Noe Valley Voice September 2008

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS: Downtown Noe Valley's busiest intersection, at 24th and Castro, seems to get dicier every day, what with all the cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, skateboards, and pedestrians sprinting or schlepping across it. But now the intersection has a new "calming" device: a brick-patterned crosswalk that is the first of its kind in San Francisco.

According to Debra Niemann, director of the Noe Valley Association (the neighborhood's "community benefit district"), the crosswalk, installed in mid-August, was one of the things local residents and merchants had been asking for.

You'll remember that the NVA--with the help of Urban Ecology, a San Francisco non-profit specializing in community design--conducted a questionnaire survey and a series of community meetings back in the fall of '06 and spring of '07. Out of those meetings came the "Noe Valley Streetscape Plan," a document that erects guideposts for the future of 24th Street. (A copy is attached to the back of the NVA bulletin board in the city parking lot between Le Zinc and Radio Shack.)

"Of the 21 complete street components presented to the community [whose members were] asked where they would spend their money, high-visibility crosswalks ranked second on the list," says Niemann. Number one on the list was "bus bulb-outs," by the way.

Starting with the second item, the NVA researched crosswalk materials and found a company in Canada, Integrated Paving Concepts, which makes crosswalks out of DuraTherm, a thermoplastic material.

Explains Niemann, "It's a decorative asphalt surfacing system with great durability, which is inlaid into new asphalt [and then] installed flush with the asphalt, and hence it's very resistant to the wear and tear caused by traffic. It should last 15 or 20 years."

She adds that the NVA wrote a grant for the installation of the asphalt (roughly half the total cost), IPC donated half the cost of the product, DPW waived the permit fees, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority approved the project and designated the intersection a "test site" for San Francisco (it has already been installed in some intersections in New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston).

"In the 19 months it took from community input to actual installation, I learned more about traffic control and the merits of thermoplastic street components than I ever thought possible," Niemann says, "and I also learned how cooperative all of the various city agencies could be in making things happen."

The installation took two and a half days to complete and cost $58,000, of which $13,400 was paid by the NVA out of community benefit district funds.

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MARKET FLUCTUATIONS: The Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation has checked out the rumors flying around Noe Valley in August: that Bell Market would close in four months, the building would be demolished, a commercial/residential structure with basement parking would be built in its place, and Noe Valleons would be roaming the streets looking for milk and produce.

Well, it's true that Bell Market--a part of the Ralphs supermarket chain, owned by food giant Kroger--has lost its lease and will be closing in February 2009. However, the space will be occupied by a new Whole Foods Market, going in sometime after April 2009. (That's actually old news--see Voice, September, October, December 2007).

Mark Campagna, spokesperson for property owner Anchor Realty, told this Voice reporter last month that there were no plans to demolish the 16,000-plus-square-foot structure, although the 24th Street store is small by Whole Foods (and Kroger) standards, where the average size is twice to three times as large.

Campagna said he did not know how long it would take Whole Foods to reopen the store, but he estimated it would be a matter of several months.

The source of the demolish/rebuild rumor could be a fear that what happened a couple of years ago in the Haight, when the Cala on the corner of Haight and Stanyan closed, could happen here. The property owner's plans to demolish the Cala and build a ground-floor grocery and top-floor residences stalled, leaving the Haight supermarketless.

FYI, Bell will also be closing its store on Silver Avenue at Goettingen in February of '09. That building is also owned by Anchor Realty, and after Bell vacates, the space will become a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market (owned by the British food giant Tesco), which will spotlight fresh and healthy foods. This is one of the first two F&E stores opening in San Francisco next year (the other will be at Third Street and Carroll Avenue).

The only remnant of Kroger's supermarkets in Northern California will be the Cala on the corner of California and Hyde streets. But the rumor is its lease will end soon, too, and then the building will be demolished and replaced by--what else?--residential housing over commercial and parking structures.

The Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation has learned that local gamblers are posting odds of 500 to 1 that the 24th Street Real Food Company will ever reopen. (It closed five years ago on Labor Day 2003.) The NVBI speculates that the odds are 3 to 1 that the next sign to appear on the front of the building will be "For Sale."

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RESTAURANTS, CAFES, AND EATERIES, OH MY: It appears that Kookez Café has been sold and had its last supper on Sunday, Aug. 24. Noe Valley diners were tipped off at the beginning of July, when an application to transfer the beer and wine license from Kookez to the Tangerine Restaurant Group, Inc., was posted in the window.

In mid-August, the sign on the front of Kookez said "Closed for Vacation," but now it looks as if a sale is pending and escrow should close soon. The NVBI has learned that the buyer is a California corporation, but we can't find evidence that it operates a restaurant. Those of you who had hopes that the popular Eureka Valley restaurant Tangerine would be opening a Noe Valley branch will likely be disappointed. Tangerine's manager says the rumor is untrue.

Rumors flew near the end of July that Noe Valley's long-running Rin's Thai Restaurant, on the corner of 24th and Douglass, was changing hands. They too were sparked by an ABC transfer application in the front window of the restaurant. However, for all you anxious patrons and devotees, the NVBI has confirmed that there will be no changes at the restaurant, and that the transfer that was made is just between the family members who currently run, and will continue to run, the eaterie, without any change in the menu.

It appears that chef Brett Emerson's three-year quest to remodel and open his restaurant, Contigo at 1320 Castro Street, will come to a happy end soon. His application for a beer and wine license was posted in the first week of August, and according to Brett's blog,, he is hoping for a "Septemberish" opening. The build-out was slowed by Emerson's decision to reclaim and reuse the old growth redwood siding from the original building. However, the place is now flooded with activity, and the first supper could be served by the end of the month. Good luck, Brett.

Melanie Kang and Steven Baker, who have made tiny Chloe's Café a Noe Valley destination for brunch since it opened in 1987, celebrated their 20th anniversary this summer by staying open for dinner (after their normal hours of 8 to 3 Monday through Friday, and 8 to 4 on Saturday and Sunday). However, they will be returning to normal hours soon, and you'll probably have to wait until next summer for dinner again. Still, drop by and congratulate them.

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OAKLAND'S NEW GEM: Say goodbye to the very popular DNV jewelry store, Rose Quartz, which opened up in 1986 in what was just a garage next to St. Clair's Liquor Store, on 24th near the corner of Sanchez.

"The landlord wouldn't renew my lease," says owner Yvette Chamberland, "so I was forced to relocate. I have found a great space in the Lakeshore Business District [at 3295 Lakeshore Avenue], in Oakland, and my final-final day in Noe Valley is September 6."

Chamberland says she is very sad to leave the neighborhood but is happy that her store space will be five times the size of her current 200 square feet and located in a bustling commercial district close to her home. "I won't have to commute anymore," she smiles, "and many of my regular customers tell me that [coming to my new store] will give them just one more destination when they travel to the East Bay."

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THE OLD RAZZLE-DAZZLE: More congratulations go to the Fashion Company, a rather unique Castro Hill family-run business. For more than 60 years, Fashion has been selling beads, rhinestones, lace, and ribbons to those in show business, and to those who are in the business of showing off. The business is currently being run by Tasia (pronounced "Tah-Jah") Melvin and her son Terrance.

"My father started the business in 1947," says Melvin, "And when he retired in 1974, I took over, and now my son Terrance manages the day-to-day business and is assisted by his eleven-year-old son, Dale, who is now learning the business."

Melvin says local customers include the long-running Beach Blanket Babylon production, the San Francisco Opera, "and the costumes of a lot of local drag queens." Recently, Cher's wardrobe people came looking for inspiration for additions to costumes for her new Las Vegas show.

The most unique order the family has received over the years was for a Prince concert in San Francisco. "They ordered many, many pounds of purple beads, which they put up on the walls of his dressing room."

And the strangest order they've had was from the University of Arizona. "They ordered four thousand pounds of plastic beads, which they blew up in the desert, to conduct an experiment by the Norwegian government," says Melvin.

At press time, the Melvin family was trying to help Tina Turner's wardrobe staff come up with some trim for a show gown. "However, it will be a tough order to fill."

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INTO THE WOODS: Prolific author Andrea Gosline has written a new book about a still-thriving peppermint willow tree she planted in Noe Valley 15 years ago in front of her Vicksburg residence. Gosline moved from Noe Valley to Ingleside Terrace three years ago.

"That tree was the inspiration for The Happiness Tree, celebrating the gifts of trees we treasure," says Gosline. "I still shop in Noe Valley, and on each trip [I am] sure to include a visit to the tree [at 429 Vicksburg] and give the trunk a little hug."

Gosline wants everybody to come out to Friends of the Urban Forest's first family event called "Kids 'n' Trees," at Mission Creek Park on Saturday, Oct. 11. The festivities will include the Sippy Cups in concert, an interactive reading of Gosline's new book, and an array of environmental activities.

Speaking of concerts in parks, don't miss the fifth annual Music in the Park, sponsored by Friends of Noe Valley. It's being held on Sept. 14 at Noe Courts from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bands will be playing, a bouncing tent will be jumping, and food and beverages will be available at modest cost.

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BEFORE I GO: I'd like to send my condolences to the family of one of our neighborhood's more distinguished residents, Del Martin, who died Aug. 27 at age 87. Martin is survived by her spouse, Phyllis Lyon. They moved to Noe Valley in 1955 and worked to organize the Daughters of Bilitis, one of the first national organizations to support lesbian civil rights. More than 50 years later, one of Martin's dreams, that same-sex couples would have equal rights to marry, became a reality. We will all miss you.