The Condor Club wants legacy business status, but is being trashed

Inclusion in the San Francisco Legacy Business Registry is an honor bestowed on many of our favorite local businesses that have been around for 30 years or more. This honor was bestowed on legendary bars and restaurants, recording studios or particularly popular post offices and mailboxes.

But the Chronicle reported that today the SF Historic Preservation Commission is considering designating the Condor Club strip club in North Beach as a legacy business. And although this club is credited with being the first topless bar in the United States, the nomination prompted intense debate about whether the city should financially and financially support a strip club whose legacy is more sexism than culture.

Several current and former Condor employees (all male) praised the club’s place in San Francisco history and culture. “The Condor is a pillar of the North Beach community,” longtime Condor Club staff member Derek Thompston told the commission, saying perhaps too accurately, “It gives people a safe haven to release their tensions.”

But commissioners noted the club’s history of “exploitation for profit” and said the club’s bid contained no evidence that women had ever been promoted beyond dancer or bartender positions. The commissioners noted that the Condor is a place “where employment or promotion depend on sexual parameters”.

Yes, the club was the launch pad for legendary topless dancer Carol Doda, and the Condor’s advertisement included quotes from the late, great Herb Caen. But Commissioner Ruchira Nageswaran pointed out: “The quotes from Herb Caen in the nomination were described as ‘tributing’ Carol Doda, but they were clearly objectifying her rather than describing her as a person or for her achievements.”

“Condor’s nomination indicates that ownership has been male-only throughout the company’s history,” added Nageswaran. “And in the article commemorating her, Carol Doda has left her long career at Condor by pointing out that she was never paid enough. This is remarkable in that she was instrumental in defining the company.”

And Nageswaran added that the club may have been a point in the Sexual Revolution, but in a way that wouldn’t stand the test of time.

“It is important for nominees of all stripes that their nominations reflect a growth in racial and social justice,” she said. “Woman’s liberation ideally offers opportunities equal to those of other sexes, based on abilities and contributions outside of discriminatory factors of sexualization.”

Other commissioners argued that the Condor’s motion should not be penalized for sexism, which has been common in the past.

“I was raised in Indiana by a mother who sold real estate. And I’ll tell you right now, she was treated like shit,” Commissioner Chris Foley said. “I don’t think it’s our job, just like if someone wants to sell me hot dogs and I only eat vegetarian food, I should tell the hot dog maker to make vegetarian hot dogs.”

But there was consensus that the legacy business application historically relied solely on Doda showing her breasts and reflected no commitment to truly empowering women.

“When I saw other long-established companies reaching out to us, they had already volunteered to show us how much outreach they will do and how many things they will do and have already done to improve the component of the actually tackling social and racial justice,” he told Commissioner Lydia So. “But what we don’t see [from the Condor] are the other things you will do or have already done to make a better place for women.”

The commission recommended Condor’s approval as a legacy business, but with several additional hurdles and a rather tortured additional bureaucratic process that requires some commitment to promote women instead of just letting them move out.

They recommended approval, but with the proviso that Condor would consider “developing a framework” to offer training and promotions to women, particularly at the core of the company, and those recommendations for review by SF’s Women’s Status Division and small business commission to involve.

So the Condor Club didn’t get final approval for the legacy deal on Wednesday. Your application will now go to the Small Business Commission, which may also refer it to the SF Board of Directors before final approval.


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