The darkest nights produce the brightest stars!
On what can only be described as a glorious sunny afternoon on Saturday, August IS, we had a small ceremony in the back parking lot of the United Irish Cultural Center (UICC) to dedicate the Grand Opening of ‘Wawona Gates’ -our 2020 outdoor dining venture. It was a brilliant, bright day-toastier than a normal San Francisco summer’s day, without a cloud in the sky or any sign of the fog belt that usually hugs the coast and envelopes the Irish Center in a gray mist at this time of year.
Board member Mark Burke and I spoke briefly from the double staircase to patrons and supporters gathered before us, about the efforts behind the scenes during the past six months to be now officially open and provide a safe place for people to come and dine out. Meeting the challenges related to running the Irish Center on a shoe string revenue stream is no small undertaking.
We spoke about how grateful we were to our hardworking fellow board members, volunteers, patrons, employees, sponsors, caterers, builders, and our members. I reserved the largest thank you for Mark and Molly Burke, and Josephine and Paddy Brogan who have been at Wawona Gates since the very beginning from open to dose each day. Re-opening chairman Liam Reidy, and the UICC staff ( Angela and Ligia) have worked tirelessly in the background, focused on Covid-I9 compliance, bar staf£ volunteers, facilities upgrades and maintenance, to ensure Wawona Gates runs smoothly.
The goal of our outside dining plan, ( which began last April), was to throw open our “gates” to provide what would likely become our only financial lifeblood to help defray the costs associated with maintaining such a large physical plant-without the usual revenue streams that have supported the Irish Center during the previous past five decades.
I was six years old when the Irish Center first opened and had its original dedication. I have seen many photos from that day and I can only imagine the immense pride that was felt among the people who were responsible for carving out a corner for the Irish in this southwest part of the city. I too was bursting with immense pride on August I 5 when we officially opened our latest venture, Wawona Gates.
This board has had to endure some radical curve balls in the last six months and our objective is to successfully navigate through this pandemic and not allow the UICC to be wiped away like other local Sunset district businesses which have already fallen victim. For example, gone are Louis’ restaurant overlooking the site of the former Sutro Baths after 83 years, the eatery at Seal Rock Inn shuttered after 43 years, and small cafes like Beachside Coffee Bar and Kitchen and Art’s Cafe.
Unfortunately, longevity and previous success are not determining factors in whether or not a business can survive the pandemic. Some successful eateries rely entirely on patrons coming inside to dine; they just can’t move to the sidewalk or an adjacent parking lot.
So what is going to keep the UICC open? Luck? Creativity? Supporters? Community? I don’t think it is just one of these. Maybe it is a combination of all of the above?
So let’s talk about these.
Luck-we have the ‘Luck of the Irish’ on our side!Thank goodness for our parking lot at the rear of
Creativity-we developed new ideas and started new ventures like the Irish Shoppe, Wawona Gates and Dinners to Go. When we couldn’t meet in person we used You Tube and social media to bring cultural events to our members. We launched the successful Saint Patrick’s Appeal, and Comhaltas Irish classes transitioned to the online Zoom platform.
Supporters-we have amazing financial support from so many people. To date we have had 417 donors and sponsors step up and make pledges to the Annual Appeal to ease the pressure on our financial need. Thank you for believing in us!
Community-we have a very strong locally based IrishAmerican community that dreamed up the idea of the center, and built and maintained the facility for the last 45 years, and I’m confident it will continue well into the future.
While our elderly members and supporters in the community maybe waiting out the pandemic at home, we will be ready to welcome you all back with open arms as soon as it is possible.
In the meantime, we have put a call out to start sourcing and collecting items of a personal or historical nature that might be of interest to the broader Irish-American community. Plans are afoot to expand the library at the Irish Center into a Heritage Center of sorts.
It would be great if you could reach out to me at the Center if there is something you would like to donate and put on display permanently or on loan for a period. Items like an old passport, your first green card, a boat ticket from your first trip to the US as an immigrant, a plane or train ticket to San Francisco?
Maybe you saved your first pay check from your time at the Sante Fe railroad or the PG&E company? Perhaps you have the meeting minutes from an organization that you were once a part of? Items in shoe boxes under your parents bed or stashed away in an old armoire are sometimes treasure troves of artifacts and relics that tell the story of the Irish in San Francisco. Don’t let that history be lost to a dump truck or the weekly garbage pickup. Let the Irish Center be guardians of the material to put it on display in the Heritage Center and allow us to tell your story.
Finally, my daughter and I attempted some stargazing recently. Every year during the second week of August the night sky puts on a dazzling display for stargazers in Earth’s northern hemisphere. The Perseid meteor shower was streaking across the sky for three nights. For the first two nights it was meant to be visible the sky was
overcast and we were not able to see anything. On the third and final peak night of the meteor streak I woke up at 4:30am and looked out the window. It was the darkest, and clearest night of the three. I woke my daughter up and we laid out in the backyard, turned the lights off and watched a dark sky come alive with shooting stars.
The darkest nights produce the brightest stars!
Anne Cassidy Carew, President of the UICC