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Gold Dust Lounge Denied Historic Landmark Status, Moves One Step Closer To Closing

Gold Dust Main

First Posted: 04/ 6/2012 12:11 pm Updated: 04/ 7/2012 6:37 pm

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.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

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:

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  • The Tonga Room

    Oh, the nine lives of the Tonga Room. Much to the Fairmont Hotel's chagrin, unyielding <a href="http://sostonga.com/" target="_hplink">local</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/05/the-layover-san-francisco_n_1186654.html" target="_hplink">national</a> support for the famous tiki restaurant in the hotel lobby have kept the band afloat at the Tonga Room, <a href="http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-02-25/bay-area/17189161_1_tiki-fairmont-hotel-development-director" target="_hplink">despite the Fairmont's desire to renovate</a>.

  • San Francisco Botanical Garden

    Global economic crisis tends to equal hot water for city-sponsored community programs, and the <a href="http://www.sfbotanicalgarden.org/news/admission.html" target="_hplink">San Francisco Botanical Garden</a> is no exception. To save the garden, SFBG recently initiated a $7 entrance fee for non-residents, but the organization <a href="http://www.sfbotanicalgarden.org/news/admission.html" target="_hplink">has also started circulating a petition and a call for help</a>.

  • The 49ers

    This deal is as good as done, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/19/steelers-vs-49ers-delayed-power-outage-candlestick_n_1159332.html" target="_hplink">the embarrassing recent power outages</a> during a game against the Steelers may as well have been the nail in the coffin. Despite a local push to convince the team to stay, promises of a glittering new stadium in Santa Clara have been all too tempting.

  • The Castro Theatre

    We don't even want to think about it. We don't even want to utter the words. But it's no secret that the city's beloved Castro Theatre is undergoing some changes. While it doesn't seem in danger of closing anytime soon, SFist reported back in December that the theatre would be switching from a daily movie format to a live performance hall and film festival venue. Let's hope the theatre is just going through a rough patch.

  • Cafe Gratitude

    The past few months have been a whirlwind of "are they or aren't they" for Café Gratitude. First, employee lawsuits <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/cafe-gratitude-closes_n_1119452.html" target="_hplink">prompted the local chain to announce plans to close</a>. But a few short weeks later, the suits were "resolved." However, Cafe Gratitude is still mum on what exactly this means for the business.

  • The Balboa Theatre

    The Balboa Theatre narrowly escaped closure last year, but was saved by a last-minute partnership between former Balboa Theatre operator Gary Meyer and the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation. "It's great to save another of San Francisco's last remaining neighborhood cinemas," <a href="http://www.sfntf.org/images/BalboaRelease.pdf" target="_hplink">said SFNTF President Alfonso Felder about the agreement</a>. "We're looking forward to keeping the Balboa's marquee lit for many more years." Agreed.

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Filed by Aaron Sankin  |