Noe Valley Voice October 2000

Rumors in the News: Living Month to Month

By Mazook

THE COOKIE CRUMBLES: Say goodbye to another Noe Valley landmark. Star Bakery, which has purveyed pastry and bread on the corner of Church and 29th streets since 1889, has been sold (along with the building). In its heyday, thousands would flock to the Star on St. Patrick's Day for a loaf of its famous Irish soda bread.

Although the sale is still pending, reliable sources tell me that the icing will be on the cupcake, so to speak, by the time you read this. The buyer is said to be a Noe Valleon who intends to restore the interior of the building to its Victorian past, in other words, remodel the upstairs housing. The bakery's original turn-of-the-19th-century baking equipment and fixtures are being dismantled, though. And the fate of the Star storefront is unknown. In late September, the bakery was open on a day-to-day basis.

Moving up Church Street to 27th, the building recently occupied by the Metropolitan Community Church has also been sold. My sources tell me that a medical or dental group, presently located on 24th Street, hopes to move in before their old lease expires. Escrow should close in the first week of October.

Two blocks away, That Blue Place on the corner of Sanchez and Duncan has become that big hole in the ground, since late June. The tiny Victorian storefront was a grocery in the late 1980s and then remodeled to become an Italian restaurant in 1995, but feisty neighbors refused to give the cafe that green light to open. Now they're wondering if the hole will soon be that monster home.

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THE WELCOME WAGON: A new pharmacy with an old-fashioned design has just opened on the corner of Castro and 22nd streets. It's called RX Unlimited. The interior is totally wood-paneled, and has custom-built shelving and hardwood floors. The drugstore is so classy, in fact, that the plastic bottles of aspirin stand out in stark contrast to the all-natural wood.

Michael Hall is the pharmacy manager. "We are offering a very specialized service with an emphasis on HIV-related drugs," he says. "We also provide delivery service to people who are homebound."

Michael explains that "RX is not trying to compete with the chain stores [like Rite Aid and Walgreen's], which can make a whole lot of money by selling over-the-counter merchandise. Instead, we're focusing on providing high-quality pharmacy services."

Good luck.

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THE LEASE, PLEASE: Twenty-fourth Street fashionistas were alarmed when the "Sold" sign went up on the building on the southeast corner of Sanchez. Could it be the end for the women's clothing shop Designers' Club?

"No, we're staying," says Designers' owner Prisca Bonati. "The building was sold, but we have four more years on our lease, so my friends tell me it is too soon to worry."

I dunno about that.

And turning the page, the latest word on Phoenix Books' lease negotiations with its new landlord at 24th and Vicksburg is...well...they're still negotiating.

"We have had some serious meetings recently," says Phoenix owner Kate Rosenberger. "I am hopeful and really want to thank all those people who are supporting the bookstore."

The 15-year neighborhood institution, which last year won a Bay Guardian Best of the Bay Award, has accumulated 1,500 signatures on its petition to stay where it is. The bookstore is currently renting on a month-to-month basis, and can be evicted with a mere 30 days' notice.

I say to Kate and her landlord: Split the difference, sign the papers, and keep the Phoenix rising in Downtown Noe Valley. All Noe Valley writers and readers should unite on this one...which, I hope, includes everybody over the age of 6.

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MYSTERY CORNER: The neighborhood's longest vacant storefront -- standing empty for 28 years on the northwest corner of Sanchez and 23rd streets, across from the Noe Valley Ministry -- has signs of life in it.

The building changed hands last spring. According to previous owner Gordon Barbary, it was last occupied by a Sufi group that sold secondhand clothing. The neighbors complained, and the shop closed, circa 1972. "We just used it for storage after that," says Gordon.

Gordon notes that when he bought the building in 1955, "the store was occupied by an old Swedish watchmaker, and then he died and it became a TV repair shop until the Sufis took it over."

A couple of months ago, newspapers went up over the windows. And when I peeked through the papers, I spotted a drafting table up in the loft. But I've yet to locate the new owners.

Could the Sufis have returned? Or is it sushi? Or will the building be demolished and remodeled for housing? (These days my best guess is No. 3.)

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MUSCLED OUT: The ominous "For Lease" sign over the very popular Purely Physical Fitness exercise center on Castro, between Jersey and 25th, has a lot of people worried, especially the 500 buff members of PPF. It appears that the center is now on a month-to-month basis, and the landlord has "more than doubled the rent, to $13,750 a month," according to PPF co-owner Lori Bitterman.

"We have been here for eight years," says Lori, who owns Purely Physical with her partner, Fran Aldwell, "but as a small business, we can't afford that kind of rent." Lori says she is negotiating with the landlord to see if PPF can stay in the space, which is just under 4,000 square feet.

But here's a bad omen: The words "Maximum Mortgage" are outlined in bold above the "For Lease" sign.

Talk about a treadmill.

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SPEAKING OF LOST LEASES: Last month workmen started clearing out Kennedy's, the bar on the corner of Church and 25th streets. Old-timers will remember this tavern as the location of Patch County in the 1970s.

But it looks certain that the Noe-hood will have one less place to drown its sorrows, because the bar and fixtures are being removed, probably to make way for office space (that's what the workmen say). Noisy revelers and parking problems have been rife on that corner for years, so I'd bet a lot of the folks living nearby couldn't be happier by this turn of events.

A couple of blocks down Church Street at the corner of Cesar Chavez, the space vacated this summer by Wind in the Willows Nursery School is still under reconstruction, but workmen have partitioned the middle, making it two potential stores or offices. The buzz on Church is that some kind of medical or dental practice will be going in there.

Anyway, a bulldozer should arrive soon to level the play yard next door. It was sold to another person, and will likely become a three- or four-story apartment building (read: condos).

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SHE'S A JOLLY GOOD FELLOW: Congratulations to Marissa Ghez, a Noe Valleon since 1993 (near the corner of Cesar Chavez and Sanchez) and until recently the communications director for the S.F.-based Family Violence Prevention Fund. Marissa has been selected by a special bipartisan commission (40 judges) for one of 15 prestigious White House fellowships. A White House Fellow works for a member of the cabinet or a senior White House official for a year. Marissa started her stint in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, and is working for the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig.

She feels it's too early to comment on her relations with Danzig, but says that the main role of a White House Fellow is "to observe our leaders on a daily basis as they are making tough decisions, building coalitions, and solving problems."

She has found life in D.C. to be interesting. "I've moved into Dupont Circle, which is eclectic and diverse and kinda reminds me of Mr. Rogers' neighborhood," laughs Marissa. "But I really miss Noe Valley -- the great weather, the sense of community, the wonderful conveniences of 24th Street, and having breakfast at Herb's."

Herb's misses you, too.

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MORE TOMES TO PERUSE: Noe Valley mystery author Cara Black, who hit the bestseller list last year with her mystery Murder in the Marais, has a new novel out, titled Murder at Belleville. Cover to Cover is hosting a book party for Cara on Oct. 6, at 7 p.m.

The firefly over the entrance to the very popular Firefly Restaurant, up at 24th and Douglass, appeared in a newly released book, Grand Entrances, picturing 86 "artistic, offbeat, and jazzy" storefronts in San Francisco. The text is by Terry Hamburg, and photos by Judy Erickson.

Reveals Hamburg, "The large steel insect with Plexiglas wings was done in 1993 by William Wareham, a local sculptor whose work graces other storefronts in the city."

The book focuses on how our small businesses have used the wealth of the local artistic community not only to lure customers, but to separate themselves from the giant chain stores, which come to town with their cookie-cutter facades and redundant logos.

Let's just hope the local artistic community can afford to stay somehow, somewhere in San Francisco....

Surprisingly, Grand Entrances missed the great mural on the front of Gallery of Jewels on 24th near Castro, just west of the post office.

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YES, YOU CAN: I want to encourage all of you to donate non-perishables to the food drive for the homeless, at Terra Mia (24th between Noe and Castro). Your donation will go to the San Francisco Food Bank, and will entitle you to free studio time at Noe Valley's do-it-yourself answer to the Pottery Barn.

That's all, you all.