By Ken Williams | Editor
The Flame — a landmark lesbian bar that opened in 1984, and then changed hands 20 years later — was sold this week to a Hillcrest developer.
James Nicholas of Clownfish Partners, who bought the vacant property at 3780 Park Blvd. from seller Donny Duenas for $1.9 million, told San Diego Uptown News that he will be turning the single-story structure into a multi-use project by adding six apartments and a central courtyard.
Nicholas said he plans to “restore the façade” of the vintage building and keep the iconic sign. “It will stay on the building and get restored to its former glory,” he vowed.
Members of the LGBT community have been worried about saving buildings that have historical significance. Nicholas said The Flame building has never been designated as historical. “There is currently a study being done to see if it is, in fact, historic,” he said. “If it is designated as historic, I would love to have it acknowledged on the building.”
The “Hillcrest History Timeline” published on HillQuest’s website offers this tidbit about the old nightclub:
“1984 — The Flame, an old supper club on Park Blvd (named after a fire destroyed the first restaurant, The Garden of Allah), reopens as a lesbian bar. It changes ownership twenty years later, after being purchased by the owners of Numbers, a watering hole across the street. The Flame changed ownership again in 2010.”
The seller’s brokerage firm, Location Matters of Del Mar, stated in a news release that Duenas had operated The Flame since 2008. Mike Spilky of Location Matters handled the sale and Paul Ahern of Location Matters will oversee the leasing of the cocktail lounge.
The developer said the 6,098-square-foot lot is already zoned for multi-use, so the addition of six apartments won’t require rezoning. Nicholas explained where the apartments will be built in relationship to the existing building, which has 7,800 square feet and a basement.
“They will be within the existing structure above the new cocktail lounge that will be reduced in size to 2,000 square feet and behind the new cocktail lounge and will go up a total of three stories, two more than the ground floor,” Nicholas said.
Until a tenant is signed for the cocktail lounge, there is no telling whether the bar will remain LGBT oriented. The developer said he has no preference.
News of the sale of the vacant property quickly drew praise from several community leaders in Hillcrest.
“I am happy to hear that there is movement on this property. New residential is always a good thing in Hillcrest,” said Ben Nicholls, executive director of Hillcrest Business Association.
“I am enthusiastic to have the property continue as a nightlife and entertainment destination. I do hope that the new owners seek out a creative entertainment concept that fits with the new hip feel of Park Boulevard,” he said.
“The days of the Flame being a ‘hole in the wall’ are over. Whatever happens, I am confident that the iconic signage and LGBT cultural influence will feature prominently at that location.”
Luke Terpstra, chair of the Hillcrest Town Council, welcomed the property’s sale.
“This part of Hillcrest has really been improving over the last couple of years and this is good news when a business can reopen and breathe neighborhood life again,” Terpstra said. “It does not need to be a gay business, just a successful business that serves the community at large.”
This stretch of Park Boulevard, south of University Avenue, is part of the city’s Egyptian Quarter. The Flame, however, does not reflect that style of architecture. But the area is seeing a mini building boom with the construction of the Mr. Robinson loft building at the corner of Park Boulevard and Robinson Avenue. Executive chef Brad Wise will be opening TRUST restaurant in the new building.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.