New Tenderloin Theater Complex Moves Forward

by Randy Shaw, 2012-11-20

PianoFight is breaking ground on its long planned theater complex/restaurant/bar project at the former home of Original Joe’s on Taylor Street in the Tenderloin. The 5,000 square complex will include rehearsal and office spaces, 54-seat and 96-seat theaters, and a 60-seat restaurant and bar with a full liquor license and a cabaret stage. The complex will resume the site’s 70 year history of drawing people into the Tenderloin, and is a fitting replacement for the still beloved Original Joe’s, which is flourishing in North Beach. The groundbreaking is the latest good news to come to the Tenderloin, as the Hibernia Bank moves toward re-opening, new housing at the former KGO building is nearing completion and the historic Central YMCA opens its doors to residents next month.

When the Duggan family made the difficult but correct decision to relocate Original Joe’s to a restaurant site in North Beach that did not require rebuilding after fire damage, they wanted to make sure that their historic Taylor Street location continued to serve the Tenderloin. And now their vision will be realized, as PianoFight plans the type of unique destination that is often necessary to attract people to spend evenings in the Tenderloin.

Formed by Rob Ready, Dan Williams and Kevin Fink in 2007, PianoFight has managed the Off-Market Theater Complex, created the largest audience-judged playwriting competition in the country (ShortLived), formed two critically acclaimed sketch comedy groups (Mission CTRL and ForePlays), and engaged in other activities providing opportunities for new artists.

Its new Taylor Street home will be designed and built by Said-Jonathan Eghbal and Paul Chenevert, Chenevert was involved in the construction of such local popular spots as Hog Island Oyster Company, Bar Tartine and Tipsy Pig, while Eghbal designed Rich Table, the recently opened and very popular Hayes Valley restaurant.

PianoFight’s investment in quality architecture and design follows the model of Doug Dalton and Brian Sheehy, the proprietors of the very successful Tenderloin bars Bourbon & Branch and Tradition. Both bars often a very special environment, which PianoFight also must do to get those accustomed to going to the Mission or the Marina districts to come to Taylor Street as well.

PianoFight hopes to complete its renovations by mid-2013.

Hibernia Moving Forward

The historic Hibernia Bank at 1 Jones Street passed another hurdle on November 7 in its lengthy march toward obtaining the required Certificate of Appropriateness so that its renovation can proceed to completion. On December 5, what its backers hope will be the final hearing before the Historic Preservation Commission on the issue will be held and if all goes well renovations will commence soon thereafter (and those eager to see the Hibernia revitalized and reoccupied should urge the Commission to support the owners efforts).

The Hibernia’s revival has become critically important to both the Tenderloin and Mid-Market’s future for two reasons. First, it is symbolically associated with both neighborhoods decline so that its revival would send a powerful positive statement. Second, having an active use in the Hibernia would dramatically improve the first block of Jones as well as deter some of the illegal activities ongoing at Jones and Market.

There is also ongoing discussion of ways to improve the area adjacent to the Hibernia toward Market Street and up Jones toward Golden Gate Ave. But all this awaits the owners’ securing the Certificate of Appropriateness on December 5.

YMCA Completed

The $125 million restoration of the historic Central YMCA at Golden Gate and Leavenworth is done and residents will move in to the building in December. I had a chance to see the building last week and it is spectacular.

The YMCA’s re-opening will not be fully complete until next March, when the health clinic opens and the commercial space likely rented. To my knowledge, no process is yet in place for theater and performance groups to use the restored theater space, which is among the many non-housing assets included in the building.

The new 90-unit apartment building on the former KGO site down the block from the YMCA on Golden Gate is on track for occupancy in May. Owner Seamus Naughton has crews working feverishly to get it done, and if this project is any indication of how Naughton will approach his Hibernia Bank building once he gets all the building approvals, that landmark could be restored quicker than anyone thinks.