Babble-On By the Bay: Crystal Ball Hazy

By Catherine Bigelow


Miss Bigelow.

Join Catherine Bigelow each month for a roundup of newsy nuggets and juicy tidbits. Gotta item? E-mail: [email protected]

For more New Year’s Eves than I can accurately recall, the calendar’s finale night was a merry North Beach revel, raising glasses amid jam-packed classic Ess Eff joints: Gino & Carlo, Specs’, Northstar, Tosca or Vesuvio. At midnight, everyone poured into the streets watching fireworks over the Bay as we hugged random strangers.

Damn you, COVID-19.

On New Year’s Day, a rotating posse of pals (including Matthew Goudeau, Jonathan Moscone, Danielle Ducaine, Karin and PJ Johnston, Paige Barry Arata, Stanlee Gatti, Daniel Lurie and Becca Prowda) convened at (RIP) Liverpool Lil’s for a hair-of-the-dog brunch and foggy “about last night” forensic breakdown.

This January 1, I awoke early and clear-headed, meekly greeting the new year with cautious optimism: ‘So, um, whassup, 2021?”

But I knew the answer. It’s a famous catchphrase used by scribe Paul Wilner, a former San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle editor, who adroitly dodged predictions regarding outcomes of internecine newsroom struggles: “crystal ball hazy.”

So, friends, Happy New Year … !?

SF techxit: Before Tesla founder Elon Musk, now an income-tax-free Texas resident, unloaded six (!) of his high-priced California properties, Nextdoor co-founder and CEO Nirav Tolia pulled up sticks, put his Pacific Heights property up for sale and moved his family to Florence.

Tolia, a Stanford alum, is now at the university’s campus there, teaching a course: “Silicon Valley: The Modern Day Rebirth of Renaissance Florence.” But real estate types wonder if the tech titan trend of swooping up trophy properties — with all-cash offers — in tony ’hoods like Presidio Heights or the Gold Coast is now bust.

Tolia’s 1916 George Applegarth-built pleasure palace was featured — along with a $25 million price tag — last August in the Wall Street Journal’s real estate porn pages. But Tolia informed the paper that when his family returns to California, they will live outside San Francisco. Well, once his home finally sells.

One in-the-know agent says $4 million to $9 million single-family San Francisco homes are still selling like hotcakes. But some bigwigs are quietly decamping their multimillion-dollar cribs. Or selling second Wine Country compounds for larger spreads in Hawaii, Texas or Idaho.

“Wyoming,” this Realtor quips, “is the new Napa.”

Another real estate whisperer says 2020 was a constant drumbeat of the billionaire techxit: “$20 million-plus homes remain on the market,” he notes. “But COVID was the final straw, pushing these moguls, often parents of young children, off the dime to move out of San Francisco.”

Now the primo 1916 Willis Polk 17,000-square-foot manse dubbed “the most beautiful home in San Francisco,” and a recent Architectural Digest  “cover girl,” is up for grabs.

The magazine discreetly avoids mentioning the owners. But nearly everyone in town knows the home (reimagined by starchitect Peter Marino) was lovingly restored by Shaklee chairman Roger Barnett and his wife, former CPMC Board chair Sloan Barnett, who now reside in Fisher Island, Florida.

Sans a tacky “for sale” sign, the home’s off-market listing is whispered to range between $60 and $80 million. Ess Eff real estate is funny. In 1979, the late John Rosekrans, a Spreckels Sugar scion and Hula Hoop tycoon, paid $1.6 million for the property. When his wife, philanthropist and fashion doyenne Dodie Rosekrans, died in 2010, this glorious Gold Coast manse was quietly purchased by the Barnetts, who previously lived just a few doors away, for $33 million.“

These Silicon Valley titans made all their riches here. Now they’re off on their yachts and private islands, abandoning ship because they can afford to,” notes an observer. “Except for [Marc] Benioff and Jack Dorsey, there’s very little civic commitment or philanthropic giving. That there are now lines for bread and food, in the cities that birthed the tech boom, is shameful.”

Mangia mia: In spite of daily COVID-related restaurant closures, a delicious, hopeful light now shines on West Portal Avenue: Little Original Joe’s. Founded by John Duggan and his sister, Elena Duggan (with their parents, John Sr. and Marie Duggan), their empire (including the North Beach and Westlake Original Joe’s) has defied the odds of the City’s confounding rules on indoor dining, parklets and outdoor dining, followed by last month’s directive reducing all restaurant offerings to takeout.

John Duggan recently got heat when his North Beach takeout customers consumed to-go orders at his parklet tables. Neighbors complained; news crews descended. But chasing away paying customers is antithetical to the Duggan code of hospitality.

“There’s no safety net for our industry, and the City’s restaurant family is hurting. We’re thankful to still provide work for 150 of our staff,” he says. “When the City bans outside dining, it only encourages people to gather inside. And that’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

Little Joe’s was planned as a sit-down restaurant for pizza and rotisserie chicken. Now it’s all takeout, plus an OJ market that carries its house-made ravioli, sauces and artichoke spinach dip.

The locale is popular with natives: Little Joe’s is built on the bones of Paradise Pizza, previously owned by Sal Alioto. And the Duggans are proudly carrying on his tradition.

“For 25 years, Sal made the best pizza dough in town,” explains Duggan. “We hope the same for ours, especially as Sal gave us his recipe.”

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