Historic proportions - Page 2

Green City: A battle over the former longshoremen's hall has sparked a move to rethink waterfront planning
A Bancroft Library archival
photo of the labor hall entrance

"You can look at pictures of dead people laying there on the sidewalk with that building in the background, and look at it today, and godammit, it's pretty much the same building," Peskin says.

The Board of Supervisors in mid-March approved an appeal of the project and instructed city planners to prepare an environmental impact report. Ralph Schoenman, a preservation advocate who says he met with board members about the project, told us that "members of the board were plainly shocked by finding out that the historic report was so flawed and untrue."

That feeling may have lingered for some at the April 21 bard meeting when Supervisors voted 7-4 to reject Mayor Gavin Newsom's nomination of Ruth Todd, a Page & Turnbull principal, to the city's Historic Preservation Commission.


Though the project has been stalled, the issues it stirred are gaining momentum. The picture of what this stretch of the Embarcadero could look like is shaping up to be quite different from developers' gauzy artistic renderings. Sue Hestor, a land-use lawyer, is a driving force behind a community-led meeting scheduled for June 24 at the headquarters of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 34 (the successor to ILA) to initiate a new approach to development along the western edge of the Embarcadero.

"Threatened demolition of the 1934 Waterfront Strike headquarters at 113 Steuart has pulled us together," Hestor wrote in a widely disseminated e-mail. "The community will proactively start defining changes we want. No more waiting for a developer proposal, then meekly responding. The community gets to define how the city should look ... along the northeast waterfront. When you start at the Embarcadero it is possible to weave in so many areas, so many neighborhoods, so much of our political and immigrant and labor history."

ILWU members are joining with preservationists in the effort to preserve 113 Steuart. "We are at a historic moment when working people are under unprecedented attack," a team of six Local 34 leaders wrote in a recent statement opposing the demolition. "That living history is a prologue to our struggles of the future."

Not all labor unions agree. At a picket staged by San Francisco's Building and Construction Trades Council outside a Democratic Party luncheon April 21, protesters carried a few flew signs reading "How can we feed our kids with history?" The signs referenced the city's Historic Preservation Commission, but the same question might be asked of 110 The Embarcadero, which was favored by building-trade workers.

Neighborhood groups are also worried because the construction of the two proposed 84-foot condominium towers at 8 Washington could cause the adjacent Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club to lose half its facility. "Six hundred to 700 kids come every summer to learn to swim and to play tennis," Club director Lee Radner says. "To us, it's just a matter of the developer not considering the moral issues of the neighborhood club that has given so much to the community." Friends of Golden Gateway (FOGG), which formed to preserve the club in the face of development, has hired Hestor as its attorney.

Because the development would be partially built on a surface parking lot controlled by the Port Commission, a parcel held to be in the public trust under state law, developers proposed a land-swap to get around provisions prohibiting residential uses in those parcels. Renee Dunn, a spokesperson for the Port Commission, noted that the Port's annual revenues total $65 million, while the amount that would be needed for repairs and maintenance of its century-old infrastructure is almost $2 billion.