Noe Valley Voice September 2004

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

WELCOME BACK TO NOE VALLEY, all of you who have been on summer holidays, junkets, getaways, or just away. Well, buckle your seatbelt and let's cruise the latest news of the neighborhood.

We start at the corner of Church and 30th, where neighbors are fed up to their eardrums with the heavy metal screeching and grinding from the wheels of the trolleys on the J-Church line. Every time a train makes the 90-degree turn at that intersection, it generates an excruciating metal-to-metal sound.

According to Upper Noe Neighbors President Vicki Rosen, "many of the residents living around that corner are complaining that the noise starts before dawn and continues into the middle of the night."

The problem is even worse in the evening, she says, because Muni is routing many of its other streetcars along Church Street to the Muni terminal on Geneva Avenue after their daily runs. Then, in the early hours of the morning, it sends them back downtown along the J-line. Of course on the positive side, this means more streetcars for early-bird commuters. The UNN membership is asking Muni to see what they can do to grease the wheels, so to speak.

The group is also driving on another front. "We're trying to get a core group together to establish our own design review board, so local residents have a say in how the area is developed."

The group's main concern is "over-size homes--homes that are too big for our neighborhood," says Rosen. "We have a lot of people demolishing small homes and putting up huge homes that tower over the others and take up too much of the open space in the back yards."

She says developers often build houses with nice facades that blend in with the other Victorians on the block, "but what you don't see is what happens in the back end of their property."

The Neighbors' meeting on July 29 featured representatives from a Bernal Heights group that had created a similar design review board, hoping to rein in construction in that neighborhood.

If you want to get up to speed on this issue, the Upper Noe Neighbors' next meeting is on Thursday, Sept. 30, at 7:30 p.m., at the Upper Noe Rec Center at Day and Sanchez.

So where exactly is Upper Noe Valley? According to Rosen, that would be "Cesar Chavez to 30th Street, and San Jose Avenue up to Diamond Heights Boulevard."

The 30th Street On Lok Senior Center is borderline, but it's still a great institution, so we'll claim them, Rosen says. The senior center will be celebrating its 25th anniversary with an Oct. 5 luncheon at the Palace Hotel, on Market Street at New Montgomery. The center's staff and volunteers have been doing marvelous things for senior attendees, Rosen says, including offering around 50 classes. Lunch is served to more than 750 seniors every day except Sunday, and much of the food is grown in an organic garden in the center's back yard.

You can make reservations ($100/$75 seniors) or get more information by calling Marianne Hampton at 415-601-7845. Hampton, one of 90 volunteers, will gladly give you a personal tour of the center.

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UPPERS AND DOWNERS: Moving inbound on Church from 30th Street, we regretfully note that the popular collectibles store Nifty Vintique has closed its doors. But the good news is, construction has begun on a new business, an apothecary operated by Kati Kim. Now, that's something that Upper Noe Valley residents might appreciate--a nearby drugstore.

Crossing Day Street, we see construction going on at the old Mikeytom Market site that long ago housed a medium-size Safeway. This doesn't mean a new tenant is moving in, but rather that the building's owner is repairing a wall that was about to fall. It's sad to see that the futuristic mural on the side of the building had to be destroyed in the process.

Moving north on Church toward Downtown Noe Valley (24th Street), we make a sharp right turn at Chloe's on the corner of 26th and walk past the firehouse and up the hill to Dolores, to visit the latest entry in the Noe Valley coffee derby--Luv a Java, a café which opened very quietly at 6 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 14.

Owner Abraham Amireh and manager Ruth Niehues are serving coffee roasted by McLaughlin Coffee, along with a variety of pastries and bagels. They're open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. (a long shift). Luv a Java has free wireless Internet for customers, so bring your tech gadgets.

Strolling back down the hill and up Church to 25th, we arrive at 1311 Church, where a new art studio called Artery will be opening the day after Labor Day.

Owner Paula Benton says she'll be teaching several September arts and crafts classes for toddlers, plus "Every Child Can Learn to Draw," for 10- to 12-year-olds, and a teen and adult beadwork jewelry workshop (see Voice Calendar).

Adults can also take classes in watercolors, printmaking, fimo clay, and perspective drawing, taught by others.

Benton says she's very excited about opening a studio where "all ages can experience creative exploration and process-oriented art." Her flyer boasts, "Artery is Noe Valley's place for artful revery."

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24TH STREET WHISTLESTOPS: Heading west on our main drag from Church to Sanchez, we see the "For Lease" sign is still posted on Launderland. Shoe Biz next door is up and running, and has already sold out of many sizes and items. They're obviously doing well.

Across Vicksburg at the 24th Street Café, I ask owner Joe Eadeh what was up with the application for a change of ownership that was posted in his window. "You and everybody else want to know," says Joe. The notice created quite a stir among café regulars. "People were coming in off the street and asking me why I was leaving, which kind of surprised me," he says. Joe assures us he is not leaving but just transferring his ownership into a corporation that he will own. And that kind of business change requires ABC approval and public notice. "Nothing is easy!" laughs Joe.

Moving on up 24th Street, we see that Noe Valley's new $4 million parking lot is fully operational but sparsely populated. Sometimes the mini-park, which is looking pretty spiffy, has more people in it than there are cars in the lot.

"Everything is working well," says parking manager Luke Aguilera, "but it's been pretty slow." As you can see on the rate board, the first half-hour parking is a buck, then it jumps to $5 for half a day. "We are optimistic as we move into the fall season," Aguilera says.

By the way, Martha and Bros. Coffee has reserved a lot space for up to 10 minutes free for its customers in the morning. Maybe as the holiday season approaches, other merchants and drivers will negotiate deals for validated customer parking. But so far, says Aguilera, "Martha's is the only merchant who has stepped forward."

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THE WILD 3900 BLOCK of 24th Street has been jumpin' these past two months. Peruvian restaurant Fresca is making major progress, renovating the former location of Tien Fu. The place was once the Noe Valley Bar and Grill, and a restaurant called Woodworks, way back in prehistoric times. My bet is that Fresca will open by late October.

Next door, there's a big hole where the Lunny House used to be, but it's quickly being filled with rebar and concrete and should morph into a four-story retail/residential development any week now.

Next to the Lunny project is the former Colorcrane, which will be transformed into Noe Knit by the end of October. According to owner Susan Herrick, the everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-knitting emporium should be open by the end of October.

"A lot of people are again interested in knitting," says Herrick. "I think it's back in vogue because so many celebrities are knitting--Julia Roberts and the cast of the movie Mona Lisa Smile were all knitting, and Sarah Jessica Parker and the cast of the series Sex in the City, too--it has renewed a lot of interest. And right up the street at Bliss Bar, there is a group that meets every Monday night called S.F. Chicks with Sticks, of which I am a member. I think there are, like, 250 people in the group." (See Voice front page.)

Herrick lives in North Beach but says she wanted "to open the store in a neighborhood that was more like a village, which is what brought me to 24th Street. Actually, since I have been working on getting the store ready these past weeks, I have been amazed at the hundreds of people who've stopped and said how glad they were to see this kind of store open in the neighborhood."

Herrick expects to have all the supplies you are yarning for, and will start classes so all of us knit-wits can pick up some purls of wisdom.

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WE LEAPFROG up to the Bank of America at 24th and Castro, where the staff is very busy these days, mailing thank-you cards to customers who've made a trip into the actual brick-and-mortar bank, for services that a mere ATM can't render. Some customers say they've gotten one or two cards a week.

Manager Tony Lau says B of A is putting focus on customer satisfaction to try to increase its depositor base. Lau admits that the bank is going after customers of its chief rival, Wells Fargo. Together, the two control more than 60 percent of the deposits in Northern California.

Wells has expanded its 24th Street mini-branch this summer from ATM-only to a full-service, walk-in, see a live teller, talk to a bank manager kind of place. Luckily, we were under the limit for the number of banks permitted in the neighborhood, which the 24th Street ­ Noe Valley Commercial District controls.

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BEYOND AND BEYONDER: When we turn left on Castro, things become confusing. Beyond the Sea has a sign in its window announcing a closing sale, and the nail shop next door has a "For Rent" sign in its window. It turns out that the building owners who run Nail Chic are really just advertising to rent the Beyond the Sea space. The nail salon is not, repeat not, closing.

One of the co-owners, who we will call Tim, since he would not reveal his last name, says that the 900-square-foot Beyond the Sea space is available for a monthly rent of $2,400. Tim noted in mid-August that the only inquiries he'd received thus far were from two different prospects who each wanted to open a pet supply store. "It's weird," he said.

So why, after nine years of aromatherapy, did Beyond the Sea close its doors? "In short," said owners Cary and Johanna Friedman, "lack of customers and lack of sales, which have been slipping for the last three years."

The Friedmans will continue to manufacture their soaps, bath salts, and massage oils in their Noe Valley basement, and their line of products will be for sale at Open Door Yoga.

"We're sad to have to close," says Cary. "Over the 30 years I have been in San Francisco, I have seen so many unique shops throughout the city have to close. It's just really hard for a small business to survive." Friedman wants to emphasize that the landlord had not raised his rent; it was simply a lack of business.

Everybody knew that Paper Plus (nearby on Castro) was closing, and finally it did. There has been a lot of interest in renting the place (at $3 a square foot), according to the building owners' representative, Sam Podolsky. "We've had a lot of calls from people: one wanting to open a computer store, and others a pet supply outlet, and a karate studio [which it once was]. One group even wanted to open a church, which I thought was quite interesting," Podolsky says.

My bet is that something will be there before Christmas, and don't rule out a pet store.

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BAGGY DOG STORY: My Noe news cruise ends at the Walgreen's parking lot, where we still have free parking for an hour. This is one of the best bargains in Downtown Noe Valley. As I exit the parking lot (thank you, Walgreen's) to walk up to the Noe Valley­Sally Brunn Library to turn in some overdue books, I see something noteworthy: a priest walking a basset hound. At first, I thought it was Warren Hinckle in ecclesiastical drag.

Forgive me, Father, but who are you? I asked. The name is Tony LaTorre, he said, the new pastor at St. Philip's Church. Father LaTorre began in July, and comes from St. Charles' Church down in San Carlos. Father LaTorre's background is in teaching and school administration, and he says he is very much looking forward to this new assignment.

"I've been walking through the neighborhood with my dog, Sarah, who is a 9-year-old basset hound­retriever, and exploring our new neighborhood, which is just great."

Father LaTorre was born in San Francisco 55 years ago, and he graduated from Lincoln High School and St. Mary's College. He wants to be involved in the neighborhood and has already offered the use of St. Philip's new parish hall to community groups for meetings. Friends of Noe Valley and the East & West of Castro Club should take note, since the Noe Library, where they now meet, will be closing for renovations in March of 2005. Father LaTorre wants all of you to come and say hi to him and Sarah at the St. Philip's annual festival on Sept. 25 and 26.

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WHAT'S GOIN' ON: As a result of the Friends of Noe Valley's June 9 joint meeting with the Noe Valley Merchants Association, focusing on the "revitalization of 24th Street," a committee of 15 dedicated revitalizationists was formed within Friends of Noe Valley.

The 24th Street Revitalization Committee (also known as the 24th Street Project) has already had meetings and made up an agenda, says Friends President Debra Niemann. "They're a really energized group who started by going block to block, asking merchants to steam-clean the sidewalks in front of their stores. They want to rid the sidewalks of dog poop and encourage property owners to plant trees and merchants to create flower beds."

Niemann says the new group plans to collaborate with other groups to create events promoting Noe Valley, like the Merchants' annual fall hayride, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 16. The group also wants to get involved in the Real Food negotiations, and talk to Bell Market about expanding some product lines.

On Sept. 11, the 24th Street revitalization group and the S.F. Parks Trust (formerly the Friends of Recreation and Parks) will co-sponsor a free concert, from 3 to 5 p.m., in Douglass Playground up at Douglass and 26th streets. They expect it to be a "groovy gathering," with live performances of Motown music by Edna Love and surprise special guests.

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WELL, IT SHOULD TAKE those energetic Friends no more than a few days to complete the agenda, right? We'll report back to you next month. Until then, that's 30, folks.