Two years ago today, Lucca Ravioli said arrivederci to San Francisco — a sad and somewhat holy day that drew celebrities and neighborhood folk alike to the store, to say goodbye, thank you, and to remember the good times.
After the Feno family sold the building and the surrounding property in early 2019 for $7 million, the storefront on the southwestern corner of 22nd and Valencia streets sat dark and dusty. Michael Feno, Lucca’s fourth-generation owner, retreated to a hobby farm in Sebastopol. And for the regular passerby, the natural question became: What could possibly be next?
Sure enough, in early 2020, there were signs of life. Plywood signs with hearts encasing “94110,” “SFFD,” and “CA” were placed in the windows.
Peering in, there was a desk made from a slab of wood set over two sawhorses. As the pandemic drew on, a collection of curios began to accumulate: ‘70s and ‘80s-era record albums, stacks of books, D.C. comic book posters featuring Batman and the Joker, Warriors jerseys, and even a pink lego the size of a footrest.
But the biggest enigma was a bald, 50-ish looking man who sat at the raised desk in the center of it all — working on a laptop, usually with large headphones around his neck. At the height of the pandemic, he was often accompanied by a bottle of brown alcohol and gibraltar glass.
His name is Rory Lydon, and he lives several blocks away from the Lucca building. According to his Linkedin profile, he’s had a long career as a computer engineer, having worked for various large tech companies — Apple, Google, and Adobe, to name a few. He does not own the building, but rather rents from Ted Plant who, with partners, bought the building for $1.7 million in April, 2019.
As time has gone on, this reporter, like many who regularly walk the Valencia Street corridor, has wondered just exactly what Lydon is doing. The storefront, after all, is one that many regard as sacred ground. As one longtime resident put it: “People want to know.” And by all appearances, Lydon hasn’t done much more than transform the space into a man cave filled with random bric-a-brac, and one we’re forced to look at but make no sense of.
He’s repeatedly declined to speak about his plans with Mission Local.
“I can’t figure out what that place is,” said Marilyn Brown, a woman walking her dog past the store on Monday morning, echoing a common sentiment. “It’s far from Lucca’s — I’ll tell you that.”
Owners of surrounding businesses, residents, and even the landlord, Plant, said Lydon plans to open up something artistic. “Artist space” and “studio art gallery” were the most common answers. One person recalls Lydon saying he wanted to install a basketball hoop inside.
“He’s got a lot of interesting retail ideas with an artistic” bent, Plant said. But he declined to go further, explaining, “I think he (Lydon) wants to describe the business in his own way.”
But now, more than a year after he moved in, Lydon remains resistant to explaining his vision to Mission Local and curious passersby. In July, he told Mission Local via email that we were “pushin’ a big button” by asking him questions.
“One of the major reasons I retired from the damn Valley many years ago was to avoid anyone else’s arbitrary deadlines ever crampin’ my creativity again,” he wrote. “I’m frankly not sure I understand the urgency.”
He also implied that we should be grateful for his presence there. “What seems unappreciated or forgotten in this question – apart from a wee pandemic and minor social unrest – is that everyone woulda normally have been starin’ at the dread brown paper or sheets of shite ply since FEB 14TH,” he wrote, presumably referring to his move-in date.
This reporter approached Lydon on Monday and was similarly rebuffed. Lydon said only that we’d know something in the “fall,” before walking away and turning up his music — the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” — and resuming work on the floors, which appear completely torn up.
The Planning Department in March slapped Lydon and the building owners with a “Notice of Enforcement,” saying that Lydon had improperly converted the space from a retail sales establishment to a place for “arts activities” without authorization. But a Planning Department spokesperson said the issues are being resolved.
Despite how press-shy Lydon may be, surrounding businesses generally described the computer engineer/creative type as a nice and generous person. “He’s a really great guy,” said Leila Mansur, the owner of the Radio Habana Social Club across the street. “He’s been at it all year.”
She said she was happy that the space is becoming an artist studio, as opposed to something like an upscale chocolate factory. “It could have been so wrong, but it wasn’t,” she said.
Oliva Ongpin, the owner of Luna Rienne Gallery at 22nd and Valencia streets, a small art gallery that sits only yards away from Lydon’s forthcoming business, said she’s received numerous calls about what Lydon is up to. Other than an art space, she has no clue: “I am kind of also generally curious.”
“I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt,” she added. “It’s better than it being boarded up.”
Plant believed Lydon is a good steward of the space formerly occupied by Lucca, explaining that he has worked hard to keep the painted “Lucca” sign on the building’s northern exterior wall free of graffiti.
“I don’t know if the next person would be quite as attentive,” he said.
So, stay tuned. Hopefully, soon, Lydon will be ready to reveal his grand plan.