Old and New in The Mission


San Francisco’s first neighborhood still draws new arrivals


By Veronica Dolginko

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]an Francisco’s Mission District has become a highly coveted place for both residents and business owners. Walk Valencia or 24th streets and see that people pack every restaurant; every bar has crowds spilling in and out, and even movie theaters and video arcades are filled with constant activity.

San Francisco lost population in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The dot-com crash set the entire region on its heels a decade ago. But recent years have brought a steady influx of newcomers. In 2011, the latest year of records available, the city’s population grew by more than 7,500 people, not quite 1 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is expected to grow at the same rate in the year to come, according to research by PwC and the Urban Land Institute. San Francisco now ranks as the second-most densely populated U.S. city, the first being the 13-mile-long island of Manhattan, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With San Francisco’s burgeoning technology sector, rising jobs-production and confined geography, new and existing residents are again in search of affordable housing, and the Mission has become an attractive target. At an early February housing panel in the city sponsored by the ULI, three of the four developers said they preferred The Mission to Mission Bay and South of Market for new development today. San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood—pockets were settled by American Indians and the Spanish—and an area once known for warehouses and furniture stores is becoming prime real estate.

[quote]“When we first opened, there was a lot of the dot-com crowd. Recently we’ve seen such a wide group of people.” John Clark, co-owner, Foreign Cinema[/quote]

In October, The Chapel at 777 Valencia opened its doors with four nights of shows including Elvis Costello. The project has been under construction for more than a year. It promises a huge addition to the neighborhood as it is completed in phases until this summer. It has a live music room, an 85-seat or more neighborhood bar, a full-service restaurant with another 80 seats and a café with additional indoor and patio seating.

The newly revamped building went from life as a mortuary built in 1914, to offices for the New College of California, to eventually being left empty. The music venue is located inside the mortuary’s former chapel and has soaring ceilings and lots of woodwork; it holds a standing capacity of 420, according to the project manager. The new construction allows the music venue and bar to be joined as well, boosting seat capacity for some shows to more than 500. When all is done, the bar, restaurant and café are to be open seven days a week, with the music venue opening based on the show schedule.

The owner, Jack Knowles, is an Oakland-based real estate developer who specializes in renovating older buildings. He’s also a restaurateur who owns Oakland’s À Côté Restaurant at 5478 College Ave. and Rumbo Al Sur restaurant at 4293 Park Blvd.

Two apartment buildings sit next to The Chapel and a 17-unit condominium building is rising across the street, so opening a large business premised in good measure on live music involved a good deal of soundproofing and a tolerance for risk. But Knowles told the San Francisco Chronicle: “The Mission is where San Francisco is putting all its energy right now. That’s what attracted me to it.”

Other Mission establishments had set up even before the neighborhood became such a San Francisco pulse point. Foreign Cinema at 2354 Mission opened its doors in 1999, and in 2001 added the current co-owners and head chefs Gayle Pirie and John Clark. “At the beginning, it was very movie-centric,” Clark said. “We were definitely interested in making it more food-centric.”

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