By Bob Dorn
Cover Story – If it reads well who cares what it says?
Ironic, I thought, walking toward the old Carpenter’ Union Hall building, a sniff of jasmine in the air above the cracked and fig-tree-uplifted sidewalks that were causing me to stagger as if I’d just spent my 70th birthday with my bichon frise, The Ramone, at my feet waiting for me to finish my 12-pack of Rolling Rock so I could take him on his fourth or fifth walk of the damn day.
A fresh new paint job had transformed the building into something like a deco neighborhood movie palace, just intrusive enough to say, “In your face, you phonies” without (or maybe, with) some understated malice.
It had been years since I’d written anything for The Reader, but here I was, invited to the office-warming at its new home, 2323 Broadway, in Golden Hill. I had to wonder if I would, or should, know anybody who’d be there. Who was left?
Beneath the Sonar – What, no walnut paneling?
It was probably too much to expect that alternative weeklies could escape economic realities that have put more conventional newspapers like Douglas Manchester’s SD-UT and even the grander Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune into a bind threatening their very existences, but Jim Holman’s San Diego Reader appears to have done so.
Holman, who came out of Chicago after helping found The Chicago Reader, started up San Diego’s version late in 1972, which became so successful Holman soon could afford to pay working wages to his writers and other staff at the same time he was funding anti-abortion statewide referenda, both outlays unheard of from an alternative weekly.
Nevertheless, the Great Recession came along and put Holman in the same bind as the big boys. Saturday he told me he was well into debt when real estate and development giant H.G. Fenton Company eyed Holman’s fat part of the block at Date and India Sts. in Little Italy and made Holman an offer he couldn’t refuse. Sources say the deal was worth about four times what Holman had paid for the property and about the same multiple of what he paid for the Carpenter’s Hall Building last year.
In Little Italy condos are list priced at about $530 per square foot. Holman’s India St. property, with its ample parking lot, topped out at 26,000 square feet, and real estate giant H.G. Fenton paid only $9.5 million for it. But according to the SD Daily Transcript Holman apparently paid $1.96 million for the Carpenters Union Hall building, where staffers and friends of the paper were partying last Saturday, June 08.
They had good reason for all that joy; Holman’s profit from the sale was around $7 million, enough to subsidize the paper for a long time after he pays off the debts he says he had.
Too Real Estate 2323 Broadway / San Diego / Reader Offices 92101
The upscaling of Golden Hill has just become a notch more intense now that The Reader has moved into the 17,000 square-foot old Carpenters Union Hall Building, just up the hill from downtown. In its fifth decade of publication, The Reader found itself in a too-valuable location at Date and India, which is dedicated to El Turismo de San Diego most nights of the week, and the pressure to sell must have been as tight as a hipster’s stingy brim felt hat.
H.G. Fenton gave Holman $9.5 million in cash for the Little Italy property. He turned around and paid just a little under $2 million for the Carpenters Hall.
Holman’s move one mile east and uphill provides some 5,000 square feet more space for his operation, in a building that more closely expresses The Reader’s ironic and eclectic tastes. The 1947 two story sports updated modernist lines and was built by the Carpenter’s Union back in the day when people gathered at their union’s dances on weekends in the same place where business was conducted on weekdays.
It has high, high ceilings and expansive windows running nearly the whole width of the main floor on its west, revealing the newer city skyline and the bay beyond. That main room contains 24 cubicles reserved for classified and display ad personnel with ample private offices lining the south side of the floor for their supers. There’s a 200 or 300 sq. ft. conference room for the sales people.
The writers don’t have offices. They all work from home,” Holman explains.
Downstairs, in the basement, there’s still an art gallery. Outside on the east side ample parking for the sales staff is secured with a gate.
Holman says he had to hesitate a moment or two when Fenton made their offer to purchase the Date at India property for nearly $10 million. He wasn’t sure that Golden Hill didn’t have some security issues, but then decided the deal was too powerfully economic to ignore.
Diva on a Dime – A beanbag broke my toe
I told Ramon I wasn’t going to play that silly game. I could tell from his grimace that he figured I’d be a liability at The Reader opening. Reader people form a crowd I don’t understand, not at all. I mean, what do I know about tossing beanbags, or bowling balls for that matter, though I have to admit I like those shoes.
“Oh, come on, everybody’s just pretending, you know that. You’ll get into it.” He was trying to drag me over to the cute guy who was working the clipboard signing people up. Cute, but not cute enough. He reminded me of this man-boy who made me flutter in a chem class I had to take. Well, almost anything could have distracted me from chem, but right now I wasn’t going to be convinced I should throw bean bags at what looked like a too-wide sit-ups board, trying to see how many I could get to drop through the hole in it. What for? A couple of free tickets to the next Swamp Cooties concert?
“Ramon (that’s without the final “e”), why don’t you get me a nice Sapporo, huh? We can see if I could get just a wee bit tipsy.” All I could see in the parking lot where the food and beanbag game were being offered were people who were either in their 70s, wearing bush hats, or people who were younger than me, most of them caterers offering healthy hors d’oeuvres out there on the asphalt, hardly any shade to be had.
“Hey, here’s your Sapporo. Now do we go over to register for the game or not?” Ramon never met a contest he didn’t like. I’ve seen him act like he knows people in bars; he’ll laugh at some really goofy jokes with these short, hacking sounds that have nothing to do with funny just so he can get into some pool game he’s sure to lose. I told him just once that he was kind of sucking up to people; it didn’t go down well. So now I just dumb up and try to make sure we go with another couple so I don’t have to sit at the bar alone, listening to some Chris Cross song.
“Well, what’s so entertaining about listening to talk about bamboo wraps, and solar? These people don’t realize how much Chevy Volt’s cost,” he said, almost plaintively. He had a point, really. My dad finally bought one after talking about doing it forever and now he won’t stop talking about how he wouldn’t even know to operate a gasoline pump anymore because “I never let the batteries run low.”
There’s some little motor that can bail out the batteries. I don’t get it. Why don’t they just let the little motor run the thing? It probably uses less gas than big motors. Anyway, I agreed to sign up for the beanbag toss but just as we headed around the little sit-ups board thingie a bag from the other end where they were tossing them went wide and came down and snagged my big toe.
It started to bleed! I mean, not badly, but there was nothing to grab but dirty napkins from the hors ‘oeuvres and I didn’t like the idea of that balsmic vinegar getting in the wound. Right then, the cute guy with the clip board came over with a nice clean bar towel.
My heart fluttered.
John Lawrence says
Is the Reader even relevant any more for reporting news. It seems that the last time I picked one up it was nothing but ads for tattoo parlors, botox injections and dental implants. With all those ads they must be making money. But their content is almost completely superficial unless I’m missing something.
Good question – a small informal survey – ten years back, when I worked in the County Building. Frustrated by the U-T’s inability to get a story right, I did a little survey. “Name the best investigative journalism in town – print or electronic”. From folks like the County Counsel, aids to Board members, elected officials, and top bureaucrats – answer – The Reader (the Daily Transcript took second). But, like I said, that was ten years ago. Where are they now?
Dave Rice says
Where are we now? Online, mostly. Matt, Don, Dorian and I (along with a bunch of others) put out several dozen pieces of content in the News Ticker blog every week. From that, only a dozen or so items make it into the News Ticker column in the print edition, and for space reasons even those posts are likely to get trimmed. Especially in the cases of Matt and Dorian, who tend to go to great lengths in their research and provide plenty of context, you’ve got to hit the site to get the full value of their reporting.
Dorothy Lee says
You’re missing a lot, starting with proper punctuation at the end of an interrogative sentence.
Anna Daniels says
I have been reading Matt Potter and Don Bauder for years. In my mind, they are The Reader.
bob dorn says
Amen for that. They’re the only reasons to read it.
bob dorn says
Ooops… there’s Dave Rice, and, Dorian Hargrove, too, and Eliz. Salaam (wrong spelling?), we shouldn’t forget.
Anna Daniels says
You are right Bob. They are newer voices, and exceptional ones.
Dave Rice says
Missed this earlier – Dorian deserves huge props, as does Elizabeth for her feature stories…I’m more of a “cats-in-trees” news guy, but I appreciate being included on any list that includes some of my favorite names!
Of course, there’s a pretty good powerhouse of…I started writing a list but it grows too long to mention everyone I love reading here.
Frank Gormlie says
Nice Thompsonist impression of a Readers’ gathering. Were any of the writers actually there or were they on skype?
bob dorn says
The only writers I could recognize were Jeff Smith, who’s still contributing, and Lynn Jackery, a former Matthew Alice. But, then, I never hung much with Reader writers, and have no idea what anyone looks like who arrived after the 80s, excepting Diva Barbarella, whose mugshot sits atop her column. I don’t think she was there. Bauder wasn’t there; he lives in Colorado, I think, and works electronically, which is impressive for sure. I didn’t see, or recognize Potter, DeWyze, or Kreuger, or Tom Arnold either.
Dave Rice says
We got invites – I really wanted to go but skipped out to celebrate my daughter being promoted from OB Elementary, so I don’t know who all went…
– sent from my virtual office on the back patio of an OB apartment complex
David Batterson says
I was there, Frank. So were Barbarella and Dorian.
Anna Daniels says
Hugh Jackman gets the bad daddy award, Dave, for ditching his daughter’s first theatrical performance to attend a Walmart stockholder meeting. (What’s with that???) You get the good daddy award for being with Mackenzie on her promotion.
Bonnie Nicholls says
Interesting news about The Reader relocating offices. I also like the tidbit about all the writers working from home. Isn’t that the way it should be? Let’s hear it for telecommuting!