Noe Valley Voice May 2005

Neighborhood Likes Victorian Façade of New Lunny House

By Corrie M. Anders

A new residential-commercial development that once drew fierce opposition--the building would be too big and too ugly--is now attracting good reviews as it nears completion in downtown Noe Valley.

Shoppers and merchants along 24th Street got their first glimpse of the project last month after construction crews removed metal scaffolding and took down a dust-protection barrier that had shrouded the building while work was under way.

The unveiling revealed a four-story structure whose façade was elegantly dressed in Victoriana, with bay windows and balconies on the second and third floors, and painted in harmonious hues of maroon, gold, beige, and dark gray.

The building, located across from Bell Market at 3953 24th Street, contains six condominiums that will be sold to seniors, and two ground-floor commercial spaces. The development replaced the Lunny House, a century-old residence that had deteriorated into a neighborhood eyesore.

Local psychotherapist Susan Frankel said she was more than pleased with the architectural aesthetics of the new building and the way it blended in with other Victorian and Edwardian properties in the area.

"It's a pretty building," marveled Frankel. "It looks like it's part of the neighborhood."

Frankel said she didn't take to the development at first. "I've had trouble with some of the tearing down of old buildings," she said. But "when I saw what [the developers] had done, I was certainly happier."

The Sidewalk Is Back

The Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association was among several groups with reservations about initial plans for the complex. The developers "did a really nice job," Association President Carol Yenne said about the finished product. "I haven't heard anything negative at all."

In fact, the development has become a welcome addition to a block of 24th Street--between Sanchez and Noe streets--that has endured more than its share of economic and political stress recently.

"Hallelujah," said Teresa Gay, who operates La Coterie Style Studio, a women's clothing store a few doors away from the new complex. "There was a party in here when the scaffolding came down [because] we've been in the 'construction zone' for almost a year now."

Nearby merchants said the scaffolding had created a dark and uncomfortable area where shoppers didn't want to walk, and "that hurt merchants" on the south side of the block. With the work platform gone, Gay said her block is "really starting to shape up."

Two other businesses near the condo complex are having a positive impact as well, said Yenne. Noe Knit, a knitting supply store next door to the new building, opened in February after a full renovation of Colorcrane's old storefront. On the other side is Fresca, a Peruvian eatery that is expected to start operation in May, 16 months after the closing of Tien Fu Restaurant.

"The whole block is settling down," said Yenne. Only Fresh Organics/Real Food Company, which has been mired in employee and renovation disputes since August of 2003, remains empty.

Small Condos Designed for Seniors 62 and Up

Back at the old Lunny House site, some work remains to be done on the ground floor of the building. But the developers have started preliminary marketing to sell the small condos. They include a studio of approximately 400 square feet; a one-bedroom, one-bath unit with about 450 square feet; and four one-bedroom, two-bath units with 700 to 750 square feet.

Prices for the market-rate condos have not been finalized, said Eileen Long, one of the developers and a real estate agent with B.J. Droubi & Company on 24th Street.

Buyers must be seniors at least 62 years old--part of the deal the developers struck with city officials and the neighborhood. Long said buyers most likely would be homeowners who want to downsize after raising families, but "want to stay in the city and stay specifically in Noe Valley, which has all the amenities."

No leases have been signed for the commercial space, although there has been lots of interest, according to Long. "The building is exactly as we envisioned," she said. "We've gotten very positive feedback."

Yenne also notes that there is "a lot of demand" in Noe Valley for business space, and the new building represents "one of the few things available" along the commercial shopping strip.

"A Classic Compromise"

Few would have predicted the positive glow that now bathes the development, which was designed by Drake Gardner of Zone Design Development of San Francisco.

"Early on, it was very frustrating," admitted Long, who teamed up with Jeremiah Cullinane and Denis Cullinane to purchase the Lunny House in 2002 for $700,000. The modest, two-story home had been uninhabited for years after the deaths of Robert and Evelyn Lunny.

A number of preservationist-minded residents didn't want to see the home, built in 1900, torn down. But many more neighborhood activists, including members of Friends of Noe Valley, the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club, and Jersey Street Neighbors, complained about the new project's height and bulk, its modern industrial design, and the potential for increased traffic congestion. They argued that the structure, as originally conceived, would be out of place on 24th Street.

In the face of neighborhood opposition, the developers soon backed off the contemporary look and adopted a more familiar Victorian façade. They also redesigned and set back the top floor of the building so that it would not appear so immense. Plans for a six-car garage were eliminated, and the apartment-size condos were restricted to seniors, to cut down on auto traffic.

"It was a classic compromise where no one was very, very happy," said Yenne.

When all was said and done, even Paul Kantus, president of the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club, expressed begrudging admiration. "I still resent the size of the thing," said Kantus, pointing out that the rear view of the building rises a full four stories and "it doesn't look very nice."

But the building's front façade "is better than I expected," Kantus said, and the development fits in well with the streetscape. "I think it's a positive thing for the block."