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San Francisco’s Cliff Home seemingly returning as a restaurant in spite of everything, landlords say

The famous Cliff House building, which housed a seafood restaurant gloriously over the Pacific until the pandemic closed for good, could be breathing new life as early as this spring.

The San Francisco board of directors unanimously voted on Tuesday for a resolution urging the National Park Service, which owns the property, to use the space immediately while it searches for a long-term tenant. A National Park Service spokesman confirmed that the federal agency is planning to do so soon – and that the goal is to get the building back to house a restaurant, reversing an earlier attitude that a restaurant should be due to the state of the food industry.

“We are committed to maintaining the Cliff House building as a restaurant and public space,” said Julian Espinoza of the National Park Service via email. “Since the beginning of this process, we have reaffirmed our belief that the building belongs to the public – and not to any individual group or commercial entity.”

Dan and Mary Hountalas, who ran the waterfront restaurants from 1973 to 2020, have until the end of March to remove their belongings from the building, according to Espinoza.

“After that time, we intend to look into short-term, temporary use of the building so that it can be occupied in the meantime before a long-term lease is signed,” he said.

The public outcry over the fate of the Cliff House isn’t just that the iconic San Francisco restaurant closed last year: it’s fear of what might become of the building. The contract with Hountalases expired in 2018, but the National Park Service issued a number of short-term lease extensions as the formal application process for a new, long-term tenant was delayed. When the Cliff House sign came down in December, many feared the building would remain empty for years when the National Park Service resumed its lengthy advertising process mandated by federal law.

Because of this, several organizations – including the San Francisco Travel Association, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association – wrote a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in January asking her to work with the National Park Service to to find a quick and quick solution to potentially short-term use such as a restaurant for the building as stated in the resolution by Supervisor Connie Chan.

“As the city reopens and recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial that landmarks like the Cliff House are reactivated and can attract locals and tourists,” the resolution reads.

While the National Park Service is now claiming the Cliff House building will be turned back into a restaurant, the agency previously expressed some doubts. In a December 3 letter to the Hountalases, the National Park Service said it had reassessed the feasibility of anyone running the space as a restaurant in the near future due to the status of the restaurant industry during the pandemic.

But whatever the restaurant may move into the building is unlikely to be called Cliff House or bring back the sign as the Hountalases branded the name.

Janelle Bitker is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: janelle.bitker@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @janellebitker

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