Noe Valley Voice September 2000

Dan's Auto Throws in the Towel

By Suzanne Herel

When the McCarthy family opened a gas station on land they owned near the corner of 24th and Vicksburg streets, Herbert Hoover was president, the country was in a depression, and full-service attendants still checked your oil.

Now, after hosting a neighborhood fixture for 70 years, the McCarthys' plot is for sale.

The development possibilities range from condos to retail shops to parking. Only one thing's for sure: You won't be able to get your car fixed there anymore.

In August, Dan's Auto Service -- which had leased the land for 15 years -- surprised locals by closing suddenly, leaving only a note on the door directing customers to another shop.

Wayne Rosemont, owner of the business that provided automotive repair and service (he stopped selling gas seven years ago), said high costs of everything from rent to payroll drove him to close.

"I feel like I'm a victim of overhead," said Rosemont, adding that it wasn't an easy decision. "I'm very sad. I can't sleep," he said. "I see customers, and they're emotional, too."

The handwritten sign on the door cited "high rent" as the reason for closing, but members of the McCarthy family said they had not raised the rent in eight years. Last year, the family bumped it up from $7,050 to $7,550, said Fred Hornblower, who married into the McCarthy family.

"The letter on the door was a lot of malarkey," Hornblower said.

No sooner had Dan's closed than merchants -- always looking to increase parking on 24th Street -- began talking about the possibility of turning the four-lot parcel into a parking lot or garage.

"It's the only place large enough," said Bob Roddick, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. In fact, he said, "we have targeted that area for a parking garage for years."

Roddick has asked Supervisor Mark Leno to look into having the city purchase the land.

Leno said that one option might be to have the city build a ground-floor or underground garage and top it with affordable housing units. He said he'd be meeting with the city's director of parking and traffic and the mayor's office of housing to discuss the idea. "I think we need to move pretty quickly," Leno said.

Roddick has already started lobbying. "Parking is a major issue," he said. Developing a lot or garage "would be far better than letting a contractor develop every square inch."

Years ago, the merchants banded together for a similar project. They bought the land next to Hopwell's Restaurant (across from the Coyote bar) and sold it to the city to create a small metered lot.

But times -- and real estate prices -- have changed, and Hornblower is skeptical that the city would be able to afford such a project.

"If anyone buys it, they would most likely put in stores and condos," he said, perhaps similar to the ones developed next to Bell Market.

Hornblower said the land, which had been contaminated for years by underground gas tanks, is finally at a point where it can be developed. Environmental cleanup is just about complete, he said.

The closure has Noe Valley Auto Works, a 24th Street neighbor, scrambling to keep up with demand, said that shop's owner, Richard Yee. "The phone is ringing off the hook," he said. "We're turning work away."

Yee said he was sorry to see Dan's go. "It's a shame. It really worked out well having two shops on the street," he said.

Hans Art Automotive, to which Rosemont recommended his customers, also is seeing an increase in business. "The closing caught a lot of people by surprise," said owner Hans Art, who lives in Noe Valley.

One of those people is Sydney Mealley, a hairstylist at Heads Up Hair Care at Castro and 24th streets and a longtime Dan's customer.

"Bit by bit, we're losing that neighborhood feel," she said. "I'm going to miss him."