San Francisco’s Gold Dust Lounge, a Union Square bar faced with eviction by a landlord intent on converting the space to retail, does not qualify for historic landmark status, according to a report released by a city commission.
The Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the status of the bar at 247 Powell St., which has been the subject of a grassroots preservation campaign and a legal battle since landlord Jon Handlery gave notice that the lease was being terminated in December.
A new retail tenant reportedly wants to take over the space as well as the neighboring two-story retail space at 301 Geary St. next door.
The commission report, which reviews historical analyses submitted by representatives of both the bar owners, James and Tasios Bovis, and Handlery, found that while the bar is “an important local business and gathering spot,” it does not qualify as a city historic landmark.
Furthermore, landmark designation would only protect the physical features of the space and not “what is valued most – the continued operation of the bar,” the report said.
The bar has become the subject of a legal dispute between the Bovises and Handlery.
The Bovises, supported by attorney Joseph Cotchett, have alleged that the lease provision allowing them to be evicted with 90 days notice was added without their knowledge.
Handlery has stated through representatives that the Bovises knew about the changes in the lease and the likelihood of a new tenant for the space. He has countersued the Bovises for failing to vacate after 90 days as required by the terms of the lease, and his spokesman Sam Singer has publicly derided the claims to historic significance for the bar.
“The tenant and its supporters filed the false historic claim with the city, abusing San Francisco’s historic landmark application as part of a tenant-landlord dispute,” Singer said in a statement.
Lee Houskeeper, a spokesman for the Bovises, said the family was not worried by the report.
“This does not reflect what we believe are the votes on the commission,” Houskeeper said.
He said the Bovises are submitting further information to the commission, but are also working to support legislation by the city’s Board of Supervisors that would impose a moratorium on the type of conversion sought by the landlord and are continuing with their lawsuit.
A bar or restaurant has operated in the space now occupied by the Gold Dust Lounge, part of the 1908 Elkan Gunst building, since around 1918, according to a report written by Christopher VerPlanck on behalf of the Bovis family, which also owns the nearby bar Lefty O’Doul’s. The space housed a florist shop for a period during Prohibition.
Some of the bar’s most noteworthy features, including an elaborate ceiling mural and Victorian elements, date from a 1960s remodel when the bar operated as Bustles and Beaus, a retro burlesque club.
The Bovises have stated that Bing Crosby was a silent partner in that business, but the claim has not been confirmed, according to VerPlanck’s report.
The Gold Dust Lounge has been a popular watering hole for noteworthy locals including Willie Brown, Herb Caen and Janis Joplin, among others, and is one of the few remaining bars in an area once known as a center of San Francisco nightlife, according to the owners.
Sara Gaiser, Bay City News