The Cliff House will surely always be The Cliff House, right? Well, maybe not exactly. With its indefinite closure and the departure of its longtime operators — who trademarked "The Cliff House" — the spectacle of the restaurant's signage coming down on Thursday became a stark reminder that the restaurant probably won't have the same name if and when it reopens.
The restaurant's octogenarian operators, Dan and Mary Hountalas, announced earlier this month that they were closing The Cliff House indefinitely after not being offered a new long-term contract by the National Park Service. The couple and their family have run the Cliff House since 1973 — before the Park Service took over as owners of the property — and they have been obligated to reapply every 10 years for the right to continue being operators of the restaurant.
The Hountalases' operating contract came due for renewal in 2018, which entails a public request for qualifications and a competitive federal process. But rather than award them a new 10-year contract, the feds gave them a one-year extension, and then only gave them another three-and-a-half-year extension this year. And they were not pleased, after taking a loss during most of the pandemic.
"This is certainly not the way to thank us, a local small business owned and operated by native San Franciscans, for taking care of this San Francisco treasure this past year at a significant financial loss," the Hountalases said on the Cliff House website.
And, as the Chronicle reports, the family is not going quietly, and because they trademarked the Cliff House name, they took the sign with them and any new operator will need to use a different name.
The National Park Service said in a statement that the agency "understands the difficult circumstances the coronavirus pandemic created for businesses across the globe," and "has continued to negotiate in good faith and consider all options within our legal authority to allow [the Hountalases] to continue to operate the Cliff House, and the parties have thoroughly discussed and explored those alternatives."
Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement this week that she wanted "the National Park Service to explore all possible opportunities to maintain the historic role of this building as a restaurant and visitor destination. Our history is too important to set aside so readily."
Around a hundred people gathered Thursday for the removal of the sign, which dates to the building's 2003 renovation — it took about 15 minutes, and KQED reports that someone played "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" on a Bluetooth speaker.
Chances are, this isn't the last we're seeing of the Cliff House. And maybe someone will manage to strike a deal to buy the name back, eventually.
Still, this is what happened, and the family would like us to know they're not going quietly.
The #SanFrancisco landmark #CliffHouse is no more.— Christopher 'pixie boy' Beale (@realchrisjbeale) December 31, 2020
Hundreds turned out at noon to see the iconic letters come down, booing as workers began. As the E dropped, members of the gathered crowd sang Tony Bennett's 'I left my heart in San Francisco.'
Many wept at the end of an era. pic.twitter.com/C4v6tgAMJr
With a crowd of several hundred watching, the “C” on the Cliff House’s sign is unbolted and lowered to sidewalk on orange rope at high noon.— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) December 31, 2020
Story: https://t.co/WlCnTqAUjT pic.twitter.com/QKq5NLnmxU
Top image: Christopher Beale/Twitter