The Elbo Room

As we first reported last week, the owners of the Valencia Street building which is currently leased to the Elbo Room have filed their preliminary plans to raze the Mission district building and construct a five-story condo building in its place.

While some felt our report overstated the intent and seriousness of the plans, including Matt Shapiro, the operator of the Elbo Room, who dismissively posted that the Elbo Room wasn’t closing “any time soon” and that the owners of the building weren’t serious about acting on the plans, our report was actually understated.

A detailed set of architectural plans has been drafted for the project and the building’s owners have authorized the architects to act as their agents in submitting applications for environmental reviews, a historic resource evaluation, variances and Conditional Use. That’s every step required to get the project formally approved.

In fact, a month after the Planning Department provided their feedback on the preliminary plans, the application fee for which was nearly $5,000 alone, a follow-up meeting was scheduled between the Planning Department and architects to discuss next steps and plans for submitting the Environmental Evaluation and Historic Resource report for the project to move forward.

Our report isn’t based on hearsay, a carefully worded statement or conjecture, but rather actual documents of which we have copies in hand. And yes, we have the preliminary designs for the proposed five-story building to replace the Elbo Room as well:


We don’t know if Mr. Shapiro is simply out of the loop or trying to cover up the extent of planning for the project that has been happening behind the scenes. And while it is, of course, entirely possible that the building’s owners abandon their plans at any stage, the extent of work, forward progress and expense to date would suggest that this is more than simply an exploratory exercise.

53 thoughts on “Plans To Raze The Elbo Room Are More Than Preliminary”
  1. Oh, such a lovely cookie-cutter shoebox. Hope all those people who downplayed the loss of the Elbo Room (and its building) are happy with this proposed replacement. The inevitable Starbucks on the corner should be really fun.

  2. A Starbucks? No way. If you want to blame the owners for attempting to maximize/cash out when numerous Valencia neighbors have done similar, then fine. But snark better. Personally I like the Chapel a lot more than the Elbo Room these days anyway.

    1. The Chapel serves a VERY different purpose as far as live music in this (dying) city. Elbo Room will be very sorely missed by lovers of local music. I’ve been to Chapel exactly twice, for free Converse-sponsored shows, where — over the years — I have seen probably HUNDREDS of bands play at Elbo Room.

      Also, I find the digs directed at Matt in this article completely unnecessary. Reporting isn’t supposed to be dicky.

      1. the Chapel gets cutting edge touring bands, rock ‘n roll, psych, indie pop, indie rock. the Elbo Room used to book great California funk/soul outfits, the occasional underground hiphop group, and the occasional international dj such as Twilight Circus Dub System, who I saw there. Nowadays, not so much. But it continues to have a really good dub reggae night. Someone will pick up that slack though.

  3. The longstanding Hispanic mission residents (who everyone claims to be so concerned about) will be crushed that their favorite hangout spot will be gone.

  4. After my initial extreme annoyance at the thought of this bar leaving, it makes sense. It’s an anachronism in this location as it is. I remember going to this bar in the early 2000’s before I was even 21, but its 2014 now, Valencia is rarely ever worth stepping foot on (eh I do kind of like tacolicious, so sue me).
    Elbo Room will be fine being located near Knockout, and El Rio, or wherever they decide to move. I feel like at this point the logical step is to move to Oakland, but we shall see.

  5. As pro-development as I am, I do like these well-maintained period buildings, but of course support this dev. There’s so much flim-flam, plywood crap construction all over the city that I wish those would be sites for redev rather than something which has quiet resonance and charm — even if not historic.

  6. I’ve never been a NIMBY before but this project is making me one. Not because of Elbo Room, but because this thing is so fugly and cookiecutter. A child with sketchup made this project. Can we PLEASE preserve the building underneath and add on top? Make an interesting building?

  7. @seriously: You absolutely have every right to attempt to acquire the property and apply to build anything you desire that either fits the zoning or can make it through the approvals process. Money talks, make it happen big guy!!
    Oh right… you’re broke and just spouting off on the internet.

  8. Elbo Room really has outlived itself. I’ve had many a good time there too but in recent years when I’ve been – and that’s only once or twice since I am also growing up – it has been pretty empty. Certainly not the hotspot it used to be.
    That said, I understand the nostalgia. What I don’t understand is why people think the building is worthy of special protection. Really? An excrement-colored box with blacked-out windows is now something we should preserve at the expense of badly-needed housing? Somebody has been smoking too much of that which you always smell at the Elbo Room. Or maybe they’ve been gnawing too much lead paint off the banister. Either way, get real.

  9. When is Chernin’s ever going to go away? That’s the thing that really stands out as a development opportunity on Valencia.

  10. I agree. Anyone have any intel on Chernin’s?
    I live on that block and it really needs to go.
    I will miss the Elbo Room.

  11. My first impression is that it’s a horrible building (and I like a lot of the Mission Bay architecture!) But in 50 or 100 years, blocky with modern bay windows will be quaint and NIMBYs in the city will be bellyaching over the loss of another turn of the millennium building. And like most edwardians and victorians today, most of the turn of the millennium buildings won’t be worth preserving.
    As for the Elbo Room, I had a great time getting to level 17 in Ms. Pacman there once as my friends drunkenly cheered me on. But I haven’t been there in half a decade. Time to create some new memories somewhere else.

  12. Good reporting!
    Did you try to get a comment from the building owners?
    Perhaps they are trying to get approved plans to up the selling price of the building?
    [Editor’s Note: We didn’t try to get a comment. That would be our guess as well.]

  13. Chernins sucks, with terible service but actualy has a niche for those (like me..) who live in a smallish apartment.
    Think we’ve bought both a washing machine and fridge from there in past year or two.
    Thats about $1,500 more than I ever spent at Elbo Room but still said to see it go as live music is part of SFs heritage.
    Have been to Chapel and found it Ok, but, somewhat ironically given the name, found it a little soulless and the acoustics not great!!! Unconvincd by the layout also.

  14. The longstanding Hispanic mission residents (who everyone claims to be so concerned about) will be crushed that their favorite hangout spot will be gone.Huh

  15. Take one of the city’s primary nightlife entertainment districts and start tearing down the entertainment venues. Great plan. The Mission is a victim of its own success.

  16. As a 20-somethin year old in my office said, Valencia Street? Who goes to Valencia Street? Everybody goes to Divisadero. Yup, time for the Elbo Room to move on.

  17. How arrogant and self-centered. Because you’ve “outgrown” it and no longer go there, it should be torn down. Hell, I no longer go to high school, so let’s tear’em all down!
    The Chapel isn’t a substitute, it’s a completely different scene.

  18. I would love to hear from any developers/builders on this site whether the ugly sameness of buildings such as these is due primarily to (1) city planning demands for “aesthetic compatibility” with existing buildings, (2) neighbor/NIMBY pressure (“boring” buildings less likely to trigger DR demands and ongoing litigation), or (3) normal economics (buyers like the units in these buildings and they’re cheap to build).
    I am pro-development but I dread the thought of Valencia and Mission streets turning into half- or quarter-height versions of Mission Bay. (The new building going up next to the New Mission Theater offers perhaps some cause for hope. As does 8 Octavia. But these seem to be exceptions to the rule of Boring Sameness.)

  19. Interesting comments about Chernin’s. I bet an older owner who is not selling and kids who will the minute he passes.
    I like the way Valencia St is now. I take my daughter down there on her tricycle sometimes for a walk. If I can get away I watch a Giants game at the Phoenix. I am close to middle aged. When we move to the suburbs I am sure we will come back and walk around Valencia St. and go to the Mission Playground from time to time. My 70 year old parents dine on Valencia Street now. Young people process all of what I just said as you like.

  20. glad this is happening, but
    the building could be at least 2 floors higher.
    they could put a little more into the design. it is very basic.
    It seems like they could get more than 9 units in this prime location for housing.
    Would be nice to have more retail space.
    Need a bit more underground parking to support residents and retail. will ease congestion due to street parking circling

  21. Divisadero? I only ever see 30-40 year olds at Madrone, Mojo is pretty cool though.
    Mojo has great coffee, and don’t miss the pop-up Vietnamese on Thurs nights at Mojo — always satisfying, boisterous — all while you bring in your bike for fine tuning.
    Have I gone off topic?
    Speaking of Divis — proposed condos on Grove and Divis part of the Alioto building.

  22. @mayhem: Yeah, seven, eight, nine stories of hideous, cheap-o, cookie-cutter box, sounds great. Why not just be honest and say that you want to turn Valencia into a sh*tfest?

  23. you might have notices that i also mentioned the design was too bland.
    we have a housing shortage.
    i think tearing elbo room down to build only 9 units in an ugly box with limited retail that might just add to off-street congestion might not be worth it.
    on the other hand, building an 18 unit building with a nice design with more retail and more offstreet parking to ease congestion is definitley worth it.

  24. To everyone saying that Elbo Room isn’t as fun as it used to be…I think you’re just not as fun as you used to be. That bar is great and still very busy on the weekends.
    That being said, I’m in favor of this development. Elbo Room can move further South/East, where rents are cheaper, or to Oakland.

  25. Sad, but this is why The Chapel will live on where Elbo Room did not: management owns the property, instead of merely renting it.

  26. All the hand wringing and crying and whining about the Elbo Room itself, is irrelevant.
    The bar, its’ following, the character, the style, the vibe, the music, the drunks can ALL relocate nearby, farther away or even in the ground floor corner of the new proposed building.
    Putting aside the proposed design: relax people, it’s merely a quick digital concept, it’s hardly final and subject to MUCH discussion and revisions. It’s called a place-holder, so relax all you armchair critics.
    That said, I hope it goes ahead, below grade parking included, and space for retail or a BAR on the ground floor.

  27. You moving to the suburbs Zig? Why???
    I liked the Elbo Room and will be sad to see it go, but we need housing. There is probably not 16 units here because of people like Campos, who has tried to block any development along here. Look what has happened to 1050 Valencia.

  28. Jim
    Yes I think we are moving to the suburbs. Why not? The areas we can afford in SF are like the suburbs except dreary, foggy, windy with a more complicated school system to navigate.
    I’d prefer a small house/yard that is walkable to shops a park and near mass transit in the suburbs but sadly these areas are very scarce because our city planning has been terrible since 1940

  29. I fail to see the architectural value of the current building – neither that of the new one, actually. However, it adds much needed housing. The owner of Elbo room and his wife are reasonably affluent and certainly are not pushed to the economic margins by this. If it is viable and works with the code build it. (Maybe get some more interesting architecture.) I am not concerned Valencia is running out of watering holes any time soon.

  30. Cherin’s won’t go away because they supply appliances to buildings like this. Although years ago there was an appliance store on 24th Street where Savor is now….so who knows?
    The proposed building is generic and uninspired, but what else can we expect?

  31. I hear this argument all the time: “It doesn’t look good, but we need the housing! Who cares if it looks ugly; we need more units on the market now!”
    There is something that everyone fails to take into consideration. These new ugly buildings are not temporary housing projects, they are intended to be there for generations (as long as a century, most likely). But their “architecture merit” and “design qualities” will expire within the next 10 years and become another bland and boring monolithic slab. Sure, you can renovate the exterior, but a box is a box.
    Imagine, a beautiful warehouse (yes, a warehouse) that looked similar to Ghirardelli Square was torn down to build the Fontana Towers. That warehouse had more architecture significance in a single brick than all of Fontana.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-development. But why not leave at least the facade of the old building and make the new one blend in instead of trying to forcefully stand out?

  32. @Serge: make the new one blend in
    This sentiment is exactly what leads to the bland, derivative same-ness of all construction in San Francisco, new and old. You are the problem but you cannot even conceptualize this fact.
    We can be thankful that the designers of the Trans-America building, at least, did not succumb to the need to “fit in.”
    Are there any other comparably iconic pieces of architecture in this city? Nothing springs to mind…

  33. @mayhem:
    Ah, I see your logic: 9 units would be too congested, but 18 units as many would mean less congestion. BY your logic, hell, why not build a hundred units– that would really ease congestion!

  34. @serge:
    The build-it-now gang isn’t preoccupied with the future. There’s money to be made now. This bubble won’t last forever, so it makes sense for the banker/developer/realtor sector to try to maximize profits now.
    Eve though it makes sense from a business pov, that doesn’t offset the socially-destructive long-term consequences of boom-town politics.

  35. I don’t support tearing down the Elbo Room, but I do support building housing during bubbles, when there is ready financing. Then, during the busts, overbuilt market rate housing becomes more affordable.

  36. I’m talking about car congestion as related to off street parking and garages. If all units had a garage space, there would be little congestion impact. With only a few garage spaces street parking circling and car congestion worsens. Not worried about people congestion. 18 vs 9 is to build for housing shortage and long term growth. A 9 unit building is not enough unless all are 3bdr

  37. @Jimmy:
    What’s wrong with following design patterns that have existing architectural value? You’re essentially saying that change for the sake of change is good, even if it’s not for the better. The Transamerica Pyramid per your example is an extremely rare instance where contemporary design (that was initially not well received) ending up being iconic. You would have also included the Golden Gate Bridge which was met with an equal, if not greater, amount of opposition.
    Conversely, what is happening today is nothing more than copy-paste architecture. I imagine all these “architecture” firms have a script they wrote for AutoCAD that designs these tacky boxes. At least Saitowitz has some unique and creative designs that may stand the test of time. Even Forum Design is doing fantastic work (albeit lots of their recent work falls into the “Mission Bay Architecture” category). Just look at 77 South Van Ness or the Greenwich.
    According to your argument, every bit of construction needs to be new. What exactly is wrong with existing architecture? Surely you can’t say that Beaux Arts, Art Deco, Chicago School, Neo Gothic, and the like are not worthy of our modern times?

  38. @ Serge:
    1. leaving the “façade” of the old building adds enormous costs involving shoring and increased structural integrity to the new building, AND increasing the cost even more of new construction. It’s also called “facadism” and it’s fake. The existing building has zero redeeming architectural details and style.
    2. “Ugly” is highly subjective and generally a word that the average public Joe uses to describe a building they simply don’t like.
    3. There are those who love and adore a Saitowitz building. I am not one of his fans. His buildings are more expensive to build, especially on the exteriors. His interiors are generally inhumane, sterile and bland. Some will like. Some will not.
    4. When the public wants a building to “blend in”, they typically are saying they don’t like change, visually or otherwise. You’re just pretending the new building was there all along, and that you got USED to it. Time changes all.
    5. The architectural styles you mentioned are all worthy and important styles, to the period they were built in and thus reflected that period in the arts, or a particular location. You may pine for the Beaux Arts period, but it’s not relevant to the 21st century. Designs built today that may reflect those styles is merely stage set and false. RE: The rejected Lucas Art Museum at the Presidio.
    6. Design style of new work being built today in SF is heavily driven by budget. And yes, to a certain extent by the talent, intelligence and goals of the architect/developer/client. Yes, there are hits and misses, but not all new buildings in SF are bland and boring.

  39. @Serge: all those styles had their time and place in the world. In the past. They’re gone now and the world moves on. If the city truly embraced cutting-edge architecture, then every building would, or could, be a novel and engaging design. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, an EXPEDITED approvals process for “significantly different” buildings and designs. But it is the opposite. Challenging designs have to be rammed through endless DRs and litigation by small-minded people who demand nothing but aesthetic conformity du jour.
    That’s why, in their day, every new building was “Victorian” or “Art Deco” or whatever. IT was fashionable, and profitable, to fit in. End of story.
    Take any building, iconic or not. Let’s say MIT’s campus — Eero Saarinen (Kresge), Simmons Hall, Frank Gehry (Stata Center). Could any one of those buildings EVER be built in San Francisco?
    The city is far too parochial, insular, backward-looking now. Forget it. You want buildings that “fit in,” you’ll get “Mission Bay Modern” and like it. You people made your bed, now lie in it for the next hundred years.

  40. I’m not cynical like Jimmy…at all.
    “Mission Bay Modern” is not a failure. But to the armchair critics and those not well informed about design, those buildings are a “failure”. It’s too easy to just criticize for the say of wanting to appear that YOU know what is really good design, maybe even “iconic”.
    There are a lot of well designed buildings being constructed now, some are more “background”, some will be admired. Some will be hated.
    The City keeps changing, and learning. It’s not all downhill as Jimmy seems to imply.

  41. Post earthquake reconstruction saw a lot of utilitarian Edwardians going up. Many of them are not particularly unique nor do they really stand out from each other. These sort of buildings feel like that to me. Not every building needs to be iconic. It’s a generic building though just as generic as the one it’s replacing. The Elbo Room made the current building into something valuable, not the other way around.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *