About a week ago, the For Rent signs at Discolandia came down and sheets of brown paper lined the empty store’s windows.
On Tuesday, the building’s possible future tenant contacted Mission Loc@l after reading our article on the fate of the store’s beloved sign. “I’m somewhat surprised at people concerned about conserving the sign,” he said.
The potential tenant, a Mission resident who asked that his name be withheld, said he signed the lease nearly two weeks ago and is in the early stages of planning; he wouldn’t disclose the type of business that might occupy the space.
He will apply for a conditional use permit, meaning the business he’s hoping to open on 24th Street isn’t automatically allowed in this zoning district but may still open after the tenant goes through several steps, including sending out neighborhood notifications and undergoing a public hearing before the Planning Commission. The business must also be deemed “necessary and desirable to the neighborhood” in order to get a permit.
Some of the types of businesses listed on the planning site as conditional use along the 24th Street Mission corridor include: full-service restaurants, small self-service restaurants, massage establishments, video stores, establishments that provide live entertainment (other than adult entertainment), dance halls, billiard parlors, and tobacco paraphernalia establishments.
For now, the possible tenant has come up with a couple of options for Discolandia’s two signs (“Discolandia” on the storefront and “Records” above the roof). One is changing the sign that says “Records” to reflect the new business.
Another is changing the word “Disco” and keeping the “landia.”
“We like the way the exterior is, and we prefer not to do much to it,” he said. “But we obviously want to make the sign something about us instead of the business that used to be there.”
This second type of modification is legal, said Daniel Sider, assistant to the Planning Department’s zoning administrator, as long as the sign still fits within the area allowed per building for wall signage.
But the “Records” sign may have to come down altogether, said Ozzie Taeb with the city’s Planning Information Center. Signs that hang perpendicular to a building cannot be larger than 6 feet, 6 inches or hang above roof lines, according to current regulations. After eyeing the sign online, Taeb said it appears to violate the law. Unless it was properly permitted when it was first put up in the 1970s, it must go. This will come to light when new building permits are issued.
But even if, say, he wanted to keep the “Records” sign, the new tenant wouldn’t be able to, said Sider. Leaving it as is would be illegal under the planning codes.
“The sign about records directs attention to a store that sells records. Now that the store’s closed, it’s an abandoned sign that has to be removed.”
A similar and controversial case about an old Coca-Cola sign in Bernal Heights has gotten the attention of city officials. Partly in response to that case, Supervisor David Campos recently introduced a piece of legislation that would allow such signs, which would otherwise be classified as illegal, to remain.
The legislation must go through several stages before it’s enacted, however, and could take another five months, Sider said.
Perhaps by that time, the new tenant will be closer to moving in to the old Discolandia.
But the hopes of keeping the sign up in its entirety depend on someone making a case for historic preservation. For this to happen, a sign typically must be more than 50 years old, and the Discolandia sign is not — the business opened in 1972, making it 38 years old. And getting the sign designated as a landmark is a rigorous process, said Sider.
“I certainly understand it’s a part of the neighborhood,” said the possible tenant about the community’s fondness for the sign. “I hate it when I see murals covered by a new business.”
Another option for keeping the sign intact, according to Planning Department staff, is for the community to rally and ask the building’s owner to bring up the case. This makes sense since, according to Sider, the Campos legislation will most likely require the property owner to raise the issue of sign preservation.
But Nicholas Saucedo, the building owner’s agent, said that the contract with the tenant gives him the option of replacing the sign, indicating that the owner might not be as attached to the sign as some might hope.
Asked if the owner could still have some say over the sign’s preservation, Saucedo replied, “The contract’s been signed.”
“I don’t want to run into problems about the sign,” said the potential tenant. “It seems like we can change the lettering and still be respectful of the history. That’s my opinion, but I could be wrong.”