There's no question that there's a lot of history contained within the walls of the Gold Dust Lounge.
The beloved Union Square dive bar's imminent closure has become a cause celebre for legions of San Franciscans who see the Gold Dust as one of the last outposts of old-school charm left in the now hyper-commercial neighborhood.
Everyone from musical icons Tony Bennett and Janis Joplin to legendary columnist Herb Caen whet their whistles there, and Bing Crosby used to be the part-owner of a burlesque club on the premises.
However, that doesn't seem to have been quite enough history for the city's Historic Preservation Commission. Saying that the bar didn’t meet specified criteria, the commission voted in a 5-2 decision on Wednesday to deny the bar historic landmark status--something supporters hoped might save the establishment from closure.
On Wednesday, before a packed room in City Hall, [commissioner Andrew] Wolfram sided with the majority against granting the bar landmark status. "While it’s a great bar and I’m sorry Union Square has fewer and fewer bars and I wish we could do something about that,” he said, “I don’t believe this initiation of landmark designation will make a difference. I don’t think it will save the Gold Dust Lounge."
Even if the commission voted to preserve the physical space and its elements, such as the ceiling, the landlord could still shut the business down, Wolfram pointed out.
The fight over the Gold Dust began last December, when landlord Jon Handlery told bar owners James and Tasios Bovis they would have to vacate the premises to make way for a new tenant, rumored to be trendy clothing retailer The Express.
Refusing to budge, the Bovis brothers filed suit against Handlery, charging that recent modifications made to the bar's lease allowing for the eviction took advantage of their advanced age and constituted elder abuse.
Recently appointed Supervisor Christina Olague has pledged to do her part to stop the eviction by introducing a measure imposing a moratorium on conversions in the area surrounding Union Square, essentially saving the Gold Dust by legislative fiat.
"I think we need an assessment of this important conservation district to determine if tighter controls are necessary to prevent the displacement of locally-owned restaurants, retail stores, and entertainment venues by the highest bidders, or we will risk losing...[what] attracts people to shop downtown instead of where they live," Olague said in a statement to SF Weekly. "What kind of shopping experience will they have when there is nothing left to talk about when they go home, and how much will it cost the city if they stop coming?"
Handlery's spokesman Sam Singer applauded the committee's ruling, telling Bay City News, "we thank the Commission for recognizing that this land-marking effort was nothing but alchemy intended to cover over a landlord-tenant dispute."
Despite this setback, the Bovis family is also attempting to get landmark status for Lefty O' Douls, another Union Square bar they operate inside of building owned by Handerly. The lease on Lefty O' Douls isn't due to come up for another decade.
Check out this slideshow of other endangered San Francisco landmarks: