Noe Valley Voice July-August 2002

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

TREE WISHES: The Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) dug in and planted 50 trees in Noe Valley last month. The June 15 arbor fest was organized by Noe Valleons Alison Eastwood and John Preckel. According to Preckel, a Sanchez Street resident, 35 families signed up to get the trees planted, on various blocks stretching from 21st to 30th.

The residents first went to a community meeting at the Upper Noe Rec Center, where FUF planting manager Bill Hart showed slides and helped with tree selection. The Forest Friends then made everything go smoothly: they applied to the city for permits, got approvals from the utility companies, jackhammered the sidewalk, readied the earth underneath, and showed up on Saturday with shovels and tree-planting muscle.

"I was in a group of about eight people, mostly volunteers who were Japanese exchange students from a local high school, and some Noe Valley homeowners," says Preckel. "We worked for about five hours and planted 11 trees. It was great knowing that all of the hard work organizing this group and then doing the tree planting work was over. We knew collectively we had put 50 trees around Noe Valley -- trees that will be here for years improving the urban landscape."

According to the Friends of the Urban Forest executive director, Milton Marks III, the exchange students were part of an official delegation from Japan whose members wanted to learn how to start a similar tree program in their home cities.

If you want to plant a tree in front of your house, contact our tree Friends electronically at or telephonically at 415-561-6890.

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SHOE AND TELL: In the news from Lake Noebegone, our resident conservative Harry Aleo of Twin Peaks Properties on 24th Street is now displaying a sign in his window that reads, "Welcome to an island of traditional values in a sea of liberal loonies."

On behalf of all the liberal loonies in Noe Valley, I'd like to say, Harry, thanks for the diversity -- we luv ya.

Across the street from Harry's window, at the Wooden Heel -- Noe Valley's oldest and only shoe repair shop -- a sign went up at the end of April that read, "Closed due to a family emergency...will reopen in two weeks."

This was bad news for the family, and bad news for those who'd left shoes in the shop, and the news got worse when the two weeks and the entire month of May came and went. Finally in June the shop opened its doors on Saturdays so customers could retrieve their shoes. By the end of June, the front windows had been covered with that white soapy stuff and a new sign in the window read, "Closed for remodeling -- look for reopening."

The rumor on the street is that the previous owners, Barry and Patti Wood, who sold the store several years ago after operating it for almost 20 years, have stepped in to reopen their shoe repair business under a new name. I guess you could call it a resole shop.

In further footwear news, a long-running business on Church near Day, (Pietro) Fonda's Custom and Orthopedic Shoes -- one of very few orthopedic shoe makers in the city, and of course the only one here in Noe Valley -- is moving across the street to the space recently vacated by the Omega TV repair shop. (Too bad about Omega. It was our only TV repair shop.)

Meanwhile, folks along the J-Church line are lobbying building owners in the area to rent space to a shoe repair man who was recently displaced at Mission and 29th streets (his building was demolished). My sources say that there is a good chance the Mission repair guy will move in and share space with Fonda, the orthopedic shoe maker. Then Upper Noe Valley will have its shoes completely covered.

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THE HEIGHT REPORT: The news at the Star Bakery site at Church and 29th is that the people who were going to turn Star into a physical therapy studio have run out of steam. Sources say there is a backup offer for the Star building, but neither the owner nor the real estate company is willing to say more.

A new price record was set for a single-family dwelling in our neighborhood: $3.9 million. The house is located in the 3400 block of 21st Street, in an area that real estate folks now call "Liberty Heights." Geez, the property tax bill alone would send me to dizzying heights.

Then there's that house on the corner of Sanchez and 21st streets, at the top of "Dolores Heights," which was the first of the controversial four luxury homes built in the early 1990s. Back then, the developer had bought the open space at the top of the hill for a million bucks, then got his plans approved in a lengthy permit process. The objections of many neighbors almost got the area renamed "Battle Mountain." Anyway, the developer built the four homes and sold this particular house for $1 million. It just resold for $3.1 million. Now that's appreciation.

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IN DEVELOPING NEWS: As you know from reading the June Voice, the fate of the Reilly Co. building on the corner of Dolores and 29th was put in the hands of the San Francisco Planning Commission last month. The developer is Joe Cassidy, who's famous for erecting that big yellow complex next to Bell Market. He has plans to demolish the old funeral home and construct four single-family townhouses facing Dolores Street and nine condos on 29th Street.

Neighbors argued that the proposed 22,000 sq. ft., four-story structure is too big, too high, and too bulky. And there's not enough parking. Well, the Planning Commission voted 5­0 in favor of granting Cassidy a conditional use permit, but it also mandated more parking. Still, the neighbors are likely to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.

The other story that everyone wants an update on is the Dan's Gas Station demolition and exactly when the Noe Valley Ministry will begin building the new semi-public parking lot. Says Ministry Pastor Keenan Kelsey, "We are waiting for final permits from the city and hoping there will be some physical action started by the end of July or early August."

I'm hoping the lot will be finished by Christmas, which is the same thing I hoped last year at this time.

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BRANCHING OUT: The Friends of Noe Valley reports a very successful effort to get neighborhood residents involved in filling out a survey on what they would like to see happen when the city renovates our Noe Valley ­ Sally Brunn Library.

According to Friends activist Jeannene Przyblyski, who writes the group's monthly newsletter, "Through the talented organizing efforts of Friends of the Library Committee members Debra Niemann and Sharon Castellanos, over 400 local voices spoke out in the community survey. For one of the smallest library branches in the city where the survey is being conducted, we had the largest response, an amazing response."

Przyblyski adds that many of those surveyed want our branch "to have more books, and especially more children's books, enhanced meeting room facilities, improved adult reading space, to make sure improvements are made to enable the disabled to enter the library, and better computer access for all."

Watch for notices in September, which is when Przyblyski thinks the Library will start scheduling public meetings on the renovation.

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LEDITORS TO THE EDITORS rained down last month, after I inadvertently failed to mention two Noe Valley establishments that were honored in the S.F. Weekly's "Best of San Francisco 2002" readers poll (May 15 Weekly).

Nine-year-old Firefly, on 24th Street near Douglass, was voted Best Restaurant in California Cuisine category. Also receiving applause was Lovejoy's Tea Room on the corner of Church and Clipper, voted Best Tea Shop in San Francisco. Please forgive the omission.

After last month's column, I wrote my own letter to the editor to correct the answer to my quiz question, What was the original name of Herb's Fine Foods when it opened in 1943? As you history buffs knew all along, the soda fountain wasn't called "X from Noe," but "X the Noe."

When I interviewed Herb Gaines in 1990, he told me the story of how his restaurant was opened by Cyril Saunders in 1943 as a soda fountain across from the Noe Theater, on 24th near Noe. "X the Noe" soon became the spot where local moviegoers congregated before and after the flicks. Saunders also operated a soda fountain directly across from the Castro Theater, which he called "X the Castro." According to Gaines, Saunders had visions of opening "X the Blank" soda shops across from movie theaters throughout the city. But then came television. And Mel's Drive-In.

In 1953, Gaines changed the restaurant's name to Herb's, and the menu from ice cream sodas to "fine foods," like the sign still says. Gaines retired in 1972 and sold the restaurant to its present owner, Sam Kawas, who has preserved one of the last authentic greasy spoons in the city. Now it's across from Just for Fun -- "X the Fun."

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ON A PERSONAL NOTE and with a sense of great loss, I bid fond farewell to one of my three aunts, Eppie Lederer. Along with the person who would later become my wife, Eppie (and her twin sister Popo) inspired me to start writing this column in my neighborhood newspaper more than 20 years ago.

Aunt Eppie would have been 84 on July 4, 2002. On June 22, my cousin Margo (Eppie's daughter) told me on the telephone, "She's gone." She was a victim of multiple myeloma.

Aunt Eppie wrote a daily newspaper column under the pen name of Ann Landers, which appeared in 1,200 newspapers around the world with an estimated readership of 90 million. Nevertheless, she (and her sister "Dear Abby," who still subscribes to the Voice) always wanted to know about Noe Valley issues and how folks here were voting in the elections.

From her home in Chicago, Aunt Eppie would call and ask, "Hey, what's going on out there in San Francisco?"

After I gave her the scoop, she'd often remind me of a favorite piece of advice: "Tell it like it is, but first make sure you know what it is."

That's 30, dear readers. And I'll be looking for your star in the sky tonight, Tonta Ep.