Posted by Cathy Gowdy on Wednesday, March 22, 2006 at 07:44:32 :
San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2002
Leonard Martin -- opened S.F.'s famed Cannery
Back when old brick buildings were sneered at, not cherished, Leonard Victor Martin fell in love with a ramshackle brick warehouse in San Francisco. He also saw its business potential.
Mr. Martin died at his home in Ross earlier this month after a long illness,
34 years after he opened the Cannery near Fisherman's Wharf, one of the first triumphant examples of how sturdy buildings could be reborn and breathe new life into the city around them. He was 81.
Lauded by Herb Caen as one of "those San Francisco individuals who are Slightly Mad in the nicest possible way," Mr. Martin was born in Manchuria to Russian parents who had fled Siberia. He immigrated to San Francisco in 1940, eventually got a law degree at the University of California at Los Angeles and headed back north in 1958 to open his own law practice.
Five years later, Mr. Martin purchased the former Del Monte cannery on Jefferson Street. Built in 1907, at one point it employed 2,500 workers who churned out 200,000 cans of fruits and vegetables daily. But the cannery closed in 1937, and the building was a warehouse before finally being abandoned.
"It had a sense of smell," Mr. Martin told Time magazine in 1967 in explaining what attracted him to the building. But that flippant comment belied Mr. Martin's intuition that Americans would soon be seeking authenticity and novelty in older cities.
Authenticity, novelty -- the Cannery offered both when it opened. The sturdy brick shell was hollowed out and filled with three levels of activity. There were high-end clothing stores, restaurants of impeccable local cachet and such odd touches as a troupe of performing Humboldt penguins (the penguins moved to San Francisco Zoo in 1970).
Along with Ghirardelli Square to the west, which preceded it by a year or two, the Cannery was responsible for a craze in renovation of older commercial buildings across the nation. But to Bay Area residents of a certain age, the Cannery in its first decade seemed hipper than its neighbor -- less an obvious tourist spot and more a part of the city.
"He was full of fun, he had great vision, and he really cared," said Alessandro Bacarri, a longtime friend and executive secretary of Fisherman's Wharf Association. "They could have sold the building a dozen times, but he cared."
The complex is still family owned, and the managing partner is Mr. Martin's son Christopher.
"I remember my dad telling me about the time he saw a couple window shopping at a fashionable Italian store," Chris Martin said. "The wife wanted to go in but the husband said no, it was a tourist trap. My dad came over and said, 'Sir, I am the owner of this center and I insist that all the merchandise be competitively priced. Now would you please leave my building?' "
Even in the last decade of his life, when his health wavered, Mr. Martin "was always involved," Chris Martin said. "I'd talk to him on a daily basis about ideas and business and the larger neighborhood."
Mr. Martin is survived by Susi, his wife of 58 years; sons Stephen, Andrew, Chris and Paul, and nine grandchildren. Donations may be sent to Save San Francisco Bay Association, the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center or the Hospice of Marin.
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