Housing fight against SF’s Grubstake Diner pits activists against condo owners

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When owner Jimmy Consos proposed to demolish San Francisco’s Grubstake Diner, it would make sense for the plan to spark outrage among generations of drag queens and LGBT nightlife dwellers who had gathered for decades in the red fire truck near the intersection. from Pine and Polk streets.

After all, the Grubstake was a meeting place for Harvey Milk and was immortalized by Bambi Lake’s song “The Golden Age of Hustlers”. Until the 1990s, it was the de facto clubhouse for transgender street con artists and drag queens who performed at places like Kimo’s and Motherlode on Polk Street.

But on Monday, when leading LGBT activists like Donna Sachet, Juanita MORE! and Gary Virginia gathered in front of the Grubstake with megaphones, it wasn’t to rally against the eight story development proposed by Consos.

Rather, it was to support development, which opponents appealed to the supervisory board.

“I shouldn’t be here today, you shouldn’t be here,” Sachet said. “Do you know who should be here?” U-Hauls and moving trucks, transporting new people to new homes.

Support for the 21-unit project is motivated by the fact that Consos’ plan would include a replica of the Grubstake on the ground floor. Some of the restaurant’s current funky interior would be preserved in the new space – including globe lights, small metal windows with stained glass vents, and atmospheric murals. Other features – red vinyl cabins, black and white checkered floors – would be replicated.

But as LGBT activists support the development, it faces strong opposition from the owners of the 12-story Austin condo tower to the west. Residents say the skimpy eight-story structure – the land is 25 feet wide and 120 feet deep – would wipe out light and air for residents on lower floors. Austin owners have appealed the project, which the Planning Commission voted 4-2 to approve in July. The supervisory board will hear the appeal on October 5.

Attorney David Cincotta, who represents condo owners in Austin, said the fight had nothing to do with the Grubstake.

“No one on our side has ever said anything about not preserving the Grubstake,” he said. “Our only problem is with the building above the Grubstake. “

Theresa Calderon, a software engineer who lives in a 630-square-foot studio on the Austin’s fourth floor, said she had done her own analysis of the development’s impact on light. Currently, his unit has a single east-facing window in the skylight that overlooks the Grubstake rooftop and beyond to Polk Gulch and Lower Nob Hill. If the replacement Grubstake is allowed, it would lose 70% of its light and look at a white wall. Residents facing the skylight on the second floor will lose 99% of their light, she said.

A first-time owner who bought her home for $ 700,000, Calderon said she knew Consos had applied to erect a new building on the Grubstake site – like other buyers, she signed a form indicating that she was aware of the development. But at the time, the project was for six floors, not eight, and she said the sales rep she had been dealing with told her it would be five floors. The developers were able to increase the height by two floors due to the state’s density bonus laws that were not yet in place when Austin opened in 2017.

“I thought at five floors that the amount of light I would lose wouldn’t be too big of a deal – as a first-time home buyer, I didn’t know plans could change,” she said. “When I found out how big it would be, it really scared me. I don’t think the planners really thought about the effects of this on our units.

She said she would support a four-story building.

Meanwhile, Consos has stated that the only way the Grubstake can survive is in a new building. While the current restaurant is well-loved and has been celebrated on “Check it out, please!” Bay Area ”and Guy Fieri’s“ Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives ”, it is in serious disrepair, with plumbing and electrical systems in need of replacement. It is also in violation of accessibility laws for people with disabilities.

Consos said it has struggled to keep the building afloat during COVID as Polk Street nightlife – which drives business – has yet to rebound.

And while Austin residents see the Grubstake question as a side spectacle that developers are using to distract from the environmental impact of the proposed building, LGBT activists say they support both the reincarnated restaurant and the 21 apartments.

Virginia said the Grubstake is one of the few late-night eateries after Sparky’s Diner on Church Street in the Castro, and It’s Tops at Market and Octavia disappeared.

“I have always felt welcomed and accepted at Grubstake as an openly gay man, as a longtime AIDS survivor, and whatever I wore – or didn’t wear,” Virginia said. “It has been a refuge for minorities and alternative communities since its opening.”

Sashay said the Grubstake is where the drag queens “rate each other” against “mounds of fries” after playing Kimo’s.

“We’ve always been a rowdy bunch, but they’ve always been nice to us here,” Sashay said. “Eating late at night has never been easy to find.

JK Dineen is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @sfjkdineen



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