4 Star Theatre plans forthe future 

Martial Arts Thursdays will be coming back to the 4 Star Theatre this spring, owner Frank Lee said, as part of a series of upgrades and features that he can do now that he owns his building.

For two years, the small Clement Street cinema’s fate was locked in a tug-of-war between its landlord, the Canaan Lutheran Church, and Lee’s attorneys. The church bought the building in 2001, thinking it had found its home, and planned to evict the theater once its lease was up in 2005. As a Chinese-speaking offshoot of the Zion Lutheran Church on Ninth Avenue, Canaan had promised Zion that it would seek its own home, Canaan’s attorney, Gilbert Jay, said.

But Lee, who’d been trying to buy the building from its former owners, was not planning to go easily and took the matter to court. His eventually enlisted the Board of Supervisors, who in 2004 passed a law intended to preserve neighborhood cinema. Faced with such opposition, the Canaan Lutheran Church sold the building at 2200 Clement St. to Lee and his wife, Lida, in December for $1.45 million, only $200,000 more than the church paid in 2001.

"No, they have not located a new property yet," Jay said Wednesday of the 200- to 300-person congregation, which is still renting space from Zion. "The Board of Supervisors really did them in."

For Lee, though, the resolution means he can reinstate the popular Martial Arts Thursdays feature starting in May, something he hasn’t done since 2005. He can also put more effort into an annual Asian film festival, which runs in August.

He also plans some upgrades. He and his wife bought the 4 Star in 1992, and last put real work into it in 1996, when they improved the interior and divided the single-screen space into twin theaters with 199 and 49 seats respectively. Now, he said, they need to repaint and recarpet the facility and fix the neon marquee, which is half-unlit. The work will run him at least $30,000, he estimates.

The Lees also own the Presidio Theatre on Chestnut Street and plan to reopen another shuttered cinema on Chestnut, to be dubbed the Marina Theatre. The latter is presently closed for renovations. Lee owns neither building, but said this time he negotiated 25- and 32-year leases to make his investments safer.

"We learned our lesson here," he said. "You have to get as long a lease as possible because with real estate in San Francisco, it’s impossible to buy another location."

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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