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10th anniversary of Alexandria Theater closing. When will the blight end?

The Alexandria Theater at 5400 Geary Boulevard and 18th Avenue. And yes, we 311’d “le poop”.

Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the closing of the Alexandria Theater on the corner of Geary and 18th Avenue. The decade since its closing has been one of ongoing neighborhood blight, with the building slowly deteriorating and suffering from vandalism, as promised development plans never get underway.

The theater was opened in 1923 by Samuel Levin, a movie theater entrepreneur who was in business with his two brothers, Alex and Joseph. It was noteworthy for being the first theater to install a sloped floor for better viewing from every seat.

But the building is best known for its architectural fathers, the well-known Reid Brothers, who designed the movie house with an Egyptian theme, mixing elements of ancient Egypt, Minoan culture, and classical detailing. The brothers designed upwards of twenty movie houses in San Francisco, including the Balboa Theater.

In 1941, the theater underwent extensive remodeling and all that really remained of the original design were the stone pillars on its facade. United Artists then purchased the theater in 1976, converting it from a single screen theater into a 3-screen multiplex.

The Alexandria Theater, 1942

Interior of the theater, 1942

The theater, after struggling financially, closed on February 16, 2004 – one week after being sold to a group of investors, Alexandria Enterprises LLC, which owns it today. [SF Heritage]

Photos of the inside of the Alexandria just before it closed

Since its closing, the theater has been a source of blight for the neighborhood. A favorite for graffiti hounds, the walls along 18th Avenue and the entrance are often tagged.

Trash collected in the entrance to the theater and vagrants sometimes slept out in front of the theater under its protected alcove. Ownership resorted to erecting unsightly cyclone fencing around the front entrance, and throughout the last 10 years, trespassers have broken into the abandoned building and squatted for periods of time, one time causing a small fire.

The exterior of the building has had its share of travails as well. In April 2011, high winds unhinged the blade marquee of the theater. Repairs were made and the sign finally got a much needed, fresh coat of paint. High winds caused more damage two years later.

The decaying entrance alcove to the theater, featuring a peeling, water-damaged ceiling

So what do the Alexandria owners plan to do with the aging building?

For the last few years, plans have been shared with the community for a new development on the property, which would include a 221 seat theater and commercial retail space in the theater building, and a mixed use development on the back parking lot with retail space on the ground floor, residential units above, and underground parking.

The proposed development would preserve original architectural elements of the art deco building, including the domed roof that was part of the original theater before it was sectioned off when it became a multiplex. The ornamental decoration on the facade of the theater building would also remain, including the blade sign (though the 1-2-3 numbers would be removed from the sign, an addition made in 1976).

The plans also indicate that some (or all?) of the original murals inside the building would also be preserved and on view.

The last update we received on the project was in late April 2013, when the city approved the final plans for the development (PDF).

But to this day, no work has started on the property. A quick search of the records at SFDBI shows that no new building, electrical or plumbing permits have been filed since the project approval came through.

“The Planning Commission’s approval is good for three years. Within that period, a building permit needs to be filed and issued. Once a permit is issued, the Department of Building Inspection or Building Department may grant extensions to start work and to complete work if the sponsor needed additional construction time,” Mary Woods of the Planning Department told us last April.

The back lot of the Alexandria Theater on 18th Avenue. The proposed redevelopment includes
building a 4 story residential building on the back lot.

At various times, the property has been for sale to the right developer. This expired listing from Marcus & Millchap Real Estate Investment Services was last updated over a year ago, and references the “Project Near Full Entitlement from City of San Francisco”.

Let’s not forget the illegal drama regarding the building’s plans and permits. In 2010, Jimmy Jen, a formerly licensed civil engineer, was arrested for allegedly forging the signatures and stamps of two licensed engineers on documents related to more than 100 construction projects throughout the city between 1990 and 2007, including those of the Alexandria development project.

Jen was often hired as an “expediter” for projects to move them through city approval channels more quickly. Rather than hiring a licensed engineer to review his clients’ construction projects, he allegedly impersonated unwitting engineers.

Jen’s ex-wife, Nancy Jen, was also reportedly the largest stakeholder in the Alexandria Theater project. [SF Examiner] Jen’s case went to trial in July 2013, but we were unable to find the outcome. But his wrongdoings on the Alexandria development’s paperwork did not hinder the project according to city officials.

At this point, most residents have an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude about the Alexandria Theater redevelopment. After 10 years of neglect, it’s time for this large neighborhood landmark to be rehabilitated and put back into use.

Let’s hope that the owners and developers don’t wait until day 1,094 of their three year permit period to get started. Or worse yet, abandon the project altogether, leaving the Alexandria to continue its decade plus run as a neighborhood eyesore.

Sarah B.

See more photos of blight at the Alexandria Theater

A rendition of the planned development at the Alexandria Theater

The proposed residential apartments that would be built on the lot behind the Alexandria on 18th Avenue

4:30 am | Posted under Business, History | 22 comments

The Internet Archive wants to turn your old t-shirts into cushions

Photo: Internet Archive

The Internet Archive, located at Clement and Funston, is asking for donations of old t-shirts – preferably ones from tech companies or non-profits.

Why, you may ask? For achy posteriors, it seems. The former church that the Internet Archive is headquartered in has a great room (former sanctuary, really) that seats 400.

But like any church worth its salt, the seating in it is comprised of hard, wooden pews that become pretty tiresome once you’ve logged more than 15 minutes. We can attest to this after attending some Lost Landscapes screenings.

Rather than purchase cushions, the IA is asking for donations of t-shirts that they can turn into cushions.

“We are looking for T-shirts from non-profits or from tech companies in particular, but we’ll take whatever you’ve got. Any size, any color, just as long as there aren’t holes in the fabric or big stains that may discourage people from sitting on that cushion.”

You can drop off your t-shirt donations at the IA office during business hours or drop them in the mail: Internet Archive, 300 Funston Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118.

“Your old T-shirts could make somebody’s butt very happy,” says the Internet Archive.

Sarah B.

5:02 am | Posted under Business | 1 comment

“King’s Thai Cuisine” is new branding for Thai restaurants on Clement

Photo by Derek

Last week we posted about the two King of Thai restaurants on Clement Street dropping / losing their royal monikers.

We haven’t been able to confirm the reason for the change, but surmised it was a trademark dispute or possibly a business divorce.

This week, the restaurant signs have changed once again. The location at 639 Clement has been relabeled as “King’s Thai Cuisine”. We assume the other location at 346 Clement Street will soon follow suit.

As we said in the last post about this, they can be called whatever they want – as long as they stick around! :) As one tweeter wrote, “As long as I can still get tasty pumpkin curry and pad kee mao in 4 minutes flat, they’ll always be the King of Thai to me.”

Sarah B.

10:43 am | Posted under Business, Food | Comments Off

Latest updates on La Playa Safeway remodel; targeting completion in 2017

Rendering of the new Safeway entrance at La Playa and Fulton

At Wednesday night’s general meeting of the Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR), Safeway Real Estate Manager Natalie Mattei was in attendance to provide updates on the remodel project for the Safeway store located at Fulton and La Playa near Ocean Beach.

The planned remodel, which will expand the store’s footprint from its current 40,000 square feet to nearly 59,000, has been underway for several years. The project is currently in its environmental review phase, and expects to be in front of the Planning Commission for final approval by the end of 2014.

In addition to a completely new store, the remodel will also include 40-45 residential units on the north end of the property along Cabrillo and La Playa.

Mattei says the original plan was to keep the store open during construction, however the new design may make that more difficult than originally anticipated. The new design includes an underground loading dock, which during construction would require that the store entrance and temporary loading dock be one and the same, posing potential safety issues.

If Safeway closes the store during construction, the store could open sooner than anticipated by speeding up construction by 6-7 months. With a store shutdown, construction would last about 15 months.

If the store were to close, the closest supermarkets for outer Richmond residents would be Fresh & Easy on 32nd and Clement, Grocery Outlet on 28th and Geary, and Safeway at 7th Avenue and Cabrillo. Mattei said they are still debating whether to close the store during the remodel and have not reached a decision.

Part of the environmental phase of the project includes a traffic study. Mattei says cameras were placed around the current parking lots to measure “poaching”, or when non-shoppers take up parking lot spaces. Results showed that on the weekends, 30-40% of the 215 parking spaces were taken by poachers which could be beach-goers, residents, or visitors to nearby homes or Golden Gate Park.

As a result, Mattei says they are considering a gate setup where shoppers would take a parking card on entry which they could validate in store for free exit. Safeway would provide up to 2 hours of free parking to customers. In the new design, there will be a two level parking structure with space for 200 cars.

As has been the plan since the beginning, Safeway will sell off some of the square block that they own for the development of residential units, mainly along the north end on Cabrillo and La Playa.

Right now Mattei estimates that 40 to 45 units will be built and include studios (450 sq. ft), 1 bedrooms (680 sq. ft.) or 2 bedrooms (850 sq. ft.). Some units will have balconies and parking.

Safeway does not develop residential real estate so they will put out the parcels for bid to developers for the project. Mattei estimates that the residential units will begin construction once the new store is re-opened.

Mattei said the current recycling unit will be removed from the new Safeway, due to limitations in the design that will not accommodate the type of truck that is used for pickup. She also said that a coffee and a banking subtenant are likely to be part of the new store.

Currently Safeway partners with Starbucks and US Bank or Wells Fargo, but says partnership deals change periodically. So by the time the store is slated to open in 2017, they may be different companies.

Currently there are two Muni stops on La Playa – one at the corner of Fulton, and another at the corner of La Playa and Cabrillo. The latter stop overlaps with a parking lot entrance to the new residential units, so project planners are likely to ask the SFMTA to reduce the Muni stops to just one on La Playa, in front of the store’s main entrance at Fulton.

Mattei expects the project to be in front of the SF Planning Commission by the end of 2014 for review and hopefully a speedy approval. Assuming that goes well, the project would go out for bid and permit applications would be filed, which would take another 12 months. At the earliest, construction would begin in 2016, slating the re-opening for sometime in 2017.

For more information and the latest updates on the Safeway La Playa remodel, visit the project website at safewayonlaplayasf.com. You can also download the latest drawings here.

Sarah B.

Rendering of the new Safeway from Fulton Street

Plans showing the layout of the new Safeway which includes the store (pink), 200 parking spaces, and residential units (yellow).

4:15 am | Posted under Business | 20 comments

King of Thai Noodle locations on Clement drop their royal monikers

The King of Thai location at 639 Clement, now missing its “King of” from the sign

Reader Maggie N. tweeted us earlier this week, asking “any leads on what’s up with King of Thai Noodle (I and II) covering the “King” portion of their name?”

Sure enough, a drive by the two locations on Clement Street revealed that the signage on both restaurants had the “King of” portions covered up, effectively renaming them to “Thai Noodle”.

We picked up a to-go order on Monday night at the 639 Clement Street location but the staff was tight-lipped on the reason for the name change.

But it’s likely that it has to do with a legal challenge from another King of Thai Noodle House chain in the Bay Area. Which one is the complaintant is anyone’s guess.

A quick Google search reveals another King of Thai Noodle that has two locations, one in North Beach and another in the Financial District.

Head over to Yelp and you’ll see that they have employed a simple ascending numbering on the URL’s because there are so many places named King of Thai Noodle House in the city. #3 is on O’Farrell and has similar purple signage to Clement Street, and calls itself the “first original thai noodle house in San Francisco”. #4 is on Clement, and #5 is on Sloat Boulevard.

In short, there are a lot of Thai Kings serving up noodles in our fair city (not to mention Alameda).

We don’t know definitively why the Clement Street restaurants have lost their royal status, but most likely it’s due to pressure from the chain with two locations.

The good news is that even with its newly shortened name, we still have them in the neighborhood. So when you get a hankering for pad thai, curry or spicy larb, they’ll be there for you.

Long live the King.

Sarah B.

The King of Thai location at 346 Clement, with the “King of” portions on their signs blacked out

5:16 am | Posted under Business, Food | 8 comments

City’s first batting cages, INField, open on Clement Street

“Build it and they will come” was the prophetic declaration from James Earl Jones’ character to Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, in the film The Field of Dreams.

Michael Falzone’s reason for opening INField Batting Cages on Clement near 20th Avenue was not inspired by Hollywood, but instead by complaints from his Little League players and parents about not having easy access to a practice facility.

Falzone coaches his own sons in SF Little League, and decided he would try opening his own batting cages. His full-time job is as a park police officer in the Presidio, where he also lives. He initially tried to open INField in the Presidio, but could not get approval for a space from the Presidio Trust.

So instead he leased a former restaurant space at 1888 Clement that had been vacant for two years. It’s a deep space with high ceilings in the back, which was perfect for two side by side batting cages. There’s also a tee-ball hitting station in the front of the space for younger players.

For now, INField operating hours align with after school and weekend schedules, welcoming swingers in from 4pm to 7pm Tuesday through Thursday, and until 9pm on Fridays. Saturday hours are 12noon until 9pm, and Sundays til 5pm. They are closed Mondays.

You can call in advance for reservations (699-3670) or just drop in. Additional hours can also be arranged by email.

Each cage features a variable speed pitching machine for baseballs. Falzone says the machines have a softball accessory but for now, he’s just offering baseball hitting.

Prices are $25 for a half-hour of pitching machine time for batters age 7 and up ($40 for a full hour). Under 7 can hit off the tee for $10 for a bucket of balls. Special rates are also available for teams.

Each machine offers up a variety of pitches, allowing hitters to refine their swing on just a specific pitch, or get some swings in on all the pitches (fastball, left and right hand curveballs, knuckleball, slider and sinker). Available pitch speeds range from 40 to 90 miles per hour.

If you’re a frequent hitter, INField also offers memberships ranging from $100 per month to $1,000 for the year, which includes five half-hour sessions per month plus discounts on merchandise, clinics and camps.

For now, INField is the only batting cage facility in the city of San Francisco. Falzone says that previously, he was taking his players to Treasure Island or South San Francisco for batting practice.

Blog reader Grace stopped by INField last weekend and said she “had a blast – made me feel like I was in Little League all over again.”

Batter up!

Sarah B.

5:03 am | Posted under Business, Sports | 13 comments

Local links: Food news, gardening classes, stargazing, jazz concert & more

Photo by David Young

Happy New Year, readers! Here are some local links we collected over the holidays. Now go off and have a great start to your 2014! – Sarah B.

  • New biz alert: Bay Chinese Medicine Clinic opened up on the corner of California and 22nd Avenue. Website says owner Heather Shields offers “holistic care and customized treatments for adults and children using acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas and massage.”
  • News from La Playa… Reader Gabriel tells us that the old Burger King has been bought by a couple who are putting in their own ovens and intend to make it an American-food cafe, with early morning bakery items.
  • Stargazers unite: The SF Amateur Astronomers Club will host a free City Star Party & Telescope Night at Lands End on Saturday, January 11 starting at 5:30pm. Check their website for details on where to meet up.
  • The Richmond District branch library is hosting a free series of Saturday Gardener Workshops starting January 11, taught by San Mateo and San Francisco County Master Gardeners and local arborists. Topics include Growing Healthy Vegetables, Fruit Tree Selection, Life in the Soil, Ornamental Trees and Shrubs, and Growing Vegetables from Seeds.
  • Michael Reddig of the Inner Richmond wrote to the Chron editors about an incident on the 38 Geary that reinforced his “belief in the goodness of people and highlights a part of our Muni system that really does work”. It’s the little things in life, right?
  • Jazz it up: The West Side Jazz Club will play a free concert at The WestSide Art House (540 Balboa) on January 18th from 8pm to 10pm. The quartet “maintains an expansive, ever-changing book of jazz standards, focusing on challenging modern compositions and freshly-updated classics from Monk to Shorter, through Ellington, Rollins and Coltrane.” Concert is free, kids and dogs are welcome.
  • Vegan? There’s a few spots in the Richmond District for you, including Enjoy Vegetarian, Burma Superstar, and Hong Kong Lounge, according to a “100 Vegan Dishes to Try in San Francisco” article we found. Don’t miss the faux fish Sea Bass Eggplant at Enjoy Vegetarian or the infamous Tea Leaf Salad at Burma Superstar.
  • Have some storage or display space challenges in your apartment? These Richmond District apartment inspired shelves made by Carlysle Manufacturing Company are pretty cool. “…After moving into a cramped Outer Richmond studio, [creator John Pemberton] adapted the dated peg concept for San Francisco renters.”
  • Food critic Patricia Unterman revisits Shanghai House (3641 Balboa): “When I walked in I saw my last review, written in 2007, facing me on a cardboard stand. I took it from the counter and used it to order–and sure enough, everything that I had raved about back then pleased me just as much now. I was captivated all over again by a place I had not visited for six years.”
11:39 am | Posted under Business, Classes, Events, Food, Muni | Comments Off

Top 10 Richmond District stories of 2013

It’s time to take a trip down memory lane and check out the most popular stories from this past year. From faery doors to farmer’s markets to sinkholes to human remains – our readers have a wide range of interests! It’s been our pleasure to cover it all.

Thanks for coming along for the ride in 2013! We can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store…

Sarah B.

The original miniature faery door installed near the concourse in Golden Gate Park, filled with offerings from visitors. Photos by Erica Reh

1. The Mysterious Mini-Door in Golden Gate Park
This delightful story captured the hearts and imagination of readers not only in the neighborhood, but around the world. The story was full of whimsy, wishes and even shady politics when Rec & Park decided to remove the door without even serving the faeries an eviction notice. Undeterred, the father and son team behind its creation fashioned another bureaucrat-approved door that they installed in another spot in the park. The faeries even answer their mail from time to time…

2. De Place restaurant on Geary closes after only three weeks
After licking the wounds of Video Cafe closing, neighbors eagerly awaited the new restaurant that would open on the corner of 21st and Geary. It was under construction for months and when it finally opened with the underwhelming name of “De Place”, it sported tv screens, fountains, ample seating and a giant crawfish statue that greeted diners at the door. But after just three weeks, a sign on the door said they were closed, with the vague explanation of “we are not able to enlist the staffs than can assist us with our operation”. Things that make you go hmm.

3. Clement Street Farmer’s Market makes it debut
It took several years to come together but the Richmond District finally made it onto the Farmer’s Market map, debuting the Sunday market on Clement Street between 2nd and 4th Avenues on June 23. The market was an instant hit with shoppers and vendors, and has been approved to run weekly through June of 2014 (and will likely be extended after that).

4. Large HUGE sinkole opens up on Lake and 2nd Avenue
This story brought us one of our best photo ops of the year… Around 5:30pm on a weekday afternoon in May, the road gave way to a huge sinkhole on Lake Street and bungled up traffic for several hours, even attracting news helicopters overhead. The rupture of a 19 inch sewer drain was responsible for the fiasco.

5. Fresh & Easy to close all stores; what will happen to the Richmond District location?
In April, Fresh & Easy’s parent company, Tesco, announced they were planning to close all of the nearly 200 stores in the chain. The Richmond District location on 32nd Avenue and Clement hadn’t even been open two years. In September, we got the news that billionaire investor Ron Burkle was buying the Fresh & Easy chain and that only 50 of the stores would be shuttered – and the Richmon District location is not one of them. Phew!

6. Shooting at 29th & Geary
Thankfully, we don’t see a lot of violent crime in the neighborhood, so when gunshots rang out at 7pm on a Sunday night on Geary near 29th Avenue, it sent a ripple through the neighborhood. A few eyewitnesses left their comments about what happened, and to date, we haven’t heard any news of an arrest of more information about the crime.

7. Bicycle lane on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park cause for concern
We reprinted an article from the Richmond Review (because we agreed with it) about the new, questionable configuration of the bike lanes on JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park. Like most cycling stories, this set off a debate in the comments, which had both bikers and non-bikers taking both sides of the arguments. SFMTA, what say you?

8. What (or whom?) lies beneath the Legion of Honor?
Readers seemed to enjoy our Halloween photo special of human remains underneath the Legion of Honor Museum. They were discovered during the 1993 renovation and were photographed extensively by Richard Barnes. And yes, they’re still there.

Photo by Richard Barnes

9. Neighborhood’s first traffic circle installed at 23rd & Anza
Heads were being scratched after this roundabout was installed in January. It’s the only one in the Richmond District and it’s unusual/non-standard because it has stop signs on all sides, making it more decorative than calming. So it was hardly surprising when KRON TV’s Stanley Roberts provided video proof of how badly people navigated the circle. SFMTA is supposedly planning more for the neighborhood, ugh.

10. Haig’s Delicacies closing after 57 years
We do love our businesses here in the Richmond District, so many readers were saddened when Haig’s on Clement Street announced they were closing their doors after a half century. Beloved for the selection of spices and hard to find foods, commenters lamented the loss. A new spot (Local’s Cafe?) is under construction in the space, and it’s from one of the owners of Chomp & Swig. We’ll keep you posted.

4:30 am | Posted under Business, Crime, Golden Gate Park, Traffic | 1 comment