Noe Valley Voice October 2008

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

BUSINESS AS USUAL: A rumor was flying through the neighborhood early last month that one of our four Downtown Noe Valley banks, Washington Mutual, was in trouble because of the subprime mortgage meltdown. This prompted many local depositors to move their money to other banks on Noe's Main Street: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Sterling. Although there wasn't an actual stampede on our WaMu branch (at 24th and Noe), it appears that a steady stream of locals was quietly withdrawing money and calmly walking to other bank branches to set up new accounts.

"We definitely saw an increase in new accounts being opened at our Noe Valley branch in August," said Sterling Bank and Trust President Steve Adams. He cited the loss of customer confidence at WaMu.

Seattle-based WaMu, America's largest savings and loan ($188 billion in deposits), evidently had similar runs on their banks in other neighborhoods nationwide. Worried WaMu depositors reportedly pulled almost $17 billion from the bank between Sept. 15 and Sept. 25. This caused the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to seize the bank overnight and transfer its deposits and sell most of its other assets to J.P. Morgan Chase Bank. This deal makes J.P. Morgan Chase the largest bank in the country, now surpassing Bank of America.

WaMu tellers informed customers entering the Noe Valley branch on the morning of Friday, Sept. 26, that it was now a Chase Bank, but their accounts would keep the same numbers. The tellers gave assurances that the transition would go smoothly.

"It is business as usual," said Mansoor Rahmani, WaMu's Noe Valley branch manager for the past five years. "However, I can't make any other comments."

According to what we read in the media, the decision by J. P. Morgan Chase, with more than $1 trillion in assets, to cover all of Washington Mutual's deposits, narrowly averted what would otherwise have been massive claims on the government's F.D.I.C. insurance fund.

So, while it is indeed "business as usual" at the Noe Valley WaMu, now J.P. Morgan Chase, it is unclear what will happen to this branch (or to the other WaMu branches in the city). Will WaMu's neon signs soon be draped with the Chase Bank logo? Or will Chase Bank, who arrived in Noe Valley literally overnight, decide to close this or other neighborhood branches?

"I am saddened by the news of Washington Mutual," said Sterling's Adams. "It is truly a loss for our community, since they had been very active in the past, giving their support to local non-profits. They gave a lot." Adams noted that the big banks are getting bigger. You can say that again.

Sterling Bank, you might already know, is a very local, privately owned bank, which luckily never fell into the subprime mortgage trap. "We were quite unhappy with the federal deregulations made soon after Bush became president in 2001," said Adams, "and about five years ago we sold all of our holdings in [mortgage financiers] Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae."

Pop Quiz #1: Do you know the name of the first savings and loan association that moved into the WaMu space, circa 1980?

Pop Quiz #2: Do you know which now very well known senator led the 2001 congressional stampede for bank deregulation? (You will find the answers to these quiz questions at the end of Rumors.)

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I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM: Another rumor began swirling around the corner of 24th and Sanchez on a warm day in mid-September, when Belgano suddenly closed its doors and papered over its windows. The shop posted a notice addressed to "Dearest Friends and Neighbors," telling us that it was closing to prepare "an exciting surprise for all patrons." It also said the gelateria would reopen on Oct. 11, with "refreshing new elements.... This reveal [will be] too tasty to miss."

The closing of the ice cream/candy store took neighborhood sweetaholics by surprise, and caused a mild sneer among local bloggers. Noticing a familiar logo on the window sign, one blogger had this comment: "Froyo Wars: Tuttimelon tries to sneak into Noe Valley."

But not long after Belgano's doors were shut, the Voice received an e-mail from a Gilbert Tay, who informed us that he and his partners were the new owners of Belgano and that they would remodel and reopen with "exciting desserts." Tuttimelon?

Yes, Tay confirmed that the store would be a Tuttimelon, part of a small chain that already has two stores in San Francisco, on Irving and Chestnut. But it will continue to sell candy and chocolate, he said. And he'll even bring back the Leonidas chocolate that customers were sorry Belgano dropped last summer.

If the weather stays warm, you may be glad for the change: Tuttimelon is known for its Tastee Freez-like frozen yogurts, sorbets, and gelato--and for the many varieties of toppings you can sprinkle on them.

Pop Quiz #3: What was the name of the store that occupied this spot (3901 24th St.) from 1996 to 2003? Hint: It was owned by Tom Burwell and Dave Allen.

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IT'S SWEEPING NOE VALLEY: If you got a postcard last month from the San Francisco Department of Public Works about mechanical street-sweepers, then the sweeping schedule in front of your house is being changed from once a week to twice a month. It will be on the same day of either the first and third weeks or the second and fourth weeks, and it will take effect as soon as DPW changes the street cleaning/no parking signs. The change will no doubt provide some relief from the weekly musical-car shuffle. DPW has 15,000 signs to change.

The city decided to reduce the service after it reevaluated the efficiency of the mechanical street-sweeper program, which has been bristling our curbs for 30 years. As a cost-saving measure, the change is calculated to save about $1 million yearly.

According to DPW spokesperson Christine Falvey, Noe Valley is in Phase II of the project, which started Sept. 22. (Phase I was the north side of the city.) She said the DPW workers go from "street to street, sign to sign, and cover the old schedule with a sticker for the new schedule." The signage changes should have been completed in Noe Valley and Diamond Heights by the time you read this.

Those of you who did not get a postcard will continue to experience weekly mechanical sweeps. According to Falvey, there is no change in our commercial corridor--on 24th Street from Douglass down to Mersey Alley [just west of Dolores], and along Castro from Clipper to 24th Street. And there are no changes on Dolores Street.

Pop Quiz #4: If you ferry across the Mersey, where are you?

Pop Quiz #5: DPW cut mechanical street-sweeping in most of Noe Valley by 50 percent. True or false?

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GREEN FOR A DAY: An instant park was created on Friday morning, Sept. 19, when a Noe Valley­based design group,, took over a parking space on the south side of 24th Street just up from Castro [in front of Wink], to participate in "Park(ing) Day." Quite simply, they took over a parking space and made it into a mini-park for a day. The nationwide event, with 80 cities across the U.S. participating, was sponsored by the Trust for Public Land.

Sea-dot designers Theo Revlock and Dawn Ma created an oasis of grass mounds and a rock garden on a gentle slope, replete with garden furniture, in the 10-by-20-foot parking space. "People were quite receptive to the whole idea," Revlock told us. "People beeped and cheered as they drove past, kids stopped and took a break, merchants told us how much they enjoyed the new street amenity, and expressed disappointment when we told them it was going to be here for only one day. The meter maid stopped by and wanted to know when the barbecue was going to start. The most surprising visitors were a reality TV production crew shooting a scene around the corner, who then decided to use the Park(ing) as an additional location."

Pop Quiz #6: Name the San Francisco art collective that created the National Park(ing) Day in 2005, "to re-imagine the potential of the metered parking space."

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THE CHURCH STREET Professionals group has been rejuvenated after more than six months of being dormant. The group is being co-chaired by Susan Levinson (State Farm Insurance), Lynn Ingham (Lynn Antiques), and Gary Norman (Edward Jones Investments), and was set to have a general meeting at Artesanias furniture store on Sept. 29.

"Hopefully, we will have a good turnout of our membership, and we will be discussing what we want to do for the holidays and next year," said Levinson.

Congrats go to Randall Kostick, former manager of Zephyr Real Estate's Noe Valley office, who has been promoted to chief operating officer of the firm. Kostick started with Zephyr when they opened an office in Noe Valley in 1986. Taking his place as sales manager on 24th Street will be Aimee Arost, who was an assistant sales manager at Zephyr's South of Market office.

Also new to Noe Valley will be Cary.Lane, which will be in the business of selling men's and women's apparel in the space on 24th near Church most recently occupied by Noe Valley Organic Produce, next to Shufat Market.

Pop Quiz #7. What was the name of the store that occupied 3813 24th Street before Noe Valley Organic Produce?

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QUIZ KIDS: Monday night football is a big attraction these fall nights at 24th Street's Valley Tavern, not so much for the football game, but rather for the trivia quiz competition that begins right after the game ends. There are usually about 10 teams (of up to five or six on a team) trying to answer questions being posed by the master of ceremonies and quizmaster, Mark Walshe, from a San Francisco group called Brainstormers Pub Trivia.

There are six rounds and the quiz topics are provided to the contestants in advance. The six topics for the Valley Tavern's Sept. 22 contest were General Knowledge, Heavyweight Presidents, '50/'50 Questions, a picture round, a music round, and Last Call for Know-It-Alls.

Currently almost 30 pubs in the city have weekly trivia contests. It is usually standing-room-only at the Valley Tavern. The winners get a $40 bar tab to celebrate victory, while the losers must drown their sorrows at their own expense.

The local contest has been going on every Monday night for over a year, and the teams are currently forming for a 10-week citywide tournament that will start in the first week of January. The best teams from each pub will then compete in a citywide championship for a $1,000 cash prize.

The current favorite in Noe Valley is a team called "The Cash-Parrots," consisting of J.R. Hubbard from Selecta Auto Body, local computer guy Mike Bolos, Noe Valley author Bill Yenne, and local Kate Durkin.

"We usually play on the first Monday of the month," says Hubbard, "and usually end up in the top three by the end of the night, but we all have great fun: win, lose, or draw." However, the rumor is that this team wins more often than not. "We will be looking to win the city finals next year," says a very confident Yenne.

Pop Quiz #8: What was the name of the bar located where the Valley Tavern is more than 30 years ago, immediately before it became Finnegan's Wake?

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THAT'S 30 for this month, folks. Before I go, here are the answers to the pop quiz questions above:

#1. Coast Savings and Loan

#2. Arizona Senator John McCain

#3. Tom & Dave's Juice-It

#4. It is the name of the estuary on the west side of Liverpool, England.

#5. False. There was a 54 percent reduction. Put another way, 52 sweeps have been reduced to 24.

#6. Rebar

#7. Jim and Son's Produce

#8. The Celtic Tavern

And finally, we have a #9 bonus question for all of you. Which American president told the country: "The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."

That would be Herbert Hoover, on Oct. 25, 1929. The totally unregulated stock market crashed four days later and ushered in 10 years known as the Great Depression. Hopefully, history will not repeat itself and we all will not be flying "Hoover flags," which were the empty pants pockets that were pulled out when the question was: "Brother, can you spare a dime?"

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NEWS FLASH! On Sept. 30, Vanessa Cornish, spokesperson for Whole Foods Market's Northern California regional headquarters in Emeryville, shot us this e-mail in response to our nagging question: When is Whole Foods coming to Noe Valley?

"WFM is looking forward to opening a new store in the vibrant Noe Valley neighborhood. Bell Market is the lessee on the property at 3950 24th Street through spring 2009. In the meantime, WFM is working on conceptual layouts and construction documents for permit application. We hope to start construction once building permits are approved. We anticipate opening in late 2009, assuming the development process is straightforward."

That was the entire statement. The Voice hopes to have the Whole enchilada next month.