Noe Valley Voice July-August 2007

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

THE WRECKING BALL is almost ready to swing at Church and 28th streets, to demolish the corner building known as "the Blue Church."

Originally, the building wasn't so blue, and it housed the Searchlight Theater (not the Del Mar, as reported here last month) when it was erected in 1916. However, by the time the last movie was shown in 1965, it was called the Del Mar. After that, the building became the property of a church named Holiness Temple in Christ.

The structure's fate was sealed two years ago when it went into foreclosure and was purchased prior to auction by J. Branch Development, a Concord-based developer. James Branch says he leased the place back to the building's former owner, Pastor Joesiah Bell, for a year, the amount of time he felt he needed to weave through San Francisco's permit process. He also agreed to pay Bell $100,000 for relocation. The permit process was completed earlier this year, and Branch won the city's approval--with support from the neighbors--to tear down the building and erect six market-rate residential condominiums with parking, and a commercial space on the ground floor.

Everybody seemed to be in sync and the lease had expired this spring when Branch learned that Bell had failed to move out of the building. In addition, according to the neighbors, homeless people were being invited to sleep on the premises.

Branch confirmed in late June that he was being forced to evict Bell. He said a trial had been set for July 2 (2007) in San Francisco Superior Court. If the court orders the eviction, then the sheriff will arrive by the end of the month to turn over the building to Branch, clearing the way for demolition.

"It will take about three weeks to demolish the building and another approximately seven months to finish rebuilding," said Branch optimistically.

During the permit process, the Planning Department had to consider a San Francisco ordinance that limits any change in use or demolition of a movie theater (planning code section 221.1). The city evaluated the historical status of the building and found that it had been substantially altered over the years and did not retain sufficient architectural characteristics of a movie theater to warrant denial of the demolition permits.

However, the "Historic Resource Evaluation Response" from the Planning Department suggested, and Branch has agreed, to put a plaque "acknowledging the historic, neighborhood-serving use of the original building." It will read something like this: "Original site of the Searchlight Theater, a neighborhood-serving single-screen movie theater, which opened in 1916. Subsequent names for the neighborhood movie theater that operated on this site until 1965 include the Empress, the Princess, the Rita, the Lux, the Church, and the Del Mar. Neighborhood theaters such as this one provided motion-picture entertainment within walking distance for residents and contributed to the unique character of San Francisco's neighborhoods."

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IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: One of Noe Valley 's largest apartment buildings has recently been sold for an undisclosed price. The 40-unit apartment complex is located at 4130 Cesar Chavez, between Castro and Noe streets. The buyer is identified in the public records as "Trophy Properties XII," which is a company controlled by the Frank and Walter Lembi family of CitiApartments and Skyline Realty. Reportedly, they are in charge of more than 5,000 apartments in San Francisco. Reliable sources say the Lembi Company had received over $3 billion from an overseas investor to purchase apartment buildings in the city.

Meanwhile, the latest word on the fate of the large parcel of property at 3400 Cesar Chavez (at Mission), where Kelly-Moore had a paint store for many years, is that a developer has bought the land and plans to demolish the current structures and build 60 residential units over four storefronts. Nine of the units would be designated "below market" rate, and the anchor store would reportedly be another 24-hour Walgreen's.

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GOING TO CHURCH: Word from Peter Kung, who owns the building originally owned by Safeway at 1748 Church Street near Day (last occupied by Mikeytom Market), is that he's currently dealing with several parties who are interested in leasing the long-vacant store. Some want the space for a restaurant, and others want to open a retail furniture store, he says.

Up the block at 1515 Church, where Jaboh used to be, Dana Nelson and two other hairstylists will unveil a new salon called Green Twig on July 3. "We'll do color, cuts, and styling, and we have eco-friendly products from Australia. Also, the shop has been totally remodeled in a green way," says Nelson, who comes to us from NOPA (North of the Panhandle).

Two blocks away, the storefront at 1311 Church Street will soon become a showcase for Mabel Wong's jewelry, we're told.

Bistro 1689, the French restaurant on Church near 29th, has closed after a short one-year run. In its place will be Noe Valley 's first Indian restaurant, appropriately called Clay Oven Indian Cuisine.

Next door at Twin Peaks Pizza, Ghani Kerrar has returned as manager for the shop's new owners, Carlos Wang and Bruno Matos, who will continue to serve up pizza by the slice as well as by the pie. Kerrar came over from Cybelle's on 24th Street when it closed a few months back.

Finally, the old Cybelle's next to Noe's Bar will soon be opening as Basso's restaurant, named for its owners, Wayne, Tommy, Angelo, and Gaetano. According to Tommy Basso, the menu will be Italian, with pizza, and steaks, chops, and chicken off the grill. Basso promises that the new place will be a hot spot, and not just from the heat of the kitchen.

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GROUPINGS: Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association co-president Diane Barrett (of Indigo V) submitted her resignation last month after serving a year of her two-year term. She cited the demands of her business and her wish to spend more time with her family.

Co-president Teresa Gay Morisco reports that Donna Davis (of the jewelry store Forbeadin'), who's been vice president for the past two years, has been nominated to fill Barrett's shoes. The NVMPA will vote on the nomination at the next meeting.

"We are currently looking for nominations for vice president," says Morisco. "We're sad to lose Diane, who has served on the board for many years, volunteered untold amounts of hours, and made numerous contributions to our association."

Morisco, by the way, will appear live sometime between 7 and 8 a.m. July 4 on a Fox News cable television show called Fox and Friends (channel 59). She'll be giving commentary on what's hot in women's swimwear this summer. Morisco is a personal stylist and self-described "wardrobe therapist" headquartered in her home on 26th Street. Her web site is

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NEWS FROM THE FESTAD: Former Noe Valley resident and Downtown Noe Valley street musician (violinist/vocalist) S.K. Thoth appeared on the Fox show America's Got Talent at the end of June, but he was voted off within seconds of his televised audition. His act was a little too far out for the mainstream.

Some of you might remember Thoth playing his violin outside Real Food Company, wearing rather scanty eccentric garb and some serious dreadlocks.

Since leaving Noe Valley for New York City, he has come to national attention with appearances on the Tonight Show and The View. Then in 2002, he was the subject of Sarah Kernochan's Oscar-winning documentary short Thoth. He also has recently released a CD, Space Gypsies, with another former Noe Valley musician, bassist/percussionist Rhan Wilson.

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SAD MYSTERY STORY: Just as we were going to press, the Voice received an e-mail from Diane Kudisch, owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore:

"It is with great sadness that I tell our friends and customers that Gary MacDonald, who has been part of this store for the past 25 years or so, is unable to continue working. Gary has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and will be spending most of the next months getting better and stronger. If you would like to send him wishes and encouragement, please send a card to the store (4175 24th Street, SF 94114), and we will forward such to him.

"On a happier and more exciting note, Mike Tormey, book collector extraordinaire, will be joining the store, along with his extensive inventory of collectibles and first editions from the 1920s on upward. Mike's extensive knowledge of 'mystery history' is invaluable, and I am delighted to have him onboard...."

Get well, Gary. We'll be waiting suspensefully for good news.

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THAT'S 30, folks. Have a great summer. See you back here in September.