1000 Van Ness

In 1921, 1000 Van Ness was a Cadillac showroom, one of several on Van Ness Avenue. These ballroom-style car dealerships were a symbol of the automobile industry and an era of expected wealth. These days, they stand as landmarks of a bygone time of hope and entitlement. In fact, to a non-native San Franciscan, they seem somewhat ostentatious, with their crystal chandeliers and marble floors, enclosed by their glass walls from an often bleak Tender-nob scene of homelessness, poverty, and drugs.

Today, the grand interior of 1000 Van Ness comes as somewhat of a surprise to a new San Franciscan out to see a movie. In 1998, Burnham Pacific Properties converted the historic showroom into a multi-plex movie theatre. There are also 50 residential lofts, a Crunch gym, and several restaurants housed in the same building.

Upon entering the movie theatre, the box office is on your left, a grand staircase leading to seemingly nowhere straight ahead, and a large and empty ballroom floor all around. About half of the unused space is boxed-off by glass walls and a door. The south-west store-front windows look onto this enclosed emptiness. Last year it became, for one month, a “Halloween Super Store,” an ill-fitted use for such a grand space (excuse the pun).

Little did I, or does anyone know, that the grand staircase at the back of the showroom leads to a mezzanine office space. Boxcar Theatre Company currently has a short-term lease on the space and will be converting it into a live theater and installation space for their upcoming adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Galapagos.” I am in this show and have been rehearsing there for the last two weeks. For this reason, I have been spending a lot of time on Van Ness Avenue.

The avenue and surrounding neighborhood contain some of the most striking architecture in the city. I am consistently dismayed at how much of it is empty. Empty storefronts, empty office space overhead.

In 1849, William Eddy developed Van Ness as the city’s central north-south avenue. Hopes were that it would become a major commercial zone. What went wrong, and when? Read its full history here.


I’ve often speculated about the De Avila Elementary school on Haight street. It has a striking facade, vibrant and colorful, but it seemed to sit empty, abandoned. Turns out the elementary school was axed by the Board of Education after the 2004 – 2005 school year, in an effort to close the $22 million dollar budget deficit. The campus was designed to hold 500 students, but only had 150 enrolled in ’04 – ’05. Last academic year, Aim High Academy, a school for underprivileged, homeless and “at-risk” sixth graders , occupied the DeAvila building, but has since moved to another location.

The facility will soon fill with students again, but of a different age-group. According to the Haight Ashbury Beat, “As early as January 2007, a portion of City College’s soon-to-be-renovated John Adams campus will move, temporarily, to the De Avila school building at 1351 Haight St.”

I wonder how how long ‘temporarily’ will be. I’ve written before about my desire to see a centralizing locale for theatre and performance art. The De Avila School, centered squarely in one of San Francisco’s most artistically vibrant neighborhoods and easily accessible by MUNI, is the perfect candidate.

Too Much to Do

There is never enough time to do all there is to do in this city. Here are just a few of the recent events that have moved across my line of vision:

365 Plays/365 Days
Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Suzan Lori-Parks wrote a play a day for one year. The plays are now being presented in a year-long nation-wide festival, which had it’s kick-off in San Francisco last night, November 16. Suzan Lori-Parks attended the event at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, and spoke to the audience afterward.

One: An Earth Installation
Stanlee Gatti, a lauded local artist, designer, and event planner, has created an exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers that ‘reflects on the interconnectedness of all living things.’ The exhibit runs until April 15th, however the opening was last night, November 16th. Incredible amounts of food and wine assisted the V.I.P. attendees in finding their reflective nature. Among the attendees were Yomi Agunbiade, General Manager of the Recreation and Park Department; Willie Brown, former Mayor of San Francisco; and Leah Garchik, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Embarcadero Center Lighting Ceremony
Tonight, Friday, November 17, the city turns on its holiday spirit. The skyline brightens during an event that will include a performance by SF Jazz All Star High School Ensemble, an ice show, a special guest performance and a ‘spectacular’ pyrotechnic show. San Francisco loves its pyrotechnics.

San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Festival
This is going to be awesome.

Mafia Made Trunk Show
Bay Area crafters and do-it-yourself artists show and sell their wares at this Russian Hill Craft Mafia event. Drool over colorful little items that are so cute you wish they were edible, and get a head start on your holiday shopping.

And then, of course, there are a million local bands to see (Minipop play The Bottom of the Hill on Saturday the 18th), and a ton of theatre (anyone seen “Edward Scissorhands” yet? Is it any good?).

In addition to some of the things listed above, I am going to eat some Brazilian food at Canto do Brasil, and see The Science of Sleep.

During the Gold Rush, San Francisco was known as a place of debauchery: greed, gambling, brothels and crime. An early Las Vegas, if you will. Today, San Francisco is known as a place of peace and love: cultural diversity, social acceptance, progressive ideals, and urban environmentalism. The most European of American cities, many call it.

The Republican right-wing would like to take us back 150 years, to the glory days. We’re soon to hear a vintage tune from the top of Capitol Hill, with the words “San Francisco Values” used as a disparaging term – you know, the ‘values’ of those ‘tree-huggers’, ‘gays’ and ‘sinners’.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that the Republican Spin Machine has already begun cycling the phrase into it’s talking points and daily jabber, in expectation that Nancy Pelosi is soon to be Speaker of the House. “Watch Out,” they warn. “She’s bringing with her her ‘San Francisco Values’, and you know what that means.” This is my favorite quote from the article, from the editorial pages of the Augusta Chronicle:

“Pelosi will be speaker and her far-left San Francisco values — gay marriage, cutting and running from Iraq, coddling terrorists, raising taxes, amnesty for illegals — will become the House agenda.”

Coddling terrorists? Oh, dear.

Clairblogience has an interesting take on this new slur. Read: “Hollywood Liberal Elite” Vs. “San Francisco Values”

Making Art a Priority

Arts Forum exists to lift arts and culture into the forefront of public policy. Recently, Arts Forum developed a survey for all San Francisco supervisors up for re-election, to gauge their commitment to the arts. Read the results here.

Scrub Down

At a Community Leadership Alliance on Friday, October 13th, Ahsha Safai of the Department of Public Works presented the Community Corridor Partnership. The pilot is a 9 month, $1.7 million program, putting 20 ‘block sweepers’ – city employees armed with a 44 gallon bucket, broom, mop and other cleaning tools – on 100 city blocks. They will clean for 9 hours a day, 5 days a week and have direct contact to DPW and 28-Clean.

A major goal of the program will be to encourage property owners to take ownership of their own neighborhood by creating Community Benefit Districts.  Existing San Francisco CBDs include:

Union Square
Castro/Upper Market
Noe Valley
Tenderloin/North Market
Mission Miracle Mile
Fisherman’s Wharf

Shanghai currently employs 28,000 street sweepers.

New York City currently has over 600 B.I.D.’s: Business Improvement Districts.

I’ve had some conversations recently about what the San Francisco live art scene lacks. There are many local theatre companies, and several theatre houses. But there is no central hub. For avant-garde theatre lovers, New York City is the place to be. One doesn’t need to do much wandering around to get an understanding of what the city’s theatre scene has to offer. There are more than one centralizing hub of the community. On any given night, a New Yorker can go to P.S. 122 and choose from a number of shows by a number of different theatre companies. Or they can go to HERE, and do the same thing. In those two spaces alone, one will be able to learn what there is to know about New York theatre, and what other performance spaces exist in the city.

San Francisco has a lively theatre scene. There are many performance spaces, and more companies than can fill them. But there is no centralizing hub for the community. There is no single place where one can go to sit in a cafe and have a coffee or a beer before wandering around the art gallery, and finally stopping at the bulletin board of city-wide show announcements and the table of flyers, before filing in to one of the several theatre spaces to see their chosen show.

The closest to this kind of experience in San Francisco is Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  The community element isn’t there, though.  It’s uninviting, too big, too squeaky clean, to mall-ish.  When I want to immerse myself in the local experimental theatre community, I don’t say to myself, “I’ll just head down to Yerba Buena, grab a coffee and see what’s going on.”

I like to daydream about what could be, and where.  Laughing Squid posted this notice today:

—-/ The Tentacle List /—————————–

“NEW” Historic Chinatown Theater Available

SAN FRANCISCO– The historic Great Star Theater, the last of SF
Chinatown’s major houses, will be holding tours for prospective
renters/ partners on FRIDAY 10/20 and SATURDAY 10/21 at 3pm and by
special appointment. We invite you to give feedback on future
upgrades (or just book the theater!).

RSVP to Jon Lowe — GreatStarTheater@yahoo.com — for exact address.
Please forward to film/ video/ theater/ dance/ etc people who may be

The Great Star Theater was built in 1925 as a Cantonese opera house.
Film screenings were added in 1940. The main floor holds 574 seats,
with 125 more in the balcony. There is a working fly system, full
crossover space, and dressing rooms below the stage. Lighting is
rudimentary. There is no sound system. The film projectors have not
been touched since 1999. The projection screen is still in place,
upstage of the linesets used for live performances.

Some office space is available for rent to long-term partners.

Theater rental will be on a sliding scale, tbd. Our goal is to make
the theater accessible to the greater community.

Online images coming soon…

—-/ Contact Info /—————————————————-

Jon Lowe