Paragon Real Estate Makes Big Plan for Famed San Francisco Avenue

Posted by Maureen Healy — February 24, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO ­– (Feb. 25, 2008) – If San Francisco Real Estate was a board game, Paragon Real Estate Group would be well past “Go” and heading for more success with every roll of the dice. Recently, the city‘s fastest-growing, locally owned real estate brokerage landed rarified space at 1400 Van Ness Avenue as part of a unique property co-ownership arrangement with its agents.Paragon has quickly become a major player in local real estate. After only three and a half years in business, 2007 sales were just under $1 billion. Now the company is making good on their promise to share the wealth and give its agents a stake in the San Francisco landscape.“1400 Van Ness is a physical manifestation of our success and an exciting opportunity for our agents to invest in a significant commercial property,” said Sally Stull, who was a highly successful real estate agent in the city before co-founding Paragon in 2004 with colleagues Bob Dadurka, George McNabb, Anita Head, and Randy Zinn. “This move reflects our confidence in the market and our agents’ belief in us.”Creating vehicles for agents to participate in brokerage company investments is a unique approach that Paragon was committed to from the start. “I don’t know of any other company in San Francisco that offers agents opportunities to get in on the ground floor of major commercial investments like this,” said industry insider Karl Sopke, who manages Paragon’s investment fund. “The average investor in SF could never dream of owning a commercial building of this stature,” adds Paragon partner Anita Head. “Who has $2 million to plunk down?”In the 1850s, $17,000 was enough to build a mansion on Van Ness Avenue, which city planners considered the ideal North-South artery for the blooming city of San Francisco. The grand new boulevard was named after San Francisco’s seventh mayor, James Van Ness, who dedicated much of his career to identifying rampant false deeds in the area and restoring property to its rightful owners. Later, the Avenue lost favor as competing commercial streets developed downtown.It was the fire after the 1906 earthquake that inspired a revitalization of Van Ness development; the street’s unusual width of 125 feet made it a natural fire break, allowing some of its historic mansions to survive and encouraging further building of department stores and banks. When competing commercial streets developed downtown, the Avenue became home to big car dealerships and was dubbed “auto row.”Today, the Paragon business family joins an expanding list of private developers who are reviving the original vision for the Avenue and helping to realize city planners’ dreams for a mixed-use Van Ness corridor. City ordinances protect buildings like 1400 Van Ness, preserving colorful architectural features that distinguish the avenue and lend to its grandeur.If all goes as planned, Mayor Newsom’s “greening” initiatives will also create the grand, park-like feeling that early developers envisioned for the Avenue by widening and landscaping median strips and planting trees throughout the area. Further plans aim to restore and increase the historic light fixtures along Van Ness, as seen near City Hall.Unencumbered by past height and use limitations, former mansions and glamorous auto showrooms are being converted into luxury condominiums all along the Avenue, with big-name stores and grocers snapping up ground-floor spaces. According to George McNabb, a Paragon partner and the developer of a 52-unit condominium project at 818 Van Ness, seven mixed-use and luxury residential projects are under construction on the Avenue and more are awaiting city approvals.California Pacific Medical Center hopes to replace the Jack Tar Hotel at 1101 Van Ness. Paragon commercial real estate expert Jay Pon expects that full-city-block development to attract doctors’ offices, drive rents up and create new housing demands along with a new community. “Twenty years from now, all the single or two-unit buildings will be gone,” predicts Pon. “Van Ness will be more of a New York, cosmopolitan place to live with groceries, transportation, and healthcare all in one central location.”Paragon’s “new” Van Ness office building is undergoing a complete contemporary renovation on the inside while its towering, exterior Corinthian pilasters and rusticated base are restored. Erected in 1916 to house an auto dealership, the impressive, temple-like structure will become home to 75 Paragon agents in early summer of this year.Architect Warner Schmalz of Forum Design heads Paragon’s renovation project and shares a fondness for the early-1900s structures that made up the city’s auto row. “To Paragon’s credit, 1400 Van Ness will be exquisitely converted like the Avenue’s Maybecks that house the Jaguar showroom and the AMC Theatre,” says Schmalz. His plans preserve the site’s venerable bones and celebrate its grand scale with a two-story glass and stone staircase rising in the voluminous lobby. “I think the auto row history of this building in its neoclassical form is an interesting footnote about what Van Ness once was and what it wanted to be,” said Schmalz. “The city fathers didn’t want modest buildings, but temples to rebirth that street. This will be a lasting symbol of what the city can do 100 years after the fire.”And what will the Van Ness corridor be like 100 years from now? Perhaps it will be an American version of the Champs Elysées, with eclectic residential, retail and commercial buildings — inhabited by Paragon agents and others who still appreciate the timeless grandeur of 1400 Van Ness.

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