Rube Goldberg Building Tenants Fight Ellis Act Evictions

Rube Goldberg Building Tenants Fight Ellis Act Evictions
Photo: Rose Garrett/Hoodline
By Rose Garrett - Published on November 19, 2014.
A small crowd gathered outside the R. L. Goldberg building on the corner of Oak and Gough yesterday to protest the Ellis Act evictions of the building's four residential tenants.

The protest was organized by Eviction Free SF, the same group behind a confrontational protest inside Paolo Shoes on Hayes last month. 

At stake are the two upstairs units in the building that houses 20th Century Cafe at ground level. Jacqui Naylor and husband Art Khu, both musicians, have lived in the building for 25 years, and neighbors Beverly Uptown (Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Consortium) and husband Dave Hill (SF Public Library employee) have occupied the second unit for almost as long. 

"We moved in before Hayes Valley was Hayes Valley," said Naylor. "We've been good tenants, we pay our rent. The Ellis Act is a no-fault eviction." Naylor said that the tenants were able to get a one-year extension on the eviction deadline, but that that extension would be up in a matter of days. "We will not be exiting. We'll be fighting it," she said. "We came together as a building, as neighbors, and decided we were going to stay strong and unified on this, not only for us but also for the community."

For his part, 67-year-old building owner Kenneth Hirsch told Hoodline he purchased the building in 1996 with the plan that this would eventually provide him with a retirement income. "I have always had a friendly relationship with all the tenants," he told us. However, he outlined the far-below market rates that the tenants pay, and said that he did not dispute the tenants' year-long eviction extension because he thought that 12 months would give them plenty of time to find a new place to live.

Naylor confirmed that the tenants' relationship with their landlord has always been amicable, and both parties said that a buyout was on the table, but that neither side could approach consensus on the specific buyout amount.

Meanwhile, Naylor has been working with the granddaughter of Rube Goldberg, the cartoonist and contraptionist who commissioned the building, to earn it a historic landmark designation for the city. The hearing will be held later today. 

According to the landmark designation report, the building "is eligible for local designation due to its significant architectural expression as an early 20th century mixed-use building designed with Classically-inspired ornament and containing extraordinarily rare, intact storefronts." The report goes on that say that "the building may have tangential significance based on its association with Rueben (Rube) Lucius Garrett Goldberg, but its primary significance is derived from its architectural expression."

Whether or not the city approves the building's historical landmark status, though, will have little effect on the looming eviction deadline, as it will likely only pertain to the facade of the building and not the interior (which Naylor has maintained as a kind of time capsule). "It doesn't do anything to protect us," Naylor said, outlining the fundraising and other efforts that went towards the landmark designation hearing. "We just feel like we love this building and we want to make sure nothing happens to it, even if we are forced to leave."

When asked about his plans for the building should the Ellis Act prevail, Hirsch said that "after this experience I may just keep them vacant and stay out of the residential rental business entirely."