Noe Valley Voice July-August 2004

Lunny House Demolition Leads 24th Street Revival

By Corrie M. Anders

The demolition of the Lunny House, a century-old residence in downtown Noe Valley, was an event that drew dozens of spectators.

A massive shovel bulldozer and its operator were the first to arrive at the long-boarded-up house on 24th Street across from the Bell Market.

Without much fanfare, the yellow machine chewed up the old parlor and a bedroom of the building. Then it gnawed on the kitchen and a second bedroom, until they too crumbled into dust.

Neighbors, merchants, shoppers, and the simply curious gathered to watch as the two-story house vanished on a picture-perfect Friday morning, June 18.

For some onlookers, the loss of the home, built in 1900, was a sad occasion. For many others, the bulldozer's work suggested the promise of economic renewal along a struggling block of 24th Street.

That's because a four-story complex of six condo-style apartments for seniors and two ground-floor commercial storefronts will fill the now-empty lot. Construction is scheduled to start soon on the project at 3953 24th Street, and it may be completed by next spring.

"It's just nice to have something happening," said sightseer Carol Yenne, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association and owner of Small Frys, a children's clothing store on 24th Street. "Anything that happens on that block is going to make people feel better."

Victorian Design for New Building

Businesses have endured ill health for some time along the south side of the 3900 block of 24th Street, between Noe and Sanchez streets. The pain started with the closing "for remodeling" of the popular Real Food Company last August, severely reducing foot traffic from grocery shoppers. Then early this year, two former mainstays--Tien Fu Chinese Restaurant and Colorcrane, an arts supply store--shut down. Several smaller shops, including Dharma, Lit'l Lizards, and Wavy Footprints, also closed their doors.

Not only was blight created by the vacant stores, but the Lunny House itself was an eyesore. Its demolition didn't arrive until two years after Jeremiah Cullinane, Denis Cullinane, and Eileen Long purchased the property for $700,000 from the estate of Robert and Evelyn Lunny.

During that period, the project underwent severe scrutiny from neighborhood civic groups, public hearings, and the city's planning and building permit bureaucracy. "People forget that working with neighborhood groups and all that stuff takes time," observed Long, a real estate agent with B.J. Droubi Real Estate in Noe Valley.

The developers initially intended to build a luxury condominium and retail complex, with a contemporary architectural design. But they modified their plans after the project ran into opposition from neighbors and merchants.

The city's Planning Department approved the final design last fall.

"It's going to have a Victorian façade," Long says, which will blend in better with the Victorian and Edwardian buildings on 24th Street. "That is what the neighbors wanted."

Long says construction should last eight to nine months.

Fresca a Refreshing Addition

The razed cottage is not the only outward sign of rejuvenation in the 3900 block. A new owner has started to transform Tien Fu into a Peruvian restaurant. And negotiations were in process late last month for a knitting supply store to take over the Colorcrane location next to the now-flattened Lunny House.

Rip Malloy, a real estate agent with DeWolf Realty Co., says he hopes to conclude lease negotiations "any day" now for the knitting emporium.

"We're trying our hardest to get that thing going...and get that block moving again," Malloy says.

Two doors away, an artist's color rendering in the window of Tien Fu depicts how Fresca, the new Peruvian restaurant, is going to look. Owner Julio Calvo-Perez says the renovations will include a new kitchen, completely redone décor, new bathrooms, and a new façade.

The remodeling will take about eight weeks, he says, and the restaurant should be ready to open sometime in late August.

Fresca's landlord, Jane Allen, is also "excited" about the restaurant's pending arrival.

"I think that Fresca should help liven that block," she says. "It should be well received by the community."

Allen, however, is reticent to discuss the situation of another of her tenants in an adjacent building, Fresh Organics, Inc., also known as the Real Food Company. When Real Food shut down last year, the store operators were on the verge of a contentious labor dispute with employees.

"I'm not at liberty to talk about Real Food," Allen says.

Fresh Organics executives have assured the neighborhood that they will remodel and reopen, but so far they have been unable to say when.

Art Supplies Saved for Schools

Back at the Lunny House, as demolition morning wore on, the interior of Colorcrane also was being cleaned up. Art supplies abandoned when the store closed were being taken outside and thrown into a large pile atop the Lunny House rubble.

The Colorcrane throwaways included expensive--and still usable--art paper, which someone suggested should be saved for local school children.

Police officers Jerry Neitz and Ed Carew, who happened to be on the scene, agreed with the crowd that the art paper should be salvaged. So a Good Samaritan collected the paper and promised to deliver it to Alvarado or Fairmount School.

Who knows? Perhaps a young Leonardo da Vinci will rise up the ladder of success, along with the fortunes of a once gloomy block.