Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Walgreens signs lease with historical society


Paul Boneberg, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, points out the space devoted to an expanded Walgreens, in the new exhibit and program space in the Castro neighborhood. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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After months of negotiations Walgreens has signed a lease with the GLBT Historical Society that will allow the preservationist group to reopen a Castro museum and have a presence in the city's gayborhood for at least five years. Should the project receive city approval, the new LGBT museum could be open by mid-June in time for Pride.

The deal calls for the historical society to take over two-thirds of a defunct coin-operated laundry on 18th Street while Walgreens will expand its specialty pharmacy next door into the remaining space. The enlarged pharmacy will not be visible from the street, however, as the build-out for Walgreens will be contained within the building.

The national chain will pay for the remodel of the interior space, seek the necessary permits from the city, and offer the storefront at a reduced rent to the historical society. The society will be paying $2,000 a month at first to occupy the building at 4127 18th Street. The rent will then go up to $3,000 in the second year and cap out at $4,000.

"It is a good deal," said Paul Boneberg, executive director of the historical society. "It is a very generous offer from Walgreens."

Walgreens district manager Dave Devencenzi did not respond to the Bay Area Reporter's request for comment.

A spokesman for the company would not disclose how much Walgreens planned to spend on the remodel nor would he commit to having the space open by June. The expansion of the pharmacy will be for infusion therapy rooms for intravenous pharmaceuticals.

"I really don't want to give a figure but it is going to be an investment," said Robert Elfinger. "We would like to have it built out and ready to go by summer or fall of this year but, again, that is open."

An earlier plan for the pharmacy chain to take over the entire vacant Suds Laundromat met with opposition from some Castro residents and merchants upset with the company's already large footprint in the neighborhood. The Planning Commission ultimately rejected the company's permit request.

At the same time, the historical society was being forced to move out of its temporary museum space in the storefront at the corner of 18th and Castro streets. Timed to the premiere of the Oscar-winning movie Milk , which was filmed on location in the Castro, the historical society's exhibit opened in October 2008.

By the time it closed a year later the installation had garnered worldwide media coverage and became a magnet for tourists and locals alike. The city awarded the historical society $100,000 to mount a new show in a different space, and openly gay District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty helped bring together Walgreens executives and the LGBT archivists in the hope of seeing both entities benefit.

"People in the community loved having the historical society in the neighborhood. This is a big win," said Dufty, who has longed to see a permanent LGBT museum be built in the Castro. "I think people in the community will be thrilled that Walgreens is being so generous and making an investment in sharing our community's history."

Dufty said he will be asking planning department officials to expedite the project's permit requests. Boneberg expressed hope the permits could be approved sometime in May by the Planning Commission.

The new 1,600 square foot space is double the size of the initial museum exhibit. Boneberg said the society plans to relocate all of its museum shows and lecture series from its current home on Mission Street near Third to the Castro site. The retail space is high enough inside, approximately 16 feet, that it is conceivable the society could display the neon sign for Finnochio's, the shuttered North Beach drag cabaret, it has in storage on the Peninsula.

"This is a big space. The question is how do you use it," said Boneberg as he showed the empty storefront to the B.A.R. Tuesday, March 30.

The plan as of now calls for opening a teaser exhibit with select objects from the historical society's archives that would serve as a preview to a larger show tied into its 25th anniversary year. That show would open in September and feature 25 of the society's more "spectacular objects," said Boneberg.

Both Dufty and Boneberg said that having a multi-year lease would allow the historical society to demonstrate the benefits of having a museum located in the Castro as it searches for a more permanent location.

"We are making a long-term commitment to the Castro," said Boneberg.

Dufty added, "The first year and a half will really enable us to get the doors open and get a head of steam as we continue on the path to get a museum in the Castro."

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