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Lawsuit keeps Telegraph Hill’s Julius’ Castle besieged

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“It’s not every day you hear Telegraph Hill talked about in terms usually reserved for small towns in Illinois”

The exterior of Julius Castle, looking faded and in poor repair.
Julius’ Castle in 2015.
Photo by Daderot

Julius’ Castle, the landmark restaurant atop Telegraph Hill that first opened to diners in 1923, got approval from the city to reopen in 2017, marking the end of a decade-plus hiatus.

But a few months later, along came a lawsuit. Neighbors allege that the city disregarded California law in permitting Julius’ Castle to entrench itself again, while claiming that the restaurant’s reopening will infringe on their rights as homeowners.

In October of 2017, non-profit group Friends of Montgomery Street (the complaint specifies three Montgomery homeowners by name: Johnny Lee, Gordon Francis, and Dan Lorimer) presented a lawsuit claiming that, among other things, Julius’ Castle would ruin their quality of life:

Petitioners reside in a peaceful residential neighborhood where evenings are quiet and street access to their homes is safe, reliable, and expeditious. It is safe to walk across Montgomery Street at all hours, as traffic is manageable, vehicle speeds are unhurried, and street parking is not impossible to find.

[...] The project would be extremely disruptive to neighboring residential uses. For example, it would subject them to loud noises every evening, create traffic and parking congestion and resulting safety and pedestrian hazards for residents of the area, and substantially impair and impede their reasonable use and enjoyment of their homes.

It’s not every day you hear Telegraph Hill talked about in terms usually reserved for small towns in Illinois. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs say that the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors violated state CEQA rules by waving the eatery in.

Hoodline notes that current Julius’ Castle owner Paul Scott is a Telegraph Hill homeowner himself. “I’m not a big time developer. I’m a guy who lives in the neighborhood,” Scott told the Planning Commission last year.

Julius’ Castle starred as the titular “House on Telegraph Hill” in the 1951 movie. Although since these establishing shots are actually a false front built around the real building, it seems filmmakers were mostly interested in the location.

In a response to the suit earlier this month, the City Attorney’s office pointed out repeatedly that Julius’ Castle operated in the neighborhood for more than 80 years and didn’t seem to pose any particular problem:

Petitioners are a handful of neighbors on Telegraph Hill who seek to prevent Julius’ Castle from ever reopening. [...But] petitioners cannot carry their burden to demonstrate that the historic restaurant, which for decades operated successfully in the same building atop Telegraph Hill, now somehow poses “unusual circumstances” that preclude San Francisco’s approval. [...] That the site successfully operated as a restaurant for nearly a century belies any claim of “unusual circumstances.”

The city also alleges that since “reopening Julius’ Castle in the building where it operated for 84 years without any expansion of the building envelope qualified for a categorical exemption” from CEQA that the complaint is baseless.

Julius’ Castle is a registered city landmark, named for its original owner, the Italian immigrant restaurateur Julius Roz.

According to the city’s court filings the place closed in 2007. Scott picked it up in 2012 and has been trying to open it up for business again every since. A November court date is presently set.