It’s been exactly one year since the building at the southeast corner of Haight and Fillmore suffered a major fire.
Today, we check in with the property manager, architect, fire investigators, and displaced residents and businesses for an update.
Though investigators were able to identify where and when the fire began, they were unable to determine how. Yesterday, SFFD Captain Tyrone Pruitt told us that the cause of the fire remains officially “undetermined.”
From architect Michael Harris of MBH Architecture, the firm behind the building’s reconstruction:
“As you can see we are working along, the variance and conditional use were approved by Planning last month but still must go through the Building Dept. Rough plumbing is underway and we are trying to close up the building before it starts to rain, which means installing windows, roofing and siding. You can see from looking up Fillmore Street the nice job that has been done to rebuild the cornice. As you know from the Conditional Use process CVS will be the new ground floor tenant… Working on approvals from PG&E for new services. I think we are a little over a year from completion.”
Property manager Jay Lieberman confirms, “we are still trying to complete the work by the fourth quarter of 2013.”
Four street-level businesses were displaced by the fire: Walgreens, which will be replaced by CVS, Fecal Face Dot Gallery, which moved to the Mission, Estela’s Fresh Sandwiches, and Three Twins Ice Cream.
The three Fillmore Street storefronts will be consolidated to two, and both Estela’s and Three Twins confirmed to us this week that they plan to return.
From Three Twins founder Neal Gottlieb:
“It looks like we’ll be open in Spring 2013 in the exact same spot. We’re really looking forward to getting reopened.”
And Mark Richter, partner (along with Estela Mass) behind Estela’s:
“We opened a second location at 891 Bush Street, and we are excited about coming back to the Lower Haight. We miss all our customers. We have started our plans, but we still haven’t been given a move-back date. The last I heard was May. I can’t wait.”
While both of these businesses are hoping to return in the Spring, it sounds like work on the building might not actually be done by then. It’s possible the work on the retail spaces will be completed before the residential units above. We’re seeking clarification.
We contacted many of the former residents of 493 Haight Street to get updates. Here are some of their comments.
“I really miss my old apartment. I miss it every time I see it, which is often since I was fortunate enough to find another place to live nearby and still frequent Molotov’s. I miss that if NextMuni told me ’1 minute’ to the bus (22, 6 or 71 or even the 71L or N-OWL), I could run out my door and make it. I miss living across from Lo-Cost where the sausage is cheap and the bread is $1 a loaf. I really miss living above Walgreens, which was the most convenient thing I ever experienced. I miss 3 twins being right there, so I could grab a quick snack before I got on the bus. I miss that I used to have a Haight St, SF address and no matter where I went in the world everyone knew what that was.
But more than anything, I really, really miss my neighbors from the building. More so than any other place I have ever lived, we had a wonderful community at 493 Haight. I still see some of them from time to time and it is like a small family reunion every time.
The silver lining to all of this is that the entire LH has this same feeling for me; a real community. After the fire I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from folks I knew and I was humbled and awed by the generosity and love I got from the neighborhood people I had not yet met. Over the last few years I have been here, I have mourned at our collective losses and celebrated our good times; partaking in a shared identity I have found nowhere else. I can think of few things more fulfilling. I am extremely grateful to still live here and no fire or disaster can make me leave my community. Proud to be a Lower Haighter!”
“Wow…one year already. I’m settled into a new apartment in the Mission, but I remain grateful for all the wonderful Lower Haight residents and businesses that came out and helped tenants in so many ways. Truly kickass.”
“We are moving to a place in the upper haight one year to the date of the fire – Thursday.”
“All in all it has been a very interesting year for me. Though I feel that the total devastation of the building was due to neglect and negligence, and therefore could have been prevented, the fact that I was unexpectedly ejected from my home created an interesting challenge. Even as I did have renter’s insurance coverage, we (myself and 2 cats, Bali & Mercury) have stayed in no less than 9 different places since the fire, including the most recent, which we like the best, a boat in the Berkeley Marina. Overall the novelty of the situations we got into well outweighed the stresses, though I do admit the year has left me a bit worn out. I must say I have learned far more than I would have had I been doing the “493 life as usual” all the while. In the last year we spent almost 3 months in Costa Rica on an extended kiteboarding trip (I had just graduated from massage school so I was able to earn some money there too).
Over the past year we also stayed w many friends here in the bay area, and I learned that by doing that, you really learn a lot about your friends : you see their pain and problems up close, as well as their successes and joys, and this was very good for me in terms of getting outside my own little bubble. At a certain point however it’s nice to go back to that bubble and reflect on what happened, and the boat is like the ultimate place for doing that, so I feel extremely lucky.”
“It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year. I don’t know how well my story will fit into your narrative since I know from my discussions with the other tenants that my story isn’t at all representative, but I have to say I was extremely lucky all the way around. First of all, I found a new place ridiculously quickly (within a few days). Virtually none of my belongings were damaged in the fire, as I was on the opposite corner of the house and a different floor from where the fire started. I now pay less in rent and have more space than I did, though I did go from living by myself to living with a roommate. And I ended up with what I consider a very fair buyout of my lease from the building management company, so I have a little money in savings for basically the first time in my life. See? Lucky.
Still, I do miss my little studio sometimes, and I desperately miss the Lower Haight. I will never forget the way the neighborhood came together after the fire to support us and the way basically every business owner in the area donated something to the raffle for the fundraising event at the Peacock Lounge, to say nothing of Lo-Cost Meat and Fish’s Pierre’s heroism running into the burning building and getting all the humans and pets out.
I also have to plug the Red Cross whenever I talk about the fire. They had a mobile response team set up that night and were putting people up in hotels, handing out gift cards for groceries, and even helping out with security deposits on new apartments. Like most people, I knew their stellar reputation for responding to large-scale disasters, but seeing their efficiency and efficacy responding to our relatively small disaster was almost more impressive, when you think of how many residential fires happen around the country every single day.
So, that’s all I have to say about it. I won’t be moving back into the building since I have relinquished my lease, but maybe someday I’ll move back into the neighborhood. My heart is still there!”
Finally, while putting this story together, we came across some footage we captured that day but never published:
Scary stuff, even a year later.
We’ll keep an eye on the building’s progress and will update with any developments.