In-Debt S.F. Press Club Moves p. 21

By: M.L.STEIN UNABLE TO PAY $1.5 million in debts, the 108-year-old Press Club of San Francisco is abandoning its ornate three-story building and moving to much smaller quarters in the financial district.
Club President Seraphim Leemon said the building has been sold to a corporation, the Empire Group, which found the new housing for the club. Leemon would not disclose the sale price, but another source told E&P the figure was approximately $3.5 million.
Past President Carl Nolte, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, and Hank Basayne, the club's executive director, attributed the forced move primarily to declining membership.
"Young people in the news business don't drink much and don't hang out at clubs to listen to bullshit," Nolte said. "I don't know whether to be sad or angry but I feel as if we're going into a convalescent home."
Nolte contended the San Francisco club has suffered the same fate as press clubs throughout the country.
"We're going the way of the side-wheel steamer," he lamented.
Basayne blamed an "inattentive board" for the club's financial situation but predicted it will be rebuilt on a sounder footing.
The manager said that of the club's 300 members, less than half are in the news media. One current problem, he added, is that there are 17 membership categories, which will be reduced to two in the new location.
The press club at 555 Post St. near Union Square, the city's hub, contains a restaurant, health club, swimming pool, bar, library, overnight guest rooms and other facilities. The building was acquired in the early 1950s ? the club's fourth move ? and initially the members shared it with the Union League Club, which was later bought out.
For years, the club's "Gang" dinners featured celebrity speakers and was attended by many of the city's politicians and the business elite, as well as journalists.
Leemon, a freelance radio newscaster, was more upbeat than Nolte about the club's future, which she described as "very, very positive. It will be like a Phoenix rising out of the ashes. I see no merit in saving the club for a year or 18 months just to say that we still have a press club."
She said the club, with its international reputation, can be viable again by offering activities to members "that will go back to the true spirit of a press club."
Leemon conceded a reformed club will not "be what it was, but what it was frankly got us in a heck of a lot of trouble."
The many media groups in the San Francisco Bay area should provide a strong base for new membership with the right kind of program, she contended.
In its new location, the club will have about 3,000 square feet in an art deco building that also houses the City Club.
Leemon said the new quarters are not large enough for big social events but that an arrangement has been made with the City Club to use its dining rooms and other space.


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