San Francisco

Julius' Castle likely to reopen after judge throws out neighbors' lawsuit

Plans to reopen Julius' Castle, the nearly century-old restaurant atop Telegraph Hill, appear to be finally set to move forward. On Friday, a judge dismissed a lawsuit by neighbors against the city for its approval of the project.

“This was a baseless lawsuit from the start," said John Coté, communications director for the City Attorney's Office, in a statement. "We’re pleased the court found the city acted appropriately in approving the reopening of Julius’ Castle."

The famed restaurant, which first opened in 1923, has been closed since 2007, when its previous owner attempted to sell it off as a residence. Telegraph Hill resident Paul Scott purchased the building in 2012, and has been working for the past decade to reopen its doors as a restaurant, securing approvals from the Planning Commission in 2017 and the Board of Supervisors in 2018.

Photo: Dale Cruse/Flickr

But he faced staunch opposition from Friends of Montgomery Street (FOMS), a nonprofit, unincorporated group of neighbors opposed to the castle's reopening.

The group filed suit against the city of San Francisco last July, arguing that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in allowing Julius' Castle to reopen without an official environmental review.

In court documents, FOMS argued that the restaurant lacks "necessary public services and facilities," including parking and access for cars and ride-shares dropping off would-be patrons.

But the court determined that the street configuration where the former restaurant stands is "an existing condition of the project, and is not a result of the proposed project." 

"Additionally, steep and narrow streets are ubiquitous in San Francisco," the order continues. "So too is traffic congestion, especially in the North Beach/Telegraph Hill neighborhoods." 

Photo: Google Maps

The court also disagreed with FOMS' argument that the restaurant would create excessive noise impacts on the neighborhood, given that the restaurant will be required to adhere to strict operating hours set by the city to mitigate noise.

"[The] complaints about noise involve the type of noise associated with operating a restaurant," note the court documents.

"This was a landmark restaurant that first opened its doors in 1923 and served generations of San Franciscans. Trying to argue it was incompatible with the neighborhood was just nonsense," said Coté of the suit.

"San Francisco is a conscientious environmental steward, and the city diligently followed all of the requirements for approval, including ensuring there were no inappropriate environmental impacts."

Julius' Castle and Coit Tower in 1961. | Photo: San Francisco History Center/San Francisco Public Library

The return of Julius' Castle, built by restaurateur and Italian immigrant Julius Roz, will restore a piece of San Francisco history.

In addition to generations of locals, the restaurant, which was landmarked in 1980, has been frequented by Hollywood actors, including Robert Redford, Cary Grant, Sean Connery, Marlon Brando and Ginger Rogers. It was also used as an exterior filming location for the 1951 thriller "The House on Telegraph Hill." 

Over the years, Scott has declined to respond to multiple inquiries about the restaurant from a Hoodline reporter.

But on Sunday, he told CBS San Francisco that with the suit thrown out, he plans to seek a restaurateur to partner with on the project, and begin working with an interior designer. He says he's aiming to open by year's end. 

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