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WHOLE LATTE CLIMATE GOIN' ON: The New Year blew into Noe Valley on Jan. 3, when three storm systems descended upon us bearing gale-force winds from the Gulf of Alaska. Trees fell, power lines snapped, and sewers flooded. Teeth and nerves rattled in the Valley, and the blips spiked on the Rumors radar.
Evidently, the uprooted tree that fell across the intersection of Sanchez and Jersey (the bottom of the trunk is still there) made national news--relatives from Santa Barbara called to ask if it had toppled near a certain reporter's home. Some households in Noe Valley were singled out for special punishment and lost electricity for days. Let's hope no novels were lost. (Back up that computer now.)
During the minihurricane the morning of Friday, Jan. 4, Downtown Noe Valley was deserted, with only the occasional pedestrian braving the elements to scamper across 24th Street to Bell. The next day, many locals went through a double-shot of anxiety when they saw that the local Starbucks was among the stores closed due to lack of power. When the place stayed dark through the weekend and into Tuesday, jittery patrons and neighborhood denizens began to speculate that the chain was following in the footsteps of the 24th Street Tully's, which grinded to a halt last fall. (Don't worry -- "local girl" Bernadette Melvin took over the Tully's site and is keeping the neighborhood full of beans.) People also starting getting frothy because Starbucks Corporate announced the same stormy week that it would replace its chief executive and restructure the company due to competition with McDonald's new McCafes.
Well, all the excitement died down when the 24th Street Starbucks reopened quietly at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9. The explanation from a barista: "The power was knocked out. That's all I can tell you."
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THE GRASS IS GREENER: After the storms, a calm fell over our vale, and the first glimpse of sunshine drew everyone outdoors. It wasn't long before families with little ones discovered that Rec and Park had removed the construction fences and opened the gates at the newly built children's playground at Noe Courts park at Douglass and 24th streets. It was kinda like, "If you build it, they will come."
"We all were happy that the playground unceremoniously opened [on Jan. 11], and a lot of families showed up as the news spread," said Laura Norman, one of the most loyal and active Friends of Noe Courts Playground. "They expanded the size of the play area, built ramps for wheelchairs and strollers, and put in some nice picnic tables. There's a rubberized surface, a sandbox with a fence around it for toddler safety, and they installed play structures for a wider range of ages."
The Rec and Park budget for the expansion came to $452,000, and Norman reports that FNCP has collected about $20,000 through its fundraising events. (For more info, contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
To celebrate the park's reopening, FNCP and Rec and Park are planning a Valentine's and Lunar New Year Party, with a short playground dedication, on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 11 a.m. According to Rec and Park spokesperson Rose Dennis, there will be three crafts tables where everyone can make valentines.
And District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty has confirmed he will attend, especially so he can thank everybody who volunteered their time, energy, and money to make the playground a reality.
In other park news, we should thank San Francisco Beautiful for the grant that put a brand-new drinking fountain for humans and dogs in Upper Douglass Park.
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UPPER NOE'S TOP REMODEL: Progress on the renovation of Upper Noe Rec Center at Day and Sanchez has been stalled for the past two months because of those dern Alaska storms, among other things, and it's a big topic of discussion at Upper Noe Neighbors meetings.
Reports UNN chief Vicki Rosen, the March 2008 opening date anticipated by Rec and Park has been pushed back a month or two. Alex Randolph, from the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, informed Rosen that "there have been some unexpected issues that surfaced with this project, which include the HVAC system, rotten roof beams, rain delays, and additional work on the Dog Play Area." And that was in December, pre-hurricane.
Randolph assured everyone that while weather had stalled the exterior work, there was a lot of work under way on interior areas of the building that could not be easily seen by the neighbors, in the gymnasium, auditorium, kitchen, and restrooms.
Rose Dennis of Rec and Park says her best estimate of when the gates to the new Noe Valley Recreation Center will open is May. But I'm thinkin' maybe June.
The budget on this whole project, by the way, is a not-too-shabby $10.5 million, according to Rec and Park reports.
The community group Friends of Noe Valley Recreation Center is planning a big party to celebrate the reopening, whenever it actually occurs. The members also are raising funds for amenities not in the Rec and Park budget, like a sound system, movie screen, and piano for the stage area in the auditorium, and play structures and toys for the tiny-tots area. Check out their web site at noevalleyreccenter.com.
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WE GOT MILK: Downtown Eureka Valley, a.k.a. the Castro, has undergone a Hollywood retro makeover for Milk, a film about the life of gay pioneer Harvey Milk, the city supervisor killed along with Mayor George Moscone 30 years ago next November.
A trip over the hill will send you back in time. Castro Street from 18th to Market has been transformed into the way it looked in 1977, when Milk was elected to the Board in the city's first election by district. (Noe Valley was part of Milk's constituency; Harvey even wrote a few columns for the Noe Valley Voice.)
The Castro Theatre has been painted to look like it did back then, and it looks marvelous. Milk's camera shop (Castro Camera, at 575 Castro) has been reincarnated, and the gollywooders have even recreated some esoteric icons, like Double Rainbow's first ice cream shop, three doors up from the theater. It is cool seeing all the vintage '70s cars, taxis, and police squad cars.
The film is being produced by Academy Award winners Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen (American Beauty) and will star Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. The cast also includes Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, and Victor Garber.
According to the production company's spokesperson, James Ferrera, movie director Gus Van Sant will be filming in the Castro through the first week of February. On Feb. 4, plans are to stage the "Milk March" on Castro, starting north of 18th Street. The call was put out for extras to show up in their '70s garb, and according to Ferrera, "the response has been overwhelming."
The world premiere of Milk will no doubt be at the Castro Theatre, which deserves a red carpet event after such a great facelift.
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HOT CHOCOLATE: The world premiere of In Search of the Heart of Chocolate is set for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at Delancey Street (600 Embarcadero). Bay Area filmmaker Sarah Feinbloom (What Do You Believe?) set her creation partly in Downtown Noe Valley, and the film features many locals.
The 24-minute "chocumentary," according to Feinbloom, follows her as she searches for the origins of her chocolate obsession, interviewing chocolate enthusiasts along the way. Appearing in the film are Jack Epstein, owner of Chocolate Covered on 24th Street, and a few of his regular customers: Richard Anderson, Suzanne McKee, and Arielle Singer. Chocolate Covered, as you other chocolate aficionados know, opened in Noe Valley 14 years ago.
"We did our interviews right on 24th Street," says Feinbloom, "which is a special place where you can still find a lot of mom-and-pop kind of unique stores that are run by interesting folks like Jack."
The screenings (first one at 6:30 and a second at 7:30) will be followed by a "chocolate reception" catered by Charles Chocolates from the East Bay and our own Noe Valley Bakery, famous for its chocolate croissants.
Tickets for the event ( $10 each) can be obtained via email@example.com, along with a DVD of the short for $19.99.
"I've not seen the film yet," says Epstein, "but it should be fun. It comes right in time for a busy day around here, Valentine's Day."
Chocolate Covered was also one of the recommended places to visit in the current issue of AAA's travel magazine Via, which did a piece on 24th Street from Potrero to Douglass. Other locals mentioned were Martha's Coffee, 24th Street Cheese, Noe Valley Bakery, Hamano Sushi, Lovejoy's Tea Room, the S.F. Mystery Bookstore, Good News, Gallery of Jewels, Qoio, Bliss Bar, and Firefly.
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SHORT SHRIFTS: Vendima, the vintage clothing store, is closing its doors at the corner of 24th and Castro after a two-year run. "We are going online now, and into Internet sales," says owner Graciela Ronconi, who formerly operated Guys and Dolls (down 24th below Church) for 11 years. Ronconi wishes to thank all her Noe Valley customers for their loyalty and friendship over the years.
The fate of the "Blue Church" on the corner of 28th and Church should, by the time this paper hits the streets, be in the hands of a jury in San Francisco Superior Court. If the developer wins his civil case, there will be a long-awaited celebration and a knockdown of the building with a wrecking ball.
Neighbors around Noe Valley have been notified by PG&E that rather large "electronics cabinets with power panels" are planned for 22nd Street near Noe, Douglass near 22nd, Diamond near Alvarado, Castro near 22nd, and Church near 24th. These boxes will provide digital services (via fiber optics) to the neighborhood, but might be considered unsightly (or worse). The utility is asking for a neighborhood response, so speak up.
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THE BARBER OF NOE VALLEY: There's only one barber in the neighborhood, Stephanie Smith, now that her father, Mike Skoufas, retired last month. Skoufas had been shaving and trimming Noe Valleyans since 1953.
Skoufas started at Martin's Barber Shop (where Tamasei Sushi is now) but has occupied a string of locations in the Valley. In 1977, when his shop used to be where the back of Pasta Pomodoro's dining room is now, he was joined by his daughter. Most recently, Skoufas was working part-time at Of Barbers and Bears, which was opened by Stephanie in 2003 on 24th Street above Castro.
"My daughter is the only licensed barber left in Noe Valley," claims Skoufas. "All the other haircutters have cosmetology licenses, and they can do everything barbers do and more, except shaving. When a barber gets a cosmetologist license, then they become 'hair stylists.'"
Skoufas, who is 78 years young, says he is spending time with his wife Donna and enjoying babysitting his grandchildren.
Smith says she misses having her dad in the next chair. She is looking for a barber to take his place, "but it seems that basic barbers are hard to find these days."
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THE LAST WORD before I go is: Vote. Remember to cast your primary election ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 5. I really am hoping that voter turnout in Noe Valley will exceed the 41 percent who showed up on Nov. 6, 2007. That's 30. Ciao for now.