SF Mission historical auto livery adjusts — or not — to the 21st Century

For nearly 100 years, the Superior Auto garage has visually dominated the corner of 16th and Albion streets. Built by famed architect Joseph L. Stewart, the monumental garage was built to herald the arrival of the single-occupant automobile, San Francisco’s newest transit option after 1906.

They were built to park and repair cars in a city whose apartment buildings had no garages and, in a nod to the more-familiar horse stables, they were called “auto liveries.”

Nowadays, however, historic buildings — beloved by preservationists for the classic beaux-arts formalism that characterized the post-earthquake period —  can pose a challenge for developers and housing-rights advocates.

Superior Auto is a case in point. Sold four year ago to developer Manouch Moshayedi, head of MX3 Ventures, a family-owned real estate and development firm based in Newport Beach, California, for $8.7 million dollars, it seemed perfect for housing.

The firm proposed to demolish the 2,024-square-foot site and build a five-story, 28-unit housing development in its place.

That plan failed when the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association wrote a letter to Phil Lesser, past president of the Mission Merchants Association and community liaison for the project, objecting to the proposed demolition.

“The city backed us up,” said Peter Lewis, president of the board of the neighborhood association. The city’s Historic Preservation staff, led by Tim Frye, had already categorized Superior Auto as a “Grade A” historic building and a key element in the 16th and Valencia street post-fire historic district.

Moshayadi came up with a new plan. The proposed building would be re-purposed and transformed into an event site. The building’s stucco exterior and design features would be repaired and restored. Three restaurants would occupy the ground floor, with an event space on the second floor.

A section of the undulating, wave-shaped roof would be leveled to accommodate a deck for a rooftop bar and movie screen.

The proposed name of the venue? “The Albion.” How far this goes on a block already lined with bars, is unclear. Its history, however, is set.

The future home of the proposed venue started life as an undeveloped parcel on Center Street, the 19th-century name of 16th Street, which got its name from its centrality to navigating the swampy flatlands of Mission Creek.

In 1907, Ada F. Simpson sold her parcel on the corner of 16th and Albion to Rudolph Taussig, president of the Louis Taussig Company, a wholesale wine and liquor business, which also owned the adjoining parcel of land. “This gives the Taussig family 100 feet on Sixteenth Street on which they will erect a two-story building for their increased business,” noted the San Francisco Chronicle.

Taussig hired San Francisco architect Joseph L. Stewart, who was busy building other monumental auto garages in San Francisco. At least two still exist: the Hub Garage Company on 150 Turk St., and a warehouse for the Michelin Tire Company at 180 12th St., now the European Collision Center.

These garages, with their vast, shed-like interiors and marquee-like ornate frames, give a sense of the opulent glamour as automobiles rolled out and onto the streets.

Most of these garages have been demolished or drastically redesigned, Mark D. Kessler, associate professor of design at UC Davis, writes in his book The Early Public Garages of San Francisco, An Architectural and Cultural Study, 1906–1929.

A conditional-use permit is needed before the redesign of Superior Auto gets underway. The San Francisco Planning Department, which accepted the application for a conditional-use permit in July, has yet to schedule a hearing.

Approval by the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association and other merchants is pending as well. Lewis, who noted that the group has yet to vote, sounded guardedly optimistic. “We support adaptive reuse and quality new construction, as long as no historic building is demolished,” he said, noting that they had no objections to housing. “There’s nothing to stop them from putting housing there,” Lewis pointed out. “It’s their choice.”

Neighbors were informed of the change of use for the site at a December meeting. Lesser contends that support for the plan was high. “We had a lot of people from Albion Street there. And what we heard from them was that they’re anxious to have an occupied building. An empty building is a magnet for quality-of-life problems.”

Unsurprisingly, the project has its critics. The parcel falls within the Valencia Street Neighborhood Commercial Transit District, a designation assigned to locales that need affordable commercial developments.

Peter Papadopoulous, media coordinator for Cultural Action Network, is unsure that another restaurant achieves that goal, pointing out that wine bars and expensive restaurants crowd out inexpensive restaurants, as well as neighborhood services — cleaners, printers, the staple service retail of any neighborhood.

“We’d prefer spaces with modest price points,” Papadopoulous said. “We’re concerned about the sheer number of restaurants opening in that area, and the loss of neighborhood services when higher price point retail opens.

Jessica Flores, who works across the street at Ampersand, a florist’s shop, attended the December meeting. She has mixed feelings. “There have been so many proposals for that place,” said Flores. “It fits the new Mission, not the old Mission.”

Brett Critchlaw, owner of Juice, an advertising firm whose offices are upstairs from Kilowatt, wondered where the restaurant workers would live. “I like the idea of below-market-rate housing. I think it would be better to build housing, especially for workers.” He gestured across the street. “Where are the people who will work there going to live?”

Investment firm quizzed on Church St. biz vacancies

Bay Area Reporter Feb8, 2017

With numerous commercial vacancies in the Castro, neighborhood activists urged one of the city’s largest real estate firms to make more of an effort to fill the empty storefronts on the Church Street corridor.

At a gathering January 31, held in the upstairs meeting room of Churchill bar at 198 Church Street, more than three dozen residents and business owners urged the management team at Veritas Investments to fill the vacant storefronts in the neighborhood.

The meeting – called by gay urban development attorney and District 8 supervisor candidate Rafael Mandelman – included representatives from Castro Merchants, Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, and the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District.

The Castro and Upper Market business district has a vacancy rate of 12 to 15 percent, Mark McHale, an EVNA board member, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Daniel Bergerac, president of the Castro Merchants, ticked off a list of businesses that have left the neighborhood, including Chilango, Sparky’s, Crepevine, Snowbrite, and Church Street Flowers. One business, Photoworks, moved several blocks away.

These businesses all have one thing in common, said Bergerac, a gay man who is co-owner of Mudpuppy’s Tub & Scrub. They all previously occupied a space owned or managed by Veritas.

“And the rumor on the street,” said Bergerac, is that Veritas is difficult to work with.

Bergerac said that Veritas tenants have complained that the giant real estate investment firm has required business tenants to sign 35-page leases, which can cost a business $7,000 in legal fees for review by an attorney.

“That’s a lot of money to a small business,” said Bergerac.

The need to fill the many vacancies is greater than ever, said Zephyr Realtor Danny Yadegar, who was the consultant on the 2014 Castro retail strategy report, sponsored by the CBD. When the report was issued the Castro had a commercial vacancy rate five times higher than comparable neighborhoods, said Yadegar, a number that has increased since then.

Justin Sato, chief operating officer of Veritas Investments, defended his firm, describing it as a “San Francisco-based company” with 99 percent of its business in the city.

“We do want to partner with neighborhood groups and merchants,” said Sato, claiming that the company has done so successfully in other neighborhoods, including the Geary-Leavenworth corridor in the Tenderloin.

“We want to be transparent” about our plans, he said.

Sato said Veritas “has made some progress” in filling empty retail spaces but hasn’t communicated the news.

Coming soon to 235 Church (formerly Chilango, which closed in 2015) will be Il Corsaro, the second location of a pizzeria now in North Beach, said Sato. There will also be a “mom and pop” fitness business as well as a real estate company, Compass, both of which should drive foot traffic in the neighborhood, he said.

Sato said some of the empty spaces were a result of soft-story retrofitting remodels that wound up taking much longer than anticipated. Veritas’ strategy is to “create spaces that are easy to activate” for new business tenants, a “plug and play” approach, he said.

The space at 242 Church Street, formerly occupied by Sparky’s, has been “challenging” to rent, Sato said. The space was in “desperate need of repairs” but following an aggressive marketing campaign, there are now two businesses “very, very interested” in the space, he said, declining to name them.

Sato said Veritas would consider donating space to a nonprofit organization that would be a “good fit” for the neighborhood and would also consider short-term leases.

“We want to work with you,” he said. “We are not looking for the most money.”

Sato said Veritas is planning to increase the security patrols that now monitor the empty spaces in the neighborhood.

“We understand the challenges” with people who are homeless camping out in front of unoccupied storefronts, he said.

Some of the attendees at the meeting did not warm up to the Veritas progress report, asking whether it benefitted from tax write-offs from the losses from empty spaces.

“Absolutely not,” said Sato. “We get zero” benefit from an empty space.

Richard Magary, administrator of Castro Merchants, asked Sato if his organization could afford the $125 annual dues to join the Castro Merchants organization.

“I’ve licked the envelope six times,” Magary said, referring to mailing the company promotional materials. Sato agreed to join and attend future meetings, although nobody from Veritas was at the merchants’ meeting the following day.

Mandelman thought the session was a step in the right direction.

In an email to the Bay Area Reporter, Mandelman said the meeting “gave the community an opportunity to hear directly from Veritas about their plans for the Church and Market area and to express the great frustration folks have about the storefront vacancies. My hope is that Veritas will now follow through on the commitments they made and will be more engaged with the neighbors and local merchants going forward.”

Gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy did not return a message seeking comment.

SF supervisors want something done about long-vacant storefronts

photo: 3145 Fillmore Street is up for lease in the Cow Hollow neighborhood, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in San Francisco, Calif.


Frustration over the growing number of vacant retail spaces in San Francisco neighborhood shopping districts boiled over at City Hall Monday, with a number of supervisors blasting the Department of Building Inspection for failing to hold landlords accountable when they let storefronts sit empty for months or years.While data from the U.S. Postal Service suggest that there are 3,448 vacant or abandoned commercial and residential properties in the city, inspectors rarely cite commercial-property landlords for sitting on empty storefronts, according to Department of Building Inspection Assistant Director Ron Tom, who spoke at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee.

Property owners are supposed to register any vacant or abandoned building and can be fined $711 a year for allowing a structure or storefront to sit empty. But they rarely are: Last year, only about $5,000 was collected from such property owners. That means only seven property owners in the city were fined.

Tom said the agency looks into vacancies only when there are complaints, which generally come from neighbors.

“It’s a small number of cases,” he said. “The most common source for information is neighbors complaining rather than owners self-reporting.”

Supervisor Sandra Fewer, who represents the Richmond District, said that according to the Department of Building Inspection database “there are no vacant storefronts in my district.”

“That’s ridiculous and not true,” she said. “Complaint-driven is not going to work. We have to be more proactive.”

Despite a notable increase in empty stores in recent years, San Francisco’s commercial corridors are actually holding up better than other parts of the country, according to a new report from the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. The city has an overall vacancy rate of just 3.2 percent — up from 2.4 percent two years ago but far below the double-digit vacancies seen in many cities.

In San Francisco, West Portal has the lowest rate at 1.3 percent and Visitacion Valley the highest at over 16 percent.

Workforce Development Deputy Director Joaquin Torres said the department is looking into both better enforcement and relaxing some of the use restrictions that can make it tough to fill ground-floor spaces.

“Because there is less retail, maybe we have to look at broadening what is allowed on the ground floor,” said Torres.

Mark McHale, a board member of the Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, said that neighborhood, which includes Upper Market Street, is “struggling with a 12 to 15 percent vacancy rate” and needs “aggressive fees and penalties” to persuade property owners to do what it takes to lease the space, even if that means accepting lower rents.

“We need some sticks to deal with owners who are absent and not responsive,” he said. “We have seen the shift from mom-and-pop owners to corporate investors who are absent and not involved in the community.”

J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: jdineen@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @sfjkdineen


Women’s Building closer to being nat’l historic site

This article appeared in the Bay Area Reporter on 1/18/2018

The San Francisco Women’s Building is closer to becoming a national historic site, which would make it one of a handful of properties across the country given such federal recognition due to its place in LGBT history and only the third on the West Coast.

California’s State Historical Resources Commission is expected to support the listing of the Women’s Building on the National Register of Historic Places at its meeting February 2. If approved by the state body, then the nomination would be sent to the State Historic Preservation Officer for certification.

After that, the state official would forward the nomination to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C. for final determination.

The San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission was expected to vote on supporting the Women’s Building application at its meeting Wednesday night, after the Bay Area Reporter went to press.

“The Women’s Building has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places at the national level of significance. Properties can be listed at the local, state, or national level of significance,” Amy H. Crain, a state historian at the California State Office of Historic Preservation, explained in an email to the B.A.R. “The recommendation from the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission will become part of the nomination file.”

Despite the Trump administration’s moves against LGBT policies and initiatives at a number of federal agencies, it is expected that the Women’s Building will be approved as a national historic site. As the B.A.R.reported last January, the Women’s Building dropped its initial request to become a National Historic Landmark, a designation with higher stature than that of a national historic site, after the election of President Donald Trump on the advice of federal park advocates.

“The funding source for the National Historic Landmark project is through the National Park Foundation. The advice given was it would be better to pursue a National Register nomination because the funding available is not enough to complete the historic landmark process,” Andrew Munoz, a spokesman for the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region, had told the B.A.R. at the time.

Donna Graves, a public historian based in Berkeley, has been working on the Women’s Building application since 2016 after securing a grant from the National Park Service’s LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, which earmarked funding specifically for LGBT historic nominations. She also co-wrote a historic context statement for San Francisco’s LGBTQ community and contributed a chapter to the Park Service’s LGBTQ theme study.



The Women’s Building was founded in 1971 by a group of women that included a number of lesbian leaders, including Roma Guy, whose life and advocacy for the building was depicted last year in the ABC mini-series “When We Rise” about a number of LGBT San Francisco leaders.

In 1979 the Women’s Building moved into its current location, at 3543 18th Street near Valencia Street, where it has hosted numerous meetings of LGBT groups and conferences over the years and continues to do so. The building is already deemed a city landmark, though it was listed for its historical significance predating the modern LGBT rights movement.

The Women’s Building, noted Graves in the application for the national listing, “sought to explore and articulate how the organization could be a place for contact and coalition to fight sexism, racism, homophobia, imperialism, and other oppressive forces.”

Included in the application are a number of documents from the archives of the San Francisco-based GLBT Historical Society, such as a photo of the San Francisco Lesbian Chorus performing in the Women’s Building’s auditorium in 1980 and a flyer for an event celebrating a new collection of short stories by author Alice Walker, who dated both men and women.

The Women’s Building is also noteworthy for its role in the history of second-wave feminism, which Graves notes in the application, is lacking in “site-based documentation” as has happened with “other under-represented histories” in the last decade, because it is just now reaching the 50-year threshold the Park Service uses for determining the historical significance of a social movement.

Graves writes that the Women’s Building “is a powerful embodiment of second wave feminism that shaped, and was shaped by, the national movement of second wave feminism.”

District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who married her husband in the building and served on the board of one of its tenants, Mujeres Unidas Y Activa, told the B.A.R. it would be “amazing” to see it receive federal recognition.

“After watching ‘When We Rise,’ it is very evident there is a clear and deep LGBT history about that building,” said Ronen, whose Mission-based District 9 does not include but borders the Women’s Building, which is in District 8.

Should it win federal recognition, the property would be the third such site on the West Coast to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places whose application initially referred to its significance in LGBT history. In recent years, the listings of several properties have been updated to refer to their connections to LGBT history as that information was omitted when their applications were first submitted.

The first West Coast site to be listed on the national register due in part to its ties to LGBT history was the Federal Building (50 UN Plaza) in San Francisco, which was added last year on June 5. Its listing refers to the AIDS/ARC Vigil, a decade-long protest against the lack of a federal response to the deadly disease that was started in 1985 by several gay men who chained themselves to the building’s doors.

The second national historic site, listed on September 18, was the Great Wall of Los Angeles, a half-mile long mural that depicts numerous California historical events and figures, including the struggle for LGBT rights.

The Park Service’s webpage for its LGBT initiative currently lists 21 LGBT historic places, some landmarks and others historic sites, at https://www.nps.gov/subjects/tellingallamericansstories/lgbtqplaces.htm.


Other sites

In San Francisco the planning department’s historic preservation division is moving forward to list two additional sites with ties to the city’s LGBT history on the National Register as well as designate them city landmarks. It has hired Shayne Watson, a lesbian and architectural historian, to work on the application for Glide Memorial Church, at 330 Ellis Street in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood, and Graves to complete one for the building that once housed the Japantown YWCA, located at 1830 Sutter Street and now occupied by the private, nonprofit childcare center Nihonmachi Little Friends.

In May 1954, the early gay rights group the Mattachine Society hosted its first convention at the Y building, while Glide’s leaders have long pushed for LGBT rights and cared for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Watson is also working with the owners of the historic Paper Doll site in North Beach at 524 Union Street, believed to be San Francisco’s first queer restaurant, on securing city landmark status for the building. She recently told the B.A.R. she expects the application to go before the historic preservation commission sometime this year.

Also in the pipeline is granting city landmark status to seven LGBT historic sites the planning department first identified in August of 2016 but has yet to find the resources to work on their applications. The list includes 710 Montgomery Street, formerly home to gay bar the Black Cat, and 440 Broadway, once the site of lesbian bar Mona’s 440 Club.

Two buildings that served as headquarters for early LGBT rights groups are on the list: 689-93 Mission Street, known as the Williams Building, where both the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis first met, and 83 Sixth Street, the early home of the Society of Individual Rights.

The other three locations are 101 Taylor Street, where transgender and queer patrons of Gene Compton’s Cafeteria rioted in the mid 1960s; 1001 Potrero Avenue, which houses Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 86 AIDS clinic, the first of its kind in the country; and 623 Valencia Street, which houses Community Thrift, a secondhand store that raises money for LGBT nonprofits and others founded by the Tavern Guild, the country’s first gay business association.

A copy of the application for the Women’s Building can be downloaded online at http://commissions.sfplanning.org/hpcpackets/2017-015684FED.pdf.

Garden club has first workday at Dolores Park

In an effort to enhance beauty and promote safety, the Dolores Park Garden Club has been formed to, among other things, build and sustain flower beds throughout the park. Under the direction of volunteer Robert Brust, a small group recently gathered near the park’s Helen Diller playground to prune, pick, and pluck.


“This is one of park and rec’s babies,” said Brust, referring to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department while standing inside a bioretention flower bed constructed earlier this year. Bioretention planters are planted depressions designed to collect and absorb runoff.

Under Rec and Park’s supervision, the bioretention flower bed sits near the base of several Guadalupe palm trees, which stayed in place during the park’s $20.5 million renovation that was completed in early 2016. Added during construction, underground pipes guide natural spring water from the hillside of Dolores Heights and Castro Hill to the enclosed flower bed.

“With the slightest amount of rain, this thing bursts into water,” said Brust of the bioretention area, which was strategically placed near the children’s park for educational purposes.

The Dolores Park Garden Club had three volunteers and two Rec and Park employees during its first workday September 28. It’s a project of Rec and Park, Dolores Park Works, and the Dolores Park Ambassadors.

“I love the park,” said volunteer Kim O’Connor, a lesbian who has lived in the Dolores Park area for almost 30 years. “I’m here weeding and pruning and looking forward to planting later.”

Volunteer Tom Shaub, a gay man, has seen the transformation of the park since moving to the area in 1991. “We’re making the community aware they need to be involved. There’s been so much trash accumulating since the rebirth,” he said.

The volunteers agreed that the August shooting on the pedestrian bridge, which wounded three people, has decreased community interest in the park. So far, police have announced no arrests.

“The horrible shooting was a symptom of a problem,” Brust said. “The park needs people to pay attention to it.”

Brust, a gay man, said he and his partner got involved in the park soon after they moved to nearby Liberty Street 12 years ago. He said that he “spent the first five years just picking up trash and talking to people,” which allowed him to meet his neighbors.

“If you just take your children and flee when the park gets overrun, it goes feral,” said Brust. “[Since the shooting], there’s not enough energy near the bridge and it’s an opportunity for the LGBTQ community to do stuff in the park.”

Brust feels it’s important to bring a strong LGBTQ presence into Dolores Park again, noting that he misses the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s Easter Sunday Hunky Jesus contests. Due to the park’s renovation, the Sisters moved their annual Easter festivities to Golden Gate Park’s Hellman Hollow in 2015.

“This is a good first start,” Brust said of the garden club’s inaugural workday. “We’re trying to make this a sustainable effort, a real club that keeps [the community] engaged.”

Dolores Park Ambassadors, a community group supporting the garden club, encouraged neighbors, visitors, dog walkers, and concerned citizens to take an active role in making Dolores Park a clean and safe environment for everyone.

“There’s plenty of areas in the park for us to really get involved in,” Brust added. “The overall trash problem has gone down, but [broken] glass is a big problem. It’s difficult for gardeners to pick up. Children and dogs are at risk, too.”

In September, the Board of Supervisors approved a ban on glass containers in all San Francisco parks. However, the most controversial aspect of the legislation, a proposed $1,000 fine for littering and dumping in Dolores Park, was tabled due to the effect it could have on low-income residents.

“There’s still a lot of work left,” Brust said.

Dolores Park Needs More Outreach Workers

The letter below was printed in the Bay Area Reporter on October 5, 2017.


As a resident of the Mission Dolores district and a proud member of our neighborhood association board, I’ve been gratified to see our community come together over the past months to take a firm stand against violence in Dolores Park, which we all agree is unacceptable.

I do worry, though, that the response to the August incident [in which three people were injured in a shooting] is too singularly focused on increased police presence. While the police must be a part of the solution, too much presence will have negative side effects. I implore my neighbors to remember that the park does not exist solely for those who can afford to live nearby; as a public space, it is for everyone. We must therefore consider how any response affects all its users.

The data show us that people of color, especially those in the LGBTQ community, are disproportionately impacted by police presence, even in San Francisco. Given the park’s critical position on the outskirts of the Castro, it serves as a safe haven for these vulnerable groups, and it would be a shame to damage that through well-intentioned efforts to end violence.

There are alternatives. In the long-term, we should invest further in programs like the city’s Street Violence Intervention Program, whose on-the-ground workers deescalate potential altercations around the city every day without the direct involvement of law enforcement. They need considerably more staff to advance their mission. Proposed environmental changes, like a redesign of the park’s footbridge, are also encouraging.

And in the short-term, the police will play a role. I hope that we can see beyond this period to a brighter future that is more consciously inclusive of all those who call Dolores Park a second home.

Alex Sayde

San Francisco

Friends of the Urban Forest is planting trees in the Mission

Friends of the Urban Forest is planting trees in the Mission!


For details on how to get a tree for your street, please see the attached flyer. Please pass this on to your friends and neighbors.mission-flyers-9-18

Jasmine Lim
Community Outreach Manager
Friends of the Urban Forest
1007 General Kennedy Ave Ste 1
San Francisco CA 94129

(415) 268 – 0773