••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

Castro Neighborhood Business Summit

 

On January 14 the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce sponsored a neighborhood business summit focused on business concerns and economic issues in District 8 with a presentation by Supervisor Scott Wiener. Attendees circled the large Rainbow Room in the LGBT Center to speak with representatives from a variety of city business resource providers.

 

Wiener recounted how, as a 21-year old in 1997, he first came to San Francisco and got involved in what was then a dilapidated LGBT Center. Admiring the advancements made by the institution since then, the supervisor stated that he's proud that one of the core goals for the Center then as now was and is economic development — helping individuals and small neighborhood businesses succeed. He also mentioned upcoming improvements in Noe Valley and Glen Park, but also noted the current climate of financial strain.

 

“[While] lot of good stuff is happening, it's really a challenging time for small businesses because commercial rents are through the roof, not just residential rents, and people are really being squeezed," he said.

 

"The good news is that we are starting to accelerate our housing production,” he said. “Mayor Lee has set some very aggressive goals which I fully support."

 

In addition, the voters may move forward on mass transit issues with Props A and B, which would both fund city transportation investment and increase capacity, set for the 2015 November election.

 

"We're replacing every single vehicle in the MUNI system and accelerating our contract for the next generation of light-rail vehicles because we cannot get those vehicles quickly enough,” Wiener said. "I don't ever remember this level of infrastructure investment. It's going to take us a lot of time to catch up, but I'm confident we're going to get there."

 

Another example of city renewal is the library system. The city has now invested in renovations and replacements in every single library. There is also a lot of focus on technology and especially biotech and health care. While a number of jobs have been created, difficulties persist in giving everyone access to the technical construction sector, next gen manufacturing, and small business.

 

But with most people living on the edge, the city can always do better. In particular, the challenge moving forward is to make it easier for unique small business neighborhoods to exist and to support their growth.

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

Romeo and Juliet in the Castro TheatreThe original Romeo and Juliet (1968) starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey will screen at the Castro Theatre on Valentine’s Day with Whiting to be appearing in person.

 

 

Marc Huestis Presents is bringing Franco Zeffirelli’s ultra-romantic 1968 film Romeo and Juliet to the Castro Theatre on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. As if the film itself weren’t enough reason to head to the theater on Valentine’s, the original Romeo, Leonard Whiting, will be appearing in person that evening. There’s a VIP option on the night which will feature an opportunity to meet Leonard Whiting prior to screen time, and be sure to bring your memorabilia for an autograph as well! Marc Huestis characteristically has all sorts of extravagant plans for the event including dancers, a documentary, and an open invitation to all those who attend to wear masks, in keeping with the masked ball theme that night, and to come in costume if they so desire. This grand occasion also marks the 20th anniversary of Marc Huestis Presents.

 

Wendy:

 

There’s a lot to talk about but the first thing is obviously the appearance by Leonard Whiting.

 

Marc:

 

I had Olivia Hussey, Juliet, six years ago and it was the biggest draw I ever had for any of my shows, ever. If you you go on YouTube there’s an excerpt clip reel - see how many people [viewed it]; it’s almost 600,000 people. So I’m like, “Well, let’s have Leonard!” Another great thing about social media - there’s this guy who is a Romeo and Juliet freak and he posts stuff all the time. Olivia is big on facebook, so she’s always liking it, and then I noticed another person who’s always liking it whose named Lynn Whiting, so I’m like, “I wonder....” Out of the blue I said, “Are you related to Leonard?”, and she goes, “I’m his wife.” That’s how the whole thing got started. So for those who are always criticizing Facebook, it can do some very good things. He hardly ever does personal appearances and he’s coming from London for this so it’s a big deal.

 

Wendy:

 

It’s a big deal and that’s such an amazing film; it’s great that you’re able to bring it to the Castro again.

 

Marc:

 

The world is different than it was, I can say, six years ago; it really is; it’s a less romantic world. Six years ago we were getting ready to elect Barack Obama and people had hope; there was optimism. The bad side of Facebook - [it] wasn’t so big, so everybody didn’t get their snark on. Now everybody has to have a snarky comment about everything. I put up the other day - youth under 16 free for this, because I think kids should see it. This one guy goes, “No thanks, I don’t like the movie.” I deleted it. There’s so much cynicism in the world; let kids make up their own minds. It would be good if they could see an alternative world that was full of hope, optimism, and romance. The movie is that; it’s a very beautiful movie. For me it was very important ‘cause when I was 14 years old I was taken on a field trip in my sophomore year. We had to get permission slips and everything — it was a big deal. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I thought, “Shakespeare, yawn!” By the time the movie ended I was a mess. Even before the movie ended, [during] the butt scene, was the first time that I ever got a hard-on in a movie theater. I came back home; I made my dad buy me the complete works of Shakespeare; I bought the poster; I bought the record; I bought it all. When I did it six years ago, I got flooded with calls with stories just like that. People of my generation, baby boomers who had seen the movie in 1968 when their sexuality was budding, this was their first sexual experience. The straight men loved her; the bisexuals loved them both; the gay men loved him; completely just down the line. Also Mick LaSalle is a big fan of the movie, and he’s 10 years younger than I am, so the generation ten years after who saw the re-release also fell in love with them. He was just thrilled to talk to Olivia, who turned out to be quite a charmer, really lovely woman, and gorgeous. Gorgeous. She has that voice, that smoky voice, and couldn’t have been more charming.

 

Wendy:

 

Women just loved him too! That was a big success and I don’t know if you did this at the last one, but this time you’re gonna have a masked ball theme.

 

Marc:

 

I am; I bought 150 masks! [laughter]

 

Wendy:

 

Are those gonna go with the VIP tickets?

 

Marc:

 

Yes, those are going with the VIP tickets. So I have a masked ball theme and [am] encouraging people to come in costumes; if they do, they do; if they don’t, they don’t. I am having a dance performance where I’m showing footage of them, not talking - silent stuff, of them meeting, falling in love, on the balcony, and I’m having dancers; they’re gonna be kids from the ‘60s who fall in love with them, and do pantomime; the guy is in love with him and she’s in love with him and her. So it’s gonna talk a little bit about fluidity of the sexuality that the movie engendered.

 

Wendy:

 

Who are the dancers?

 

Marc:

 

Bonni Suval and Flynn Witmeyer.

 

Wendy:

 

And you’re going to have a Romeo and Juliet look-alike contest?

 

Marc:

 

If they show up. Aside from that I have a documentary that is really a hoot and a holler. Then I got Lynn, who is Romeo’s wife, to get me pictures of Leonard throughout the years, so I have a really lovely [compilation]. We’re having that and then the interview with Leonard, and I’m told he’s quite a lovely guy too.

 

Wendy:

 

It’s almost the 50th anniversary of the movie and as luck would have it Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey have co-stared in a soon to be released film that’s a modern day take on a Romeo and Juliet type of story, called Social Suicide.

 

Marc:

 

With Olivia’s daughter [India Eisley]. I’ve met India, she’s gorgeous. Lynn said that it was more of a cameo [for Leonard]. I think Olivia more featured and India is the star. But it’s the 50th anniversary; the thing about this movie is that it was made in 1968. It’s just brimming with al the energy that existed. It was an extraordinary period, an extraordinary year.

 

Wendy:

 

It was. Everything was changing; everything was new.

 

Marc:

 

Every day there was something BIG!!

 

Wendy:

 

We’re coming up on another anniversary too - the 20th anniversary of Marc Huestis Presents!

 

Marc:

 

That’s correct. 20 years ago I started with The Stepford Wives, with no star. Then Anita Monga, who was the programmer [said], “Why don’t you try and get a star for your next one?”, so I got Carol Lynley who is still a friend to this day. Her birthday is actually the day before the gig and I call her religiously almost every week. Sometimes it feels like two years have gone by and sometimes it feels like 2000 years have gone by, but I’m getting tired. I just turned 60 and I’m struggling with the shelf life of everything. I wanted to make it to the 20th anniversary; I’m not gonna project forward after that. I just wanted some [way] to acknowledge that benchmark.

 

Wendy:

 

You said you’re not projecting further on, but isn’t there anyone that you haven’t interviewed that you’d like to?

 

Marc:

 

You see that’s the thing; there - Doris Day obviously but she’s not gonna do it, Sophia Loren, she wouldn’t do it, but I’ve done almost everybody really, and some people [that] I haven’t done are not available. I had a wish list about five years into my business of who I wanted to get; I got most everybody!

 

Wendy:

 

Joni Mitchell is still on the list.

 

Marc:

 

Joni is on the list. I would come out of retirement for Joni!

Photos courtesy of Marc Huestis

 

 

FEBRUARY 2015 ISSUE

A Place To Call Home

Marty’s Place Set To Reopen Under New ModelNick Pagoulatos is the current resident and caretaker of Marty’s Place at 1165 Treat St. He will move out when the co-op reopens in spring to make room for locals living with HIV and AIDS.

 

 

As San Francisco’s housing crisis continues, support is mounting for one of the city’s most vulnerable demographics — the homeless.

 

For nearly 20 years Marty’s Place was a home for once homeless San Franciscans living with HIV and AIDS before closing its doors in 2010. Now, with new community support, the home is slated to re-open this spring.

 

In 1993, Franciscan friar Richard Purcell purchased a large house on Treat Street between 24th and 25th streets in the heart of the Mission. The quintessential San Francisco Victorian was affectionately named after Purcell’s brother Marty, who had died of AIDS. There, Purcell took in homeless people off the streets who were living with HIV and AIDS, gave them a home and cared for them. But in 2010 he fell ill and was forced to close Marty’s Place. Purcell passed away the following year. Since then, local housing groups and advocates have come together to reopen the home as an affordable co-op for AIDS victims previously or on the verge of being homeless.

 

The previous home had an open door policy where those in need could just walk in, but that does not work for financial reasons, according to Tommi Avicolla Mecca, a member of the Housing Rights Committee, which joined forces with the San Francisco Community Land Trust and Dolores Street Community Services to reestablish the affordable safe haven.

 

“The model we came up with is the model of a co-op,” said Mecca. “The Land Trust will have the land but the actual house will be run by the people in it.”

 

That means residents will be self-sufficient, paying rents of $450 per month for a shared room or $800 for a single. Tenants will draft an annual housing budget, raise funds for repairs and recruit new housemates when one decides to leave. Mecca said this will ensure the home remains affordable for the people it aims to serve the way Purcell originally intended.

 

In 2013 the Housing Rights Committee began fundraising to prepare the house for new residents. The Housing Rights Committee hoped to raise $250,000 by the end of 2014, but came up short. With roughly half its goal, organizers decided to go forth with repairs and renovations, which are expected to begin in April, giving them more time to raise money. Marty’s Place is planning to open June 1.

 

“It’s not in bad shape,” said Mecca. “But we wanted to take care of some of the problems that the co-op will have to face down the line if we don’t take care of them now.”

 

Built in the 1880s, the home boasts six bedrooms and three bathrooms on three levels. Upon entering the home, guests are struck by a towering staircase that pulls the eyes 15 feet from floor to ceiling. A living room opens to a large dining room that can easily accommodate a dozen guests. Beyond the dining room is the kitchen, which Mecca said will likely receive a new and larger refrigerator to accommodate nine residents. Upstairs is a large landing, three bedrooms, a bath and a bright, enclosed porch, not original to the house. The lower, ground level has three rooms, a large bathroom, laundry facilities, a kitchenette and doors leading to the backyard garden and patio. Opposite the house, on the other side of the patio, is a two-car garage that opens up to Balmey Alley, famed for its painted murals.

 

“It’s great to be able to live in San Francisco, but there’s something about living in such a beautiful and historic space,” said Nick Pagoulatos, the home’s current tenant and caretaker until the new tenants move in. “It’s a special place.”

 

Pagoulatos is a former project manager at Dolores Street Community Services who now works for Supervisor Eric Mar. For over three years, Pagoulatos and his family have lived in Marty’s Place, keeping the house running and doing light projects like repairing the floors and the garage. Although he’ll miss the house when he and his family move out, Pagoulatos said he’s glad it is being put to good use. “For people who had been marginally housed or on the street, who’ve had physical or psychological problems that they’d been battling, it will really be a huge benefit to them,” he said.

 

Homelessness is nothing new to San Francisco. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s the city was known as a refuge. Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, or WRAP, said homelessness was considerably lower then because people usually had a place to turn. “There were places with bedrooms and group living situations and co-ops with medical or mental health treatment available, all spread out throughout the city and state, because they were primarily state funded,” said Boden.

 

But Boden said cuts at the state and federal level resulted in the closure of many of these publically funded residences. Many of the people they served, including some with HIV and AIDS, were forced to go to homeless shelters or even the streets. “Shelters are not a residence. They’re supposed to be for an emergency,” said Boden. “We’re treating them as if they’re a tier of housing or tier of treatment for people who are poor. To me that’s just mind-boggling malicious.”

 

Over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, homeless advocates staged an all night sleep-in at the corner of Powell and Market streets to help bring attention to the issue. During the event, Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, pointed out that once people are on the streets, they’re often approached by police, cited and then arrested.

 

“Right now in this BART station below us, they are arresting people for sleeping,” Friedenbach said. “This is a classic civil rights violation and it’s connected to Martin Luther King’s struggle.”

 

The sleep-in was part of a larger movement to gain support for homeless people. New model legislation being pushed by the Western Regional Advocacy Project and other supporters is circulating in California, Colorado and Oregon. It’s called the Right to Rest Act and it aims to combat discrimination, harassment or the threat of arrest for people with no other place to go than public areas. In 2013 similar legislation, called the Homeless Bill of Rights, or Assembly Bill 5, was sponsored by then-state assemblyman Tom Ammiano, but was held up in the Appropriations Committee. Ammiano has since termed-out and the new Right to Rest Act is currently without a sponsor in California.

 

But until politics no longer impedes meaningful action, it will be up to smaller, community-based organizing to solve homelessness. “The solution to homelessness is simple,” Mecca said. “Give people a home and you solve homelessness.”

 

 

Photo: Alex Kekauoha

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

Shops Affected Differently by Area Street Widening

 

 

In response to the grumbling undertone of some conversations while last fall’s widening and reconstruction of Castro Street was underway, the Courier decided to do an informal survey of businesses on the street to get a sense of reactions to the disruption.

 

In general, businesses adjacent to the epicenter of construction — i.e. Cliff’s Variety, A.G. Ferrari, Cove on Castro, the Levi’s store and some others — seemed to experience the biggest impact on their business. At the other end of Castro, near 19th Street, the reaction was much more muted.

 

How different businesses weathered the eight months also depended on the type of business. Restaurants with heavy equipment outside the front door obviously lost a good portion of their accustomed walk-ins. Clothing stores with a dedicated clientele, on the other hand, could count on a reduced core of customers. Businesses that were part of large organizations, such as the Castro branch of the Bank of America at 18th and Castro streets, definitely had an organizational cushion behind them. That might also depend on their product — greenbacks and credit — which are readily available at multiple locations and online.

 

Up near the top of Castro, in the land of temporary plywood paths, Terry Asten Bennett shares with whomever will listen that Cliff’s lost $100,000 during eight months, a loss that she estimates will take several years to recoup. Across the street the Cove on Castro experienced a 40-45 percent drop in business. Sources at Italian food store A.G. Ferrari said it was hard to do business and they closed down part of the time. Further down the street, across 18th, a Levi’s supervisor, Jenina Fontanilla, characterized the decline as “horrible.” People just did not come because of the construction.

 

Meanwhile up by 19th Street, sales personnel at the candle shop on the corner could not recall anything unusual in their business. Across Castro at the clothing shop Clobba, a manager described how their focus on “fresh fashion” and a weekly turnover in stock kept regular customers returning for the latest designs. For them the impact was less noticeable.

 

Probably the champion of the changes is Shane, the manager of the HRC store. Besides being on higher ground than most torn up areas, HRC’s location in the Harvey milk camera store has always been something of a shrine for tourists who will seek it out regardless of the disruption. In addition, a more recent draw is the plaque on the Honor Walk dedicated to Alan Turing, the newly visible celebrity based on the Academy Award-nominated movie of his life, The Imitation Game.

 

Shane makes the points that the construction changes were expected and businesses had ample opportunity to plan for the disruption. He added that while “certainly the numbers were down,” in the long run it was worth the wait and the changes will definitely improve the neighborhood. In addition, he says that most people seemed to be patient and understand, and in the end he says the project brought the community together.

 

Castro Merchants president Daniel Bergerac of Mudpuppy’s agreed, saying that a project such as this takes time and the business community knew this going in.

 

More:

 

Sidewalks Before and After: A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

 

Castro Street To See Overhaul, Widening During Mid-March

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

 

MCC Leaves Castro after 35 Years

 

Iconic church finds new home on Polk

 

 

Thirty-five years after the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco found its home in a purple-trimmed sanctuary in the city’s Castro district, the faith group is moving out of the neighborhood.

 

Metropolitan signed a lease last month with the First Congregational Church on Polk and Bush streets and is moving into the building this month. A pilgrimage service that started at its old Eureka Street site was held the first Sunday of February. Many congregants walked to their new home, carrying church relics symbolic of their old sanctuary.

 

The congregation, famously born in a North Beach bar and grill in 1970, occupied several homes before moving into the 1902 lavender landmark in 1980. There, the church served as a gathering place for area activists in the early days of the AIDS pandemic. Now worshippers must pull up stakes again. They are being driven by the twin pressures of a decaying pre-1906 earthquake structure and an expensive real estate market to join the trend of religious congregations moving into shared spaces.

 

The Rev. Robert Shively, who joined the church’s leadership last year, said the move “is a new life for us.” After establishing itself as an accepting faith community and spiritual center for residents over several decades, the church is now transitioning from owners to renters.

 

The move is not a complete surprise: the church has dealt with construction issues since 2006, when a retaining wall began to crumble. City inspectors found termites and dry rot in the wall and implemented a temporary fix to allow access into other parts of the building. Last year, the building was re-inspected and a structural engineer said the work to repair the retaining wall was likely to exceed the value of the building. The building was “beyond repair,” Shively said.

 

Shively said church members considered a list of options: sell and buy another church property, or sell and buy a commercial building and convert it into a religious space. Comparable rental spaces in the Castro ranged between $21,000 and $28,000 per month – four times Metropolitan’s monthly budget of roughly $5,000 to $6,000. Other neighborhoods, such as the Bayview, offered cheaper commercial spaces with $3,000 to $7,000 monthly rent, but weren’t well-suited for religious gatherings because of lengthy and pricey permitting processes, high set-up costs and lost time to establish a worship space in a structure designed for business.

 

But there were no religious spaces available at the moment in the city, turning the search south to Daly City or South San Francisco. “It’s a sellers’ market, not a buyers’ market in San Francisco right now,” Shively said.

 

Finally, a new option emerged: find another city church to house two congregations in one building. “We thought a partnership with another congregation would be advantageous,” Shively said. But after contacting more than 35 congregations throughout the city, Shively said the search committee “started panicking.”

 

Then, a door opened as the First Congregational Church agreed to partner up. Metropolitan’s decision to join the Polk Street church came before the entire church community with the board explaining the costs and details of the transition and search process. The entire congregation unanimously voted to sell its buildings and leave to a new site. In the 1980s, the church had purchased a four-unit apartment building next-door at 138-140 Eureka St. as an investment.

 

For the pastor, the new arrangement is financially easier than dealing with a century-old building that was showing its age. It’s now: “Oh, here’s our rent,” he said with some humor. Shively said yearly pledges from members will continue to support administrative costs and the church’s operating budget.

 

The congregants’ sentiments before the move were bittersweet and complex. “I will have people say how their grief is hard and they’re excited – in the same sentence,” Shively said, adding that Christmas brought some tearful moments as the congregation realized this was the last holiday in the space.

 

“Departing a place that you love, even if you’ve loved it to death, is hard,” he said. To ease the heartache of leaving behind a cherished place, the church moved some pieces of its old home to its new home. A stained glass window from Eureka Street honoring those affected by AIDS and the building’s skylight will join the congregation on Polk Street.

 

The deal was profitable for the community. In 1980, Metropolitan bought the building at 150 Eureka St. for $250,000. The old building, listed on Jan. 5, drew at least 100 realtors to the broker’s tour. Five bidders offered more than the asking price for the church. The congregation sold the church for more than its $1.9 million asking price, said Coldwell Banker Realtor Katharine Holladay, a member of the church for 10 years.

 

Parties to the sale were expected to close the deal the first week of February. The building is in serious disrepair, after the city declared part of it unsafe in 2006. The new owner, who hasn’t announced plans for the site, is expected to rebuild on the site, Holladay said.

 

“Somebody is going to be starting all over there with whatever they do,” Holladay said.

 

The building is part of RH-2 zoning, which translates into multiple units permitted on the lot. She called it “a contractor’s special” considering the building was beyond any fixer-upper standards.

 

Another Metropolitan property – a four-unit apartment building next door to the church – drew 10 bids over asking price and sold for more than $1.5 million. Holladay said current plans are to leave units as they are, to allow current tenants to stay in their units – for now. The Rev. Shively said there have been no decisions on how Metropolitan will use the proceeds from its sales.

 

Drawing from her own connection with the congregation, Holladay said the move was a hard choice and a loss for the Castro community. But she said based on the state of the Eureka building and its associated costs over the years, the church should have moved 15 years ago.

 

Holladay said she is optimistic that Metropolitan’s lease of shared space in First Congregational Church’s modern brick structure on 1300 Polk St. will help the congregation grow.

 

First Congregational’s office administrator Ben Malkevitch, who identifies as a secular Jew, has worked at the church for four years. Built in 2008, the brick building on the border of the Tenderloin is ready to take on its new tenants. “It was sort of very good timing for both of us,” he said of the congregations’ first meeting in October. “We were looking to find further wonderful uses for our newish building.”

 

MCC will rent service space, offices and storage, and plans to hold services on a schedule that doesn’t interfere with the FCC worship. “Our two churches aren’t combining,” Malkevitch emphasized. “We are cohabitating in a way.” Malkevitch called the arrangement efficient and cost effective, like roommates sharing an apartment. “People are very excited,” he said. “Obviously there is some apprehension.”

 

He thinks the two church styles will mesh well: both have strong music programs and are open to opportunities for joint programming. FCC has 25 to 35 members who attend Sunday services, while MCC has 40 or more attending on Sundays. The Polk Street space holds close to 100, Malkevitch added.

 

Religious roommates are a growing trend, with arrangements like the shared space of Metropolitan and First Congregational becoming more common, said Erica Meyers, a brokerage coordinator for the commercial real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield’s Religious Facilities Group in southern California. “We have a lot of that,” she said, noting her firm currently is offering 20 churches with available space for lease. For smaller tenant churches, sharing a larger church eases costs. For the “landlord” church it’s a way to make income on a space that sits empty most of the week.

 

About 90 percent of the group’s leases are for shared use, and the religious groups get creative by offering the entire space, attached school buildings or offices, she said. Combining different faith-based organizations, such as Jewish congregations or Seventh-day Adventists also works well, because their Saturday worship avoids clashes with Sunday services.

 

For the Rev. Shively, the new lease, new neighborhood and new corner church are the next part of his church’s history.

 

“This ending is part of a beginning,” he said.

 

Photo: Sasha Lekach

 

 

© Castro Courier 2014 No part of this website or artwork portrayed may be redistributed or republished without the express permission of the Castro Courier. Opinions expressed are strictly those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of the publisher or staff.

FEBRUARY 2015 ISSUE

A Place To Call Home

Marty’s Place Set To Reopen Under New ModelNick Pagoulatos is the current resident and caretaker of Marty’s Place at 1165 Treat St. He will move out when the co-op reopens in spring to make room for locals living with HIV and AIDS.

 

 

As San Francisco’s housing crisis continues, support is mounting for one of the city’s most vulnerable demographics — the homeless.

 

For nearly 20 years Marty’s Place was a home for once homeless San Franciscans living with HIV and AIDS before closing its doors in 2010. Now, with new community support, the home is slated to re-open this spring.

 

In 1993, Franciscan friar Richard Purcell purchased a large house on Treat Street between 24th and 25th streets in the heart of the Mission. The quintessential San Francisco Victorian was affectionately named after Purcell’s brother Marty, who had died of AIDS. There, Purcell took in homeless people off the streets who were living with HIV and AIDS, gave them a home and cared for them. But in 2010 he fell ill and was forced to close Marty’s Place. Purcell passed away the following year. Since then, local housing groups and advocates have come together to reopen the home as an affordable co-op for AIDS victims previously or on the verge of being homeless.

 

The previous home had an open door policy where those in need could just walk in, but that does not work for financial reasons, according to Tommi Avicolla Mecca, a member of the Housing Rights Committee, which joined forces with the San Francisco Community Land Trust and Dolores Street Community Services to reestablish the affordable safe haven.

 

“The model we came up with is the model of a co-op,” said Mecca. “The Land Trust will have the land but the actual house will be run by the people in it.”

 

That means residents will be self-sufficient, paying rents of $450 per month for a shared room or $800 for a single. Tenants will draft an annual housing budget, raise funds for repairs and recruit new housemates when one decides to leave. Mecca said this will ensure the home remains affordable for the people it aims to serve the way Purcell originally intended.

 

In 2013 the Housing Rights Committee began fundraising to prepare the house for new residents. The Housing Rights Committee hoped to raise $250,000 by the end of 2014, but came up short. With roughly half its goal, organizers decided to go forth with repairs and renovations, which are expected to begin in April, giving them more time to raise money. Marty’s Place is planning to open June 1.

 

“It’s not in bad shape,” said Mecca. “But we wanted to take care of some of the problems that the co-op will have to face down the line if we don’t take care of them now.”

 

Built in the 1880s, the home boasts six bedrooms and three bathrooms on three levels. Upon entering the home, guests are struck by a towering staircase that pulls the eyes 15 feet from floor to ceiling. A living room opens to a large dining room that can easily accommodate a dozen guests. Beyond the dining room is the kitchen, which Mecca said will likely receive a new and larger refrigerator to accommodate nine residents. Upstairs is a large landing, three bedrooms, a bath and a bright, enclosed porch, not original to the house. The lower, ground level has three rooms, a large bathroom, laundry facilities, a kitchenette and doors leading to the backyard garden and patio. Opposite the house, on the other side of the patio, is a two-car garage that opens up to Balmey Alley, famed for its painted murals.

 

“It’s great to be able to live in San Francisco, but there’s something about living in such a beautiful and historic space,” said Nick Pagoulatos, the home’s current tenant and caretaker until the new tenants move in. “It’s a special place.”

 

Pagoulatos is a former project manager at Dolores Street Community Services who now works for Supervisor Eric Mar. For over three years, Pagoulatos and his family have lived in Marty’s Place, keeping the house running and doing light projects like repairing the floors and the garage. Although he’ll miss the house when he and his family move out, Pagoulatos said he’s glad it is being put to good use. “For people who had been marginally housed or on the street, who’ve had physical or psychological problems that they’d been battling, it will really be a huge benefit to them,” he said.

 

Homelessness is nothing new to San Francisco. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s the city was known as a refuge. Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, or WRAP, said homelessness was considerably lower then because people usually had a place to turn. “There were places with bedrooms and group living situations and co-ops with medical or mental health treatment available, all spread out throughout the city and state, because they were primarily state funded,” said Boden.

 

But Boden said cuts at the state and federal level resulted in the closure of many of these publically funded residences. Many of the people they served, including some with HIV and AIDS, were forced to go to homeless shelters or even the streets. “Shelters are not a residence. They’re supposed to be for an emergency,” said Boden. “We’re treating them as if they’re a tier of housing or tier of treatment for people who are poor. To me that’s just mind-boggling malicious.”

 

Over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, homeless advocates staged an all night sleep-in at the corner of Powell and Market streets to help bring attention to the issue. During the event, Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, pointed out that once people are on the streets, they’re often approached by police, cited and then arrested.

 

“Right now in this BART station below us, they are arresting people for sleeping,” Friedenbach said. “This is a classic civil rights violation and it’s connected to Martin Luther King’s struggle.”

 

The sleep-in was part of a larger movement to gain support for homeless people. New model legislation being pushed by the Western Regional Advocacy Project and other supporters is circulating in California, Colorado and Oregon. It’s called the Right to Rest Act and it aims to combat discrimination, harassment or the threat of arrest for people with no other place to go than public areas. In 2013 similar legislation, called the Homeless Bill of Rights, or Assembly Bill 5, was sponsored by then-state assemblyman Tom Ammiano, but was held up in the Appropriations Committee. Ammiano has since termed-out and the new Right to Rest Act is currently without a sponsor in California.

 

But until politics no longer impedes meaningful action, it will be up to smaller, community-based organizing to solve homelessness. “The solution to homelessness is simple,” Mecca said. “Give people a home and you solve homelessness.”

 

 

Photo: Alex Kekauoha

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

Shops Affected Differently by Area Street Widening

 

 

In response to the grumbling undertone of some conversations while last fall’s widening and reconstruction of Castro Street was underway, the Courier decided to do an informal survey of businesses on the street to get a sense of reactions to the disruption.

 

In general, businesses adjacent to the epicenter of construction — i.e. Cliff’s Variety, A.G. Ferrari, Cove on Castro, the Levi’s store and some others — seemed to experience the biggest impact on their business. At the other end of Castro, near 19th Street, the reaction was much more muted.

 

How different businesses weathered the eight months also depended on the type of business. Restaurants with heavy equipment outside the front door obviously lost a good portion of their accustomed walk-ins. Clothing stores with a dedicated clientele, on the other hand, could count on a reduced core of customers. Businesses that were part of large organizations, such as the Castro branch of the Bank of America at 18th and Castro streets, definitely had an organizational cushion behind them. That might also depend on their product — greenbacks and credit — which are readily available at multiple locations and online.

 

Up near the top of Castro, in the land of temporary plywood paths, Terry Asten Bennett shares with whomever will listen that Cliff’s lost $100,000 during eight months, a loss that she estimates will take several years to recoup. Across the street the Cove on Castro experienced a 40-45 percent drop in business. Sources at Italian food store A.G. Ferrari said it was hard to do business and they closed down part of the time. Further down the street, across 18th, a Levi’s supervisor, Jenina Fontanilla, characterized the decline as “horrible.” People just did not come because of the construction.

 

Meanwhile up by 19th Street, sales personnel at the candle shop on the corner could not recall anything unusual in their business. Across Castro at the clothing shop Clobba, a manager described how their focus on “fresh fashion” and a weekly turnover in stock kept regular customers returning for the latest designs. For them the impact was less noticeable.

 

Probably the champion of the changes is Shane, the manager of the HRC store. Besides being on higher ground than most torn up areas, HRC’s location in the Harvey milk camera store has always been something of a shrine for tourists who will seek it out regardless of the disruption. In addition, a more recent draw is the plaque on the Honor Walk dedicated to Alan Turing, the newly visible celebrity based on the Academy Award-nominated movie of his life, The Imitation Game.

 

Shane makes the points that the construction changes were expected and businesses had ample opportunity to plan for the disruption. He added that while “certainly the numbers were down,” in the long run it was worth the wait and the changes will definitely improve the neighborhood. In addition, he says that most people seemed to be patient and understand, and in the end he says the project brought the community together.

 

Castro Merchants president Daniel Bergerac of Mudpuppy’s agreed, saying that a project such as this takes time and the business community knew this going in.

 

More:

 

Sidewalks Before and After: A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

 

Castro Street To See Overhaul, Widening During Mid-March

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

 

MCC Leaves Castro after 35 Years

 

Iconic church finds new home on Polk

 

 

Thirty-five years after the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco found its home in a purple-trimmed sanctuary in the city’s Castro district, the faith group is moving out of the neighborhood.

 

Metropolitan signed a lease last month with the First Congregational Church on Polk and Bush streets and is moving into the building this month. A pilgrimage service that started at its old Eureka Street site was held the first Sunday of February. Many congregants walked to their new home, carrying church relics symbolic of their old sanctuary.

 

The congregation, famously born in a North Beach bar and grill in 1970, occupied several homes before moving into the 1902 lavender landmark in 1980. There, the church served as a gathering place for area activists in the early days of the AIDS pandemic. Now worshippers must pull up stakes again. They are being driven by the twin pressures of a decaying pre-1906 earthquake structure and an expensive real estate market to join the trend of religious congregations moving into shared spaces.

 

The Rev. Robert Shively, who joined the church’s leadership last year, said the move “is a new life for us.” After establishing itself as an accepting faith community and spiritual center for residents over several decades, the church is now transitioning from owners to renters.

 

The move is not a complete surprise: the church has dealt with construction issues since 2006, when a retaining wall began to crumble. City inspectors found termites and dry rot in the wall and implemented a temporary fix to allow access into other parts of the building. Last year, the building was re-inspected and a structural engineer said the work to repair the retaining wall was likely to exceed the value of the building. The building was “beyond repair,” Shively said.

 

Shively said church members considered a list of options: sell and buy another church property, or sell and buy a commercial building and convert it into a religious space. Comparable rental spaces in the Castro ranged between $21,000 and $28,000 per month – four times Metropolitan’s monthly budget of roughly $5,000 to $6,000. Other neighborhoods, such as the Bayview, offered cheaper commercial spaces with $3,000 to $7,000 monthly rent, but weren’t well-suited for religious gatherings because of lengthy and pricey permitting processes, high set-up costs and lost time to establish a worship space in a structure designed for business.

 

But there were no religious spaces available at the moment in the city, turning the search south to Daly City or South San Francisco. “It’s a sellers’ market, not a buyers’ market in San Francisco right now,” Shively said.

 

Finally, a new option emerged: find another city church to house two congregations in one building. “We thought a partnership with another congregation would be advantageous,” Shively said. But after contacting more than 35 congregations throughout the city, Shively said the search committee “started panicking.”

 

Then, a door opened as the First Congregational Church agreed to partner up. Metropolitan’s decision to join the Polk Street church came before the entire church community with the board explaining the costs and details of the transition and search process. The entire congregation unanimously voted to sell its buildings and leave to a new site. In the 1980s, the church had purchased a four-unit apartment building next-door at 138-140 Eureka St. as an investment.

 

For the pastor, the new arrangement is financially easier than dealing with a century-old building that was showing its age. It’s now: “Oh, here’s our rent,” he said with some humor. Shively said yearly pledges from members will continue to support administrative costs and the church’s operating budget.

 

The congregants’ sentiments before the move were bittersweet and complex. “I will have people say how their grief is hard and they’re excited – in the same sentence,” Shively said, adding that Christmas brought some tearful moments as the congregation realized this was the last holiday in the space.

 

“Departing a place that you love, even if you’ve loved it to death, is hard,” he said. To ease the heartache of leaving behind a cherished place, the church moved some pieces of its old home to its new home. A stained glass window from Eureka Street honoring those affected by AIDS and the building’s skylight will join the congregation on Polk Street.

 

The deal was profitable for the community. In 1980, Metropolitan bought the building at 150 Eureka St. for $250,000. The old building, listed on Jan. 5, drew at least 100 realtors to the broker’s tour. Five bidders offered more than the asking price for the church. The congregation sold the church for more than its $1.9 million asking price, said Coldwell Banker Realtor Katharine Holladay, a member of the church for 10 years.

 

Parties to the sale were expected to close the deal the first week of February. The building is in serious disrepair, after the city declared part of it unsafe in 2006. The new owner, who hasn’t announced plans for the site, is expected to rebuild on the site, Holladay said.

 

“Somebody is going to be starting all over there with whatever they do,” Holladay said.

 

The building is part of RH-2 zoning, which translates into multiple units permitted on the lot. She called it “a contractor’s special” considering the building was beyond any fixer-upper standards.

 

Another Metropolitan property – a four-unit apartment building next door to the church – drew 10 bids over asking price and sold for more than $1.5 million. Holladay said current plans are to leave units as they are, to allow current tenants to stay in their units – for now. The Rev. Shively said there have been no decisions on how Metropolitan will use the proceeds from its sales.

 

Drawing from her own connection with the congregation, Holladay said the move was a hard choice and a loss for the Castro community. But she said based on the state of the Eureka building and its associated costs over the years, the church should have moved 15 years ago.

 

Holladay said she is optimistic that Metropolitan’s lease of shared space in First Congregational Church’s modern brick structure on 1300 Polk St. will help the congregation grow.

 

First Congregational’s office administrator Ben Malkevitch, who identifies as a secular Jew, has worked at the church for four years. Built in 2008, the brick building on the border of the Tenderloin is ready to take on its new tenants. “It was sort of very good timing for both of us,” he said of the congregations’ first meeting in October. “We were looking to find further wonderful uses for our newish building.”

 

MCC will rent service space, offices and storage, and plans to hold services on a schedule that doesn’t interfere with the FCC worship. “Our two churches aren’t combining,” Malkevitch emphasized. “We are cohabitating in a way.” Malkevitch called the arrangement efficient and cost effective, like roommates sharing an apartment. “People are very excited,” he said. “Obviously there is some apprehension.”

 

He thinks the two church styles will mesh well: both have strong music programs and are open to opportunities for joint programming. FCC has 25 to 35 members who attend Sunday services, while MCC has 40 or more attending on Sundays. The Polk Street space holds close to 100, Malkevitch added.

 

Religious roommates are a growing trend, with arrangements like the shared space of Metropolitan and First Congregational becoming more common, said Erica Meyers, a brokerage coordinator for the commercial real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield’s Religious Facilities Group in southern California. “We have a lot of that,” she said, noting her firm currently is offering 20 churches with available space for lease. For smaller tenant churches, sharing a larger church eases costs. For the “landlord” church it’s a way to make income on a space that sits empty most of the week.

 

About 90 percent of the group’s leases are for shared use, and the religious groups get creative by offering the entire space, attached school buildings or offices, she said. Combining different faith-based organizations, such as Jewish congregations or Seventh-day Adventists also works well, because their Saturday worship avoids clashes with Sunday services.

 

For the Rev. Shively, the new lease, new neighborhood and new corner church are the next part of his church’s history.

 

“This ending is part of a beginning,” he said.

 

Photo: Sasha Lekach

 

 

Iconic church finds new home on Polk

© Castro Courier 2014

Content is not available in this view. Try turning your device to landscape or view on a mainframe.