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Rumors Behind the News:
The Building Blocks of News
I WAS OUT OF TOWN on a family vacation recently -- in La La Land (where every day is a swimming day) -- and more specifically in Legoland (in Carlsbad), which was fun, fun, fun, despite the fertilizer aroma from the adjacent tulip farm.
You're familiar with those colorful Lego blocks, right? Well, the Legoland theme park is an entire town built out of them. (The first Legoland in Billund, Denmark, has 35 million Lego blocks, including a 46-foot-high version of Mt. Rushmore!) But I digress...
I'm very happy to be back home in Noe Valley, even if our town reminds me a little of Legoland: Colorful and fun and lots of building construction going on, with more than a whiff of fertilizer.
Most of the rumors these days are emanating from Upper Noe Valley, where things are changing rapidly on the Church Street commercial strip.
I was stunned by the news that a popular lunch counter, Hungry Joe's, was being sold after a 21-year run on the corner of Church and Day. My sources say that a group of buyers has agreed to purchase both the building and the business from longtime owner Michael Meshkati. They say the asking price was $838,000. The selling price is still hush-hush.
If the deal goes through, a lot of locals are worried that Hungry Joe's might cease to exist, leaving only one greasy spoon 'round these parts (Herb's on 24th Street).
But, my sources add, perhaps Hungry Joe's devotees won't go away hungry after all, since the buyers might be interested in keeping the biz intact. The new owners are mulling the question "Why fix what ain't broke?" In any case, we should know what's up by Halloween.
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UP THE STREET, people have been buzzing about the sudden closing of Wong's Cleaners, on Church at Duncan. Buzzing the most were patrons who could see their clothes hanging inside the store, which had been locked up by the San Francisco Sheriff after eviction notices were slapped on the front door in July. The signs for a "Sidewalk Sale"went up in August. I guess anyone with a Wong's claim tag could get their clothes back for free, but ... no ticket, no laundry.
After peering at the Wong's window, I went farther up the street and gazed sadly at the windows of What's for Dessert, which have been covered with newspapers since the cafe closed at the end of July. Owner Mervyn Mark did have a grand closing party, though. Voice contributor Alison Pence says she ate the last Chocolate Chewie, a low-fat concoction for which the bakery became famous. Still, Mervyn refused to give up the recipe, saying, "I'm thinking about doing a cookbook. I'll reveal the secret then."
Perhaps the sushi place that's moving in can put Chocolate Chewies on its menu, so we'll always know "what's for dessert" (sorry, I couldn't resist).
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DREWES MEATS, which has been on Church near 29th Street since 1889, is adapting to its changing surroundings by adding more services.
Owners Josh and Isaac Epple (who took over the business and changed the name to Drewes Brothers last year) have hired a new butcher, arranged a knife-sharpening service, and installed a rotisserie in their front window for all you ABC (Already Baked Chicken) fans. Josh says they'll soon be selling hot chicken and pork roast meals for takeout.
"But we still do full-service butchering, kind of like a full-service gas station," he adds.
Things are hopping next door, too: Cafe J will feature live jazz on Tuesday and Friday nights from 7 to 9 p.m., as background music for the dinner crowd.
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THE UPPER NOE NEIGHBORS are putting on their party shoes and hosting a neighborhood shindig at the Upper Noe Rec Center (both inside and out) on Saturday, Sept. 25, from 1 to 4 p.m. This will mark the first time in over 10 years that the UNN has thrown a bash, which in the olden days verged on being a street fair. "This time," say association president Vicki Rosen, "we're going to keep it very simple and low-key. But everyone in the neighborhood is invited."
Partygoers are encouraged to bring their own picnic and potluck-style fixin's, while the group will supply refreshments, activities for the kids, and music and other entertainment. For those who don't frequent the area, the park is located between Church and Sanchez, and 30th and Day.
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I WAS SORRY TO LEARN that Ingleside Station's popular police captain, Rick Bruce, has been reassigned to lead the Tactical Company of the SFPD. Ingleside Station, the second largest police district in the city, has jurisdiction south of Cesar Chavez (Army), including Upper Noe Valley, Diamond Heights, Fairmount, and over into Glen Park.
Captain Bruce wrote in a letter to Noe Valley residents: "When I came to this district slightly over two years ago, I began to meet the neighborhood people that I variously considered to be my district constituents, clients, liaisons, and representatives. Today, I think of you simply as old friends." The feeling is mutual.
Replacing Bruce is the able Capt. Marsha Ashe, who was the night supervising captain for the city's entire patrol force. She acknowledges that Bruce's will be a tough act to follow, but is quite excited about her new post.
"People keep telling me, 'You have big shoes to fill,'" says the new captain. "It has become almost a mantra that I have heard in the community meetings I've attended in the three weeks I've been here."
Ashe says she is stopping by various neighborhood and merchant group meetings in the district and is enjoying all of the community contacts established by her predecessor. "I am anxious to meet with the Noe Valley neighborhood groups, and welcome any calls." Those wishing to give her a jingle should dial 553-1603.
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BACK ON MAIN STREET, the rumor running along 24th Street from Fountain to Fair Oaks was that Bell Market would soon be staying open 24 hours a day.
Not true, according to Bell Market's store manager, Gary Grossetti, who was raised in Noe Valley. "We have not had any intention of going to a 24-hour operation," he says, "and we have no intention of doing so in the future."
One source of the rumor might have been the July newsletter of the Friends of Noe Valley. The FNV published a missive from 24th Street resident Tracey Hughes, who said, "There's even talk of Bell Market going to 24-hour operation." Exactly who was doing that talking wasn't clarified, but Ms. Hughes had plenty to say about "the increasingly serious late-night noise problem along 24th Street."
Passionately discussing the clamor in and around our main drag, Ms. Hughes, a 15-year resident, stated that "Section 29 of the Police Code has not been changed since 1972 to regulate the allowable volume of vehicles or to regulate their hours of operation. This has set the stage for a free-for-all Jurassic Park/Invasion of the Body Snatchers acoustic hell on earth beginning before dawn."
Hughes goes on to lament, "Noe Valley used to be a quiet neighborhood, but its peacefulness has been destroyed by large corporations, restaurants, and chain stores that seem to cater to people who spend very little time here. There has been a gradual increase in the arrogant disregard for the people who actually live here."
Hughes ends by calling for regulatory legislation to prevent the "mini-mall-ization virus from destroying our right to the quiet enjoyment of life." Here, here.
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DOWNTOWN NOE VALLEY was also blasted big time in the Bay Guardian's recent "Best of the Bay" issue (July 28). Writes the Guardian: "As recently as the early 1990s, Noe Valley was a congenially sleepy oasis in the urban mayhem, a cross between a country village and Haight-Ashbury.
"Those days are gone, and then some," the no-byline story continues. "Today, 24th Street, with its fleet of double-parked trucks and cars (whose drivers have darted into one of the neighborhood's numerous espresso purveyors for a double latte) -- and, most astoundingly, sidewalk crowds morning, noon, and night -- is barely navigable, whether by car or on foot. It's like Manhattan."
Gee whiz. And I thought Legoland was crowded. Is it really that bad here?
For your information, the BG did get around to awarding a few kudos. Its "Best Coffee Bar" in Noe Valley was Martha and Bros. on the corner of Church and Duncan streets. Martha's "is unassuming and agreeably lacking in glitz; it's also considerably less crowded, in the manner of old Noe Valley," sayeth the Guardian.
The "Best Bookstore" was Phoenix Books ("leaves the rest of the field in the dust"), and "Best Produce Shop" was Jim and Sons Produce ("nothing fancy, just fresh and cheap").
The Guardian even listed "the best place to view the changing Noe Valley skyline," which was, of all places, "the top of the lawn in Noe Courts Park." Hunh?
As all Noe Valleons know, the best place to view the changing Noe Valley skyline is the northeast corner of Douglass Park Playground.
However, don't rush up there today: The park is temporarily closed and will remain so for at least two weeks so that Rec and Park and other workers can take out the 25-year-old splintered wood play structures and replace them with state-of-the-art stuff donated by GameTime. (See story, page 23.)
I can hardly wait for the ribbon-cutting festivities at the playground.
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THAT'S 30. Bye, kids, and do well in school. I'm also wishing all you Internet-surfing computer geeks the best of luck on 9/9/99. I'll be back next month to tell you whether that date bodes ill or well for Y2K, plus I'll have the latest aromas wafting around Lego..., I mean Noe-land.