Thursday, January 28, 2010

"What's with the old theater space next to the Independent?"

"Dan" asked the question on NOPA log ("an online forum for the North Panhandle"): "What's going on with the old theater space next to the Independent?"

This is a reminder that new people are arriving in the city all the time, and they don't know much about the neighborhoods they're moving into. The Harding Theater fiasco goes back to 2005, when a neighborhood group organized by Dave Tornheim convinced the newly elected Supervisor Mirkarimi to back an effort to prevent the property owner from turning the Harding into 18 condos and retail space fronting on Divisadero. 

Mirkarimi approved the effort and was able to get enough votes on the Board of Supervisors to stop the project and send it back to the Planning Dept. for more study. I was at the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council meeting when Mirkarimi voiced some skepticism:

Ross warned HANC members Thursday night that he doesn't want to end up with nothing but a derelict Harding Theater "if we don't get our way" on the issue. He pointed out that the Harding theater "looks terrible" from the street. In short, the neighborhood will have to live with condos on the site if he can't get the votes.

Tornheim and the so-called preservationists never had the money to both preserve the old building and/or make it into a commercially viable project. Hence, thanks to Mirkarimi's endorsement of this instance of irresponsible preservationism---the Harding is just an old theater and of little architectural or historical significance---five years later we still have that derelict building blighting the middle of Divisadero instead of housing units and a new commercial space. 

The Planning Dept. is demanding that the owner now pay for an expensive EIR on the property, which he can't afford. The city won't let him develop the property, and he can't sell it in this economic environment. And who would buy it with that history?

Click on "Harding Theater" below for my earlier blog posts on the issue. These are the two preservationist web sites on the Harding:

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