Gold Dust Lounge Does Not Quite Get Reprieve from Preservationists, But the Fight Is Far From Over

Never underestimate the will of San Franciscans to save a beloved watering hole.
Never underestimate the will of San Franciscans to save a beloved watering hole.

The last-minute rush to save Union Square’s Gold Dust Lounge is now in high gear, but yesterday’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting didn’t, as predicted, yield any immediate victories. While not outright rejecting the bar owners’ proposal to give landmarks protection to the bar’s interior, the commissioners tabled the item until March 21, because the landlords stepped in to claim they had not been given significant enough warning of the preservation proposal. That delay might, in and of itself, doom the bar to destruction because they have an eviction notice for March 7. But things got a lot more interesting this week, and now Willie Brown’s getting involved!

First off, owners Jimmy and Tasio Bovis still have a lawsuit in the works, not yet filed, to try to stave off their eviction.

Preservation architect Chris Ver Plank, who prepared similar backup materials in support of the Tonga Room’s preservation, argues that the Gold Dust’s mahogany bar, oak and brass doors, brass light fixtures, ceiling moldings, mirror and murals constitute a unique blend of Art Deco and 1890s Victorian aesthetics. The current ownership dates to the mid-1960s, with a “Since 1933” sign on the marquis, but the bar has reportedly been in continuous use as a bar since 1906, with some rumored flouting of Prohibition in there as well. This *might* have some sway with the Historic Preservation commission, but there is no established protocol in S.F. for landmarking interiors, and the efforts for the Tonga Room largely failed (and that bar is arguably a lot more unique/significant).

But now there’s a war of words happening in the press as the momentum builds. Just a couple of weeks ago, the landlords’ spokesman referred to the Gold Dust as “a wonderful bar” whose lease was up. Yesterday, however, we see them calling the place “tawdry” in an official statement denouncing that any of its interior could be considered historically valuable.

Meanwhile, Willie Brown may have the most telling words to say on the matter. In a vaguely hostile statement, the former mayor and all around power player comes out in support of the bar and suggests, in no uncertain terms, that the building’s owners had better watch out if they try to bulldoze through this process by any legal means necessary. If they do, they may get on the wrong side of the Supervisors and never get approval for whatever they want to build in place of the bar, such as a second-story retail store with an escalator. To wit:

Were I in [landlord Jon Handlery’s] position, I wouldn’t shut it down, until I had reached an accord for what I intend to have it replaced with. And I would guess that the Board of Supervisors will not vote, nor the City Planning Commission, to approve the demolition of this place to be replaced by a moving staircase. He’s going to have a lot of trouble. His trouble has not even commenced yet.

When Willie talks, they’re probably going to listen. And we probably haven’t heard the last of the gold-glitter-clad protesters. So maybe this fight isn’t over with simple eviction proceedings after all!

Rush is on to save the Gold Dust [Chron]
“Tawdry” Bar Needs To Go, Say Gold Dust Lounge Landlords [SFist]
Willie Brown comes out in support of the Gold Dust [Scoop]
Earlier: Gold Dust Lounge Supporters to Landlord: ‘This Is Going to Get Ugly’
Historic Gold Dust Lounge May Close In a Couple of Months

Gold Dust Lounge Does Not Quite Get Reprieve from Preservationists, But the