The Elbo Room, a well-known bar on Valencia Street whose fate has been up in the air for years, will have to move or close down after 2018, when new housing will rise above the current building, according to property owners.
The existing structure will be incorporated into the new development that has been in planning since 2014.
The current owners of the Elbo Room, Matt Shapiro and Erik Cantu, were present at a public meeting on Wednesday night and expressed their support for the new housing coming to the corner of Valencia and Sycamore streets, saying the bar’s lease expires on January 1, 2018, and that it was premature to speak about the death of their business.
“We have the liquor license and the business, and we’re excited to continue on with the Elbo Room,” said Cantu. “We’re not seeing it as the end.”
Shapiro and Cantu said they would look to stay in the Mission District, but had not gotten around to thinking about their next move, as it was at least 16 months away. Dennis Ring, the property owner who with his wife sold the bar to Shapiro and Cantu in 2010, said that he would support the pair in their relocation.
When patrons of the bar at 645 Valencia St. were first briefed on plans to raze the bar and replace it with nine units of condo housing two years ago, attendees of the meeting reacted angrily.
“You’re evil,” said one neighbor to Susan Rokisky-Ring, who owns the property along with her husband and previously owned the Elbo Room before selling it to its current owners. When the Rings said they were building the project so they could move in after retiring, attendees were unforgiving.
“Move to Sacramento!” another neighbor said.
But on Thursday, a smaller, more temperate crowd came to a meeting at the Mission District police station across the street from the Elbo Room to see new designs for the proposed housing. The new design would maintain the bar’s building but displace the Elbo Room itself.
Toby Morris of Kerman Morris Architects presented plans to preserve the existing two-story structure and build three stories of housing above it. The new project is just seven units instead of nine, a result of significant setbacks to preserve the existing facade.
“The addition is very different,” Morris said, pointing to three stories of white plaster, metal, and glass above the existing black brick-and-stucco building. “It’s clean and contemporary and blocky.”
Morris said the Planning Department had advised him that the bar might qualify for historic preservation, given its previous incarnation as Amelia’s, a lesbian bar in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. It’s previous owner sold Amelia’s to the Rings in 1991.
“The Planning Department said, ‘Gee, this is one of those buildings that might be significant for the LGBT historic corridor,’” Morris said.
Though the department has not yet ruled on the building’s historic nature, Morris drafted a new plan placing the added stories away from the property line. That move, Morris said, would be required by the city if the building was designated historical because it ensures a marked difference between the new construction and the existing building.
A historical designation, if it occurs, would be for the building itself and not the bar. As such, the Planning Department told Morris that he would be able to proceed with his current design even if the building were designated for preservation by the city.
In the last two years, community opposition to the project seems to have waned. At Thursday’s meeting, just one person — of two neighbors to attend — raised objections.
“My main concern with the project is losing a historic neighborhood venue and getting yet another condo project that I imagine is very high-end,” said the neighbor, whose first name was Daisy.
She wondered whether the architect could preserve the bar by expanding the ground-floor retail space, something architects said would be difficult because they would have to dig underground to put in the parking that’s currently planned for the first floor.
Morris said the retail space on the first floor would be small, some 600 square feet, and fit for a cafe or other eatery. Another bar, he said, was likely out of the question.
“There’s no plan for it to continue to be an entertainment venue,” he said.
The new design calls for four parking spaces on the ground floor alongside the retail space. The second floor would have three one-bedrooms and the third floor would have a two-bedroom and a studio. The fourth floor would be a single two-bedroom, while the fifth floor would be occupied by part of the three-bedroom (one of the bedrooms in the top floor unit is on the fourth floor).
Morris said construction itself could last 12–16 months, but that he did not know when the Planning Department would approve their permits and allow them to break ground. It will be at least after the beginning of 2018, when the Elbo Room’s lease expires.