Monday, April 9, 2012

280 - 7th and the usefulness of club kids

Local real estate blog SocketSite posted an item this afternoon about the proposed new club building at 280 - 7th St. in Western South of Market, San Francisco. The authors were kind enough to include excerpts from my weekend post here, which suggested that the club proposal was yet another sign of a breakdown in the Sixth Street skid-row buffer between more prosperous eastern SoMa and the funkier streets from Seventh west.

Don, posting at SocketSite, says the place wouldn't really attract conventioneers. I hope he's right.

Marten writes there, "...the Cafe [Cafe In The Castro, owned by the same people] doesn't really score points with the Castro neighborhood with its rowdy clientele, so a lot needs to be changed." That's the second unfriendly comment we've heard about the proposed club's owners. I'm really, really not eager to do the neighborhood organizer thing again (been here, done that, didn't enjoy) but it would be interesting to hear about any other experiences, good or bad, that folks have had with the 280 - 7th sponsors. Also it would be helpful if anyone knows more about PPK Holdings or Hare Brained Productions. Those are the two entities mentioned on the return address of the notice we got, as shown here:
Several folks at SocketSite came up with creative invective about the old-fashioned blockiness of the proposed club design. Also my husband found a picture of a Circuit City on Staten Island that looks an awful lot like the proposed 280 - 7th drawings.

I guess I didn't mention the design factor earlier because it takes such a weariness of work for neighbors to change the appearance of a proposed building, so you'd kind of need to feel really strongly about it, which as of the moment -- nah, not really. This project would face mostly onto busy Seventh, which affects local residential life less than stuff on alleys. We're a lot like Los Angeles that way: the big commuter arteries that mark out our oversized blocks are a different world than the small streets within those same blocks. It would be another matter entirely if the back end of the 280 - 7th building dropped significant noise or ugliness onto delicate narrow Langton Street with its plum trees and community garden. So the fact that the old Rawhide II property has a narrow frontage on Langton is my main small worry here.

Commenter Kathleen wanted to know if the weirdly big "280" in the design means it's marking the way to San Jose. Cute, and close. But, no, the southbound Highway 280 on-ramp is at Sixth. Seventh is one way northbound.

Then there's SocketSite commenter "OP", who pleasantly describes my work as "self-absorbed malarkey" and writes: "Some of the most "boring" and "timid" people I have known have been those who frequent the bars and clubs in SoMa." Funny part is, I'm sure OP is right about club kids. But I wasn't talking about club kids. I was talking about my neighborhood. And, come to think of it, I'm glad OP created an occasion for clarifying both the distinctions and the commensality involved.

Y'see, I think this commenter views people who visit clubs here in the evening as forming the essence of our neighborhood, hence assumes that if I'm worried about losing local character, it must be out of affection for the bridge-and-tunnel thrill-seekers who visit us in the evening. Please, no. They're just the customers.

From the sounds of it, OP has gotten to know more Western SoMa bar and club patrons personally than I have, which may explain his/her aggravation quotient and for which I extend sympathies. J. and me, we just live here and watch them go by. Where patrons of the older gay clubs have been part of the neighborhood, the younger, straighter visitors to newer clubs seem not to think of people as living here at all. From their conduct, a certain percentage see Western SoMa as an anything-goes "place over the line," which it is not. A neighbor has a great story about a couple he found necking in his doorway against his doorbell. And if you've read my earlier blog post you've seen the problem we have with Thursday night "comedy" bigots at BrainWash. So, yes, OP is right that our existing club crowds create their own sets of problems. 

But the comment has gotten me thinking how our particular kind of nighttime customers do form their own type of buffer that, in its way, preserves the variousness of daytime life here. Not solely by leaving bottles, shoes, underwear and bodily fluids on our sidewalks, nor merely by providing the occasional bewildered figure in evening clothes to wander Howard Street of a Sunday morning. More substantially, the club kids help us by viewing the rough edges of an eclectic post-industrial neighborhood as a feature, not a bug, thereby giving the businesses that serve them a reason not to support municipal Disneyfication.

If western SoMa were instead a place regularly visited by conventioneers and the after-work Financial District office crowd, that would impose a whole nother flavor of boring atmosphere. A more expensive, more conformist flavor that would allow less variety of life to persist here in the daytimes.

William Gibson said in this recent interview that neighborhoods either are or aren't places where you can weld on the sidewalk and nobody will stop you. It's a useful line to draw, I think. Western SoMa was a welding kind of place fifteen years ago. There's a guy who really did use to weld weird stuff out front of here, and in the yard too until another neighbor stopped him. Western SoMa is still marginally the welding kind of place now. Or rather, there might be raised eyebrows if you tried welding but at least you could work on your car. Most of Eastern SoMa hasn't been a welding place at all for many years.

So, y'see, when I say I'm concerned about prosperity bearing down on us from Moscone Center, I'm concerned for the welders, not the club kids. But the club kids in their own way serve as a buffer that protects the welders.

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