Noe Valley Voice June 2002

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

THUMPER WAS THE STUMPER: My frugal editors send thanks to all of you who chose not to enter last month's Rumors Quiz. No one was able to claim the grand prize of toothpicks from Herb's Fine Foods. Just to make you feel bad, the toothpick prize would have been preceded by a roast beef au jus dinner for four at Noe Valley's oldest diner, which could have run into tens of dollars, including tip.

Anyway, noe one won, although some of you came close. As for the questions and answers, in descending order:

5. What year was the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club formed? As every reader of the club's monthly newsletter knows (from its banner), East & West has been "In Existence Since 1904."

4. Where was the original Hopwell's Restaurant located? That would have been on the northeast corner of 24th and Douglass streets, where the Animal Company sits now. In 1970, Hopwell's moved down 24th Street next to Noe Valley's only public parking lot. Hopwell's closed over a year ago, and the site is now occupied by Le Zinc restaurant.

3. What was Herb's Fine Foods originally called when it opened in 1943? Why, anyone who's been reading "The Last 25 Years" on the back page of the Voice will know the place was first called X the Noe, because it was directly across 24th Street from the old Noe Theater. Herb Gaines took over the soda fountain in 1945 and changed its name to his own in 1953.

2. Who was the first president of Friends of Noe Valley? Claire Pilcher, of course. Friends was founded in her Hoffman Avenue living room back in 1971.

1. Name the longtime Noe Valley resident who was the voice of that ancient 1950s TV cartoon character Crusader Rabbit. This was the stumper for most of you. Her name is Lucille Bliss, and she has lived on Noe Street for almost 40 years. "It was the first animated series on primetime television in New York. We started in October of 1950 on NBC," Bliss says proudly, "and I have been doing voice-overs ever since."

Bliss also was the voice of Smurfette in the animated series The Smurfs, which ran from 1981 to 1990. She won't say her age, but some quick math might lead you to believe she's retired. No way! She is currently working on a new TV video game produced by George Lucas called "Bounty Hunter," scheduled for release in December 2002. Bliss will have the lead in that one too, as the voice of a female character named Razetta.

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AW, SHUCKS: In the "we're the greatest" department, Noe Valley was voted Best Neighborhood by the readers of the San Francisco Weekly in the May 15 special issue, "Best of San Francisco 2002." Some smart folks read that journal. The readers polled by the Weekly also named several local stores as the best places to go.

Readers named Ambiance, which has its main store in the Haight but a popular satellite on 24th Street, the city's best women's clothing store. They thought Eric's on Church Street was the best Chinese restaurant in the city, tied with Eliza's. Miss Millie's, on 24th just above Castro, tied with Mama's on Washington Square for serving the Best Weekend Brunch in San Francisco.

The editors of the S.F. Weekly picked Martha & Brothers Coffee Company for Best Coffee in the City. Martha Guerrero Monroy opened her first coffeehouse on 24th Street back in 1987, across from what was then Dan's Gas and Diesel. The Weekly editors rhapsodized, "Martha's daily brew is rich, thick, earthy, and strong enough to merit checking your health insurance for ulcer coverage. It's good. It's damn good. If there were a Martha & Brothers on every corner, Starbucks wouldn't stand a chance." Here, here.

Of course, up at Noe and 24th there is indeed a Starbucks, which is also damn busy. Tully's too. Savor steams up a mean latté, and so does Diamond Corner. Folks are sipping French Roast at Le Zinc. The coffeepots are even rattling at Herb's in the morning. Do other neighborhoods drink this much coffee?

In the Best Breakfast Counter category, the choice was based on the premise that "lonesome curmudgeons have to eat breakfast, too." The Weekly explained, "[I]f they want to be left alone while they scarf up a stack of moist pancakes or a pair of eggs cooked exactly as ordered over the Sunday New York Times, they'd be wise to check out the breakfast counter at Herb's Fine Foods in Noe Valley." Herb's, not exactly renowned for its coffee, is packed on the weekends with the serious egg, sausage, and hash-brown crowd. Coffee is merely a side dish.

In the Best Attempt at a Bagel category, Noe Bagels was the big winner. Sayeth the Weekly purists: "The best attempt at a bagel in San Francisco is the outstanding sourdough round-bread-with-a-hole-in-the-middle at Noe Bagels." Me? I like the jalapeño bagel, well-toasted and buttered and covered with jalapeño spread.

The Ark, at 24th and Vicksburg, was designated as Best Place to Buy a Toy That Doesn't Require Batteries. The awards committee noted, "The Ark offers old-fashioned playthings like magic sets, science kits, musical instruments, those always endearing Brio train sets, and a menagerie of wooden animals to top it all off."

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SUPERMARKET SWEEP: Big Glen Park news should break on the evening of June 27, when the San Francisco Planning Commission votes on the neighborhood's plan to replace its beloved Diamond Super/Terry's Meats grocery, which burned down one cold November night in 1998.

The plan is to build a structure that will house the supermarket on the ground floor, the Glen Park Branch Library on the floor above, and 15 residential units at the back of the lot on Diamond Street. The project most likely will pass, just because so many people are lined up behind it.

"It has been a truly amazing process," says Zoanne Nordstrom, president of the 240-member Glen Park Association (GPA). "When our neighborhood grocery store burnt to the ground, we waited to see what would happen. Then Walgreen's came forward with a plan to pay $15,000 per month, which got our group very involved to make sure everyone in town knew we wanted to have a supermarket-size grocery store and with a meat, fish, and poultry counter."

GPA got busy. They started with petitions in the streets, joined forces with the Noe Valley Merchants Association, contacted the East & West of Castro Club, Friends of Noe Valley, and Upper Noe Neighbors, among others, for help.

About two years ago, an anonymous Glen Parker put up the money to buy the property and formed a limited liability company in which to take title. (For the record, the owner is Glen Park Marketplace Phoenix, L.L.C.) Committees and task forces were formed comprised of project managers, architects, finance people, librarians, mothers, and politicians.

GPA most recently announced that the Mogannam family, who has run the 62-year-old Bi-Rite Market near Dolores Park (3639 18th Street) since 1964, has agreed to own and operate the new 6,500 sq. ft. supermarket. Brothers Sam, a Glen Park resident for the last two years, and Raphael will co-own the store.

"We are thrilled that they have agreed to join us," says project manager David Prowler. "The Mogannam brothers are excited, and everyone in the community should also be excited since Sam and Raphael make a lot of their own products (the desserts are tops), and were voted by Bon Apetit magazine as one of the top 100 small grocery stores in the United States."

According to Prowler, if the plans are approved this month, construction should start at the beginning of next year and be completed by the spring of 2004.

Nordstrom promises that many of the GPA members will show up at City Planning to express their support. The word is sure to get out, since the GPA's monthly newsletter, The Glen Park News, is hand-delivered every month to each of 2,500 addresses in central Glen Park.

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GOT YOUR CHOPS DOWN: Down at Church and 29th streets, people have been pondering the fate of Drewes Meat Market (and Stellings Market, which shares the store space), since the dreaded For Sale sign went up over a month ago.

But a deal is pending that would allow the two markets to continue operating under the same roof well into the future. The Drewes family opened its butcher shop at that location in 1888. They sold the business and the building in 1945 to Phil Tomasello, who operated Drewes until he retired in 1984. Tomasello then sold the business to Dave McCarroll, who ran it for over 12 years before he quit the business. Drewes wound up in the hands of the butcher brothers Josh and Isaac Epple, who had worked for McCarroll. Now they call themselves the Drewes Brothers.

As for the sold sign on Star Bakery across the street from Drewes, it looks as if that space will be used for the first time since 1888 as something other than a bakery. The word is that a physical fitness/ therapy clinic will soon be seeking permits to remodel the space. Maybe the new owners could leave Star's deco sign up and call it Star Fitness or Heavenly Bodies.

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COTTON BASIC MATH: Store division is what casual clothes purveyor Cotton Basics will be doing this month, as Curve Appeal, its newest store -- catering to women sizes 14 to 24 -- hangs its shingle in front of 3989 24th Street and joins the Workwear men's store in the space.

"We'll have two stores within a single storefront," says Kay Lamming, who manages Workwear as well as her flagship Cotton Basics at Castro and 24th. "They'll be clearly delineated, but use the same cash register."

Lamming says Curve Appeal's new plus-size line, which will be similar in style to the clothes at Cotton Basics, has been a long time coming. "We've had a strong demand for quite a while for larger sizes," she says, "and we've tried to carry a few items here and there in Cotton Basics, but there was never enough room for an entire line. Everyone I've told about the store is really anxious for it to open," she adds, "including me, because I can't fit into a lot of the sizes we sell at Cotton Basics either."

Cotton Basics will manufacture all of the merchandise for Curve Appeal out of its Oakland factory. The small chain -- it has stores in Berkeley and Oakland -- opened its first store in 1982 in the 24th Street space now filled with Lit'l Lizards (X the Bell Market). Back then it was called Cotton & Company. Lamming moved up to the corner of Castro in 1990.

"We started this business with a cigar box as our cash drawer," Lamming remembers, "and now we have our own factory and four stores." Make that five!

THAT'S THIRTY for now, folks.