center aisle of the theater. Improved viewing options for patrons with disabilities and patrons using wheelchairs will be offered with the creation of new accessible seating areas in the left and right Orchestra sections of the house (in addition to existing center rear Orchestra accessible seating). Additional upgrades include new pathway lighting and flooring upgrades.

This is the third and final phase of the current War Memorial Opera House seat upgrade initiative, which began in summer 2013 with the replacement of chairs in the Box level of the theater. Balcony and Balcony Circle seats were replaced in summer 2015. The seat replacement project is funded by proceeds accumulated from a facility fee ranging from $1 to $3 per ticket based on seating section for San Francisco Ballet (effective November 2013) and San Francisco Opera (effective January 2014). This final phase of the project will cost approximately $3.53 million. The City of San Francisco is funding architectural and design services and accessibility upgrades related to the project. The continued enhancement of the patron experience in the Opera House is a priority for both the Ballet and the Opera, and future facility fee funds will be used for ongoing patron-focused facility upgrades.

The project is being managed by the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center in partnership with San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Opera, with planning and design facilitation by theater consultants The Shalleck Collaborative and San Francisco Public Works. The Shalleck Collaborative’s other projects in the area include The Strand Theater for A.C.T., San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Bowes Center, and improvements to Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre. Montreal-based Ducharme Seating, a company with expertise in historical theaters, is manufacturing the seats and working with general contractors Bevilacqua & Sons. Ducharme’s work can be seen in venues such as the David H. Koch Theater in New York’s Lincoln Center, Academy of Music and Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, Cincinnati Music Hall, and The Royal Alexandra in Toronto. Ducharme Seating is committed to manufacturing products with minimal environmental impact and is both FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. Threshold Acoustics is engaged to consult on the acoustic impact of the seating upgrade and installation.

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