Barbary Coast Consulting, the San Francisco communications firm led by Alex Clemens, has purchased a building at 34-38 Mason Street for use as its headquarters and a ground floor beer hall. The first block of Mason was long the heart of the historic Uptown Tenderloin district, and the planned beer hall is a fitting reminder of the many cafes, saloons and restaurants that once filled lower Mason Street's retail spaces. 34 Mason was long the home of Polo’s, an Italian restaurant that opened in 1952 and shared the area nearby Original Joe’s (which opened in 1937 and is now in North Beach). Barbary Coast’s investment in the neighborhood sends a powerful message of confidence in the Tenderloin’s future. The move also symbolically repeats what occurred in 1913 after the “Barbary Coast” on Pacific Street was closed down: the Uptown Tenderloin became the leading home for Barbary Coast-type activities in the city.
It says a lot when Barbary Coast Consulting, which could have bought an office building in many neighborhoods, chose to relocate in the Tenderloin. And not on Geary or O’ Farrell but on the first block of Mason, around the corner from the troubled first block
of lower Turk Street.
When savvy folks like Clemens, Jaime Rossi and Alexis Smith see a positive future for the Tenderloin, others take notice.
Clemens and Alexis Smith got to know the area when they worked on behalf of Urban Realty, the original developers of City Place, the transformative shopping center where Mason meets Market. It has now owned by Cypress Equities, and since been renamed Market Street Place
. This project is going forward, but the future of the other site formerly owned by Urban Realty on the north side of Market and south side of the first block of Turk remains cloudy; the Texas-based Lone Star hedge fund is putting it up for auction in January.
Historic Mason Street
From 1907 (when 34-38 Mason was built) to 1917, the first block of Mason Street was one of the most happening places in the United States. It actually came closer to Paris than almost any other block in the country, embodying San Francisco’s goal of becoming the “Paris of America.”
The great locales in those days included The Black Cat (not related to the famous gay spot with same name on Montgomery Street) and the Breakers Café. Mason Street was not a “seedy” area like the Barbary Coast, but rather a place for fine dining, dancing, and other activities that attracted a broad spectrum of visitors ranging from the city’s elite to working-class residents living in nearby SRO’s.
Mason Street’s proximity to Market Street retail stores and theaters made it the go-to place for eating and drinking. It’s fantastic that Barbary Coast will revive this history by opening a beer hall in the building’s ground floor.
The first block of Mason already has the jazz-oriented 50 Mason Social Club, and Farmer Brown’s at the corner of Mason and Turk. The new beer establishment fits perfectly
Positive Turns for Lower Turk
Barbary Coast’s move to lower Mason comes on the heels of the imminent reoccupation of the 25 Taylor Street office building left vacant for two decades. A doggie day care facility will soon open on the 100 block of Turk, and the long awaited conversion of the former Original Joe’s on Taylor Street into a theater, bar and restaurant will soon be underway.
The Tenderloin Police Station is doing an outstanding job at reducing crime on lower Turk, but that having the entire south side of the block vacant is a problem. Urban Realty had planned to combine housing with arts spaces, and a coalition of arts groups is still trying to acquire the site. But with the auction not until January, the south side of the first block of Turk will remain unchanged for at least the next few years.
The right buyer would allow pop-ups in that space pending their construction on the site. And if the Texas hedge fund that controls the property further delays its disposition, it may take intervention by the City Attorney’s office to ensure that Lone Star stops illegal activities in front of its property.
If there’s one thing we all know about Barbary Coast Consulting, it’s that when they open their space and the beer hall they will throw a great party. And this opening will be something that all who care about the Tenderloin’s future will celebrate.