"Renovated City Hall Latest Party Hot Spot,
But Movies May Not Be Welcome"

San Francisco Associated Press, 26 February 1999

(02-26) 00:54 PST SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Newly renovated City Hall is becoming a party magnet, but some officials think a request from Disney to use it as a movie backdrop could be trouble.

City Hall, an 84-year-old national landmark, reopened last month after four years and $293 million worth of earthquake repair and renovation. It features stately columns, statues, gold embellishments and staircases — a spectacular setting for celebrations.

There are as many as eight weddings a day in the dramatic rotunda. Corporate parties, civic events and fund-raisers are growing commonplace.

There's some question about using the stately domed heart of civic government as party central — and even more about using it as Hollywood North.

"It's important to remember that City Hall is a place for doing business," said city Supervisor Michael Yaki, "not for throwing parties."

Disney wants to use City Hall's legislative chambers for a few days in April or June to film part of a new Robin Williams film, "Bicentennial Man." They're willing to pay $5,000 a day for the room, plus $300 a day for a permit.

The city's film office is strongly behind the project, but some officials are dubious.

"I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say I was nervous about this," said Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano. Most concerns center on damage to the room, which features hand-carved Manchurian oak walls and a painted plaster ceiling.

Rory Enke, location manager for the movie, says not to worry. Anything that's moved will be returned to its proper place, and anything damaged will be repaired.

"I'm really concerned about the integrity of the chamber," said Gloria Young, clerk of the board. "What if there's an 'oops' there?"

"It's a highly significant room, and any damage, even nicks and dings, would be extremely expensive to repair," said Tony Irons, the city architect who oversaw the renovations.

In 1997, the last year for which complete figures are available, moviemaking brought $365 million worth of business to the city. A similar figure for parties wasn't available, but they are both loved and distrusted by officialdom.

Take the opening night of the San Francisco Ballet last month. The party overlapped with a tumultuous Board of Supervisors meeting where the hot topic was the homeless.

As the meeting ended, board members and homeless people who had come to testify had to wade through hundreds of swells out for a night on the town, with many exits blocked by serving tables, drapes and assiduous waiters with trays of champagne.

"Am I anti-party? No," says Yaki. "But there simply should be guidelines for these large scale events in City Hall. And because people from all income ranges come here, I don't want them to feel intimidated."

Another day, an auto dealership was setting up for a party later that night. A midafternoon sound check with a band sent a sonic boom rippling though the building.

"My desk jumped 2 inches off the ground!" said Yaki. "I went downstairs to see what all the commotion was about.... The sound tech responded to my questions with "What!?! What!?! I can't hear you, the band is rehearsing!' "

Building manager Kerry Painter has been appointed the task of drawing up proposed event perimeters for supervisors to discuss.

Meanwhile, if you want to throw a birthday party for yourself, bring money. The 18,400-square-foot rotunda will set you back $10,000 (add $2,500 if you plan to serve food). The 7,000-square-foot north light court rents for $3,000; if you can live without food and drink, you can get it for a mere $1,500 on a weeknight. Nonprofits get a 25 percent discount.

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