The tenants of the Gold Dust Lounge, a tourist bar since 1966, are seeking historic landmark status, but the owners of the property call the effort a mockery of historic preservation.
The Handlery family, which owns the Elkan Gunst Building at 301 Geary Street, already designated a Category 1 Significant Landmark, is speaking out to oppose the application by their tenant, the Gold Dust Lounge, to have the bar inside the building listed as an historic landmark itself.
“The attempt to use San Francisco’s important landmark process to give historical status to the Gold Dust Lounge is a cynical attempt to misuse the process in a landlord and tenant dispute,” said Sam Singer, a spokesman for the Handlery family which owns the property.
The proposal by the Gold Dust Lounge for historical preservation comes on the heels of the landlord providing notice to the Bar, according to the agreed upon conditions of their lease, that it had 90 days to find a new location for their establishment. The land marking effort is a tactic by the bar to remain in the building, but it won’t work because the lease for the Gold
Dust Lounge expires in early March and they must be out by that date or face significant legal and financial penalties.
The materials to landmark the bar, submitted by the Gold Dust Lounge, appear to be grasping to pull together a comprehensive history of this schizophrenic bar. In the report the author tried to explain how the bar is an example of an “American’ cocktail lounge of the mid-twentieth century’ with art deco overlaid by ‘Gay Nineties’ and a bar ‘associated with important aspects of the San Francisco nightlife culture.’” The description begs the question, what exactly is the historical importance of the Gold Dust Lounge?
Back in the 1985 submittal to landmark the entire Elkan Gunst Building, the interior of the Gold Dust Lounge was rated as “fair/poor” and was not deemed worthy of inclusion into the historical designation of the Handlery’s building as a character-defining feature then, and should not be considered one now, Singer said.
The 1960’s bar does not convey, nor contribute to the historical significance of the Elkan Gunst Building. The baroque style of the historic building and the Kearny-Market-Mason-Sutter Conversion District is historically respectable unlike the tawdry exterior of the Gold Dust Lounge, he added.
The proposition that the bar could be individually eligible for the land marking status under the well-established National Register Criteria is meritless and is discouraged by the Office of Historic Preservation and various National Register Bulletins. The criterion for this honor applies to properties significant for their design or construction, including such elements as architecture, landscape architecture, engineering or artwork. It cannot be sufficient that a bar is an example of an “American’ cocktail lounge of the mid-twentieth century,” as suggested – there is no scarcity of those. There, Singer added, the landmark status should be rejected by the preservation board.