The Cow Palace has hosted some of the biggest musical acts in the past half-century, from the Beatles in 1964 to Metallica in 2004, and it was at the Daly City venue that John F. Kennedy gave his 1960 speech that first outlined his idea for the Peace Corps.
Though it is one of the Bay Area's historic venues for concerts and events, the Cow Palace may soon go the way of other old structures - like New York's Polo Grounds and San Francisco's Playland at the Beach- that are torn down to make way for redevelopment.
State Sen. Leland Yee has introduced a bill to let Daly City purchase the Cow Palace property, which is owned by the state. He said he wants to fix up the neighborhoods near the Cow Palace and put more money in state coffers.
Ultimately, say Yee and Daly City officials, the 68-acre property will be used to build a grocery store, bank, housing and other projects that will benefit people in the underserved areas - including San Francisco's Visitacion Valley - that border the Cow Palace.
Yee, D-San Francisco, said it's not a fait accompli that the Cow Palace would be razed under the terms of the bill and a subsequent sale of the property. But Daly City's manager says otherwise.
"The Cow Palace has outlived its usefulness," said City Manager Patricia Martel. Events there "contribute nothing to our community. Why would we keep it?"
Since Yee introduced the bill Friday that is making its way through State Senate committees, opponents have gathered forces in a bid to preserve what they say is a Bay Area treasure. If anything, they argue, the Cow Palace - built in 1941 with funding from the Works Progress Administration - should receive special status as an officially designated landmark.
"I'm mad as hell," said Kevin Patterson, a San Francisco native whose Great Dickens Christmas Fair is held every year at the Cow Palace. Patterson, with other outraged residents, started the Web site www.savethecowpalace.com. "It should not be sold to Daly City, and certainly should not be bulldozed. This is a real estate venture disguising itself as an attempt to improve the local community."
Mindful that they need to explain the Cow Palace measure to a public that might be skeptical, Yee and the bill's supporters are holding a series of public forums over next four weeks, starting tonight at Daly City's Bayshore Community Centre.
Pros and cons.
Already, residents who live and work near the Cow Palace are divided by Yee's measure and Daly City's vow to take a wrecking ball to the Cow Palace.
"It would be a good thing," Juan Guzman said Wednesday morning as he waited for a Muni bus at the corner of Geneva and Santos streets, across from the Cow Palace. Guzman, a 47-year-old contractor, says the area badly needs a grocery store. A smattering of convenience stores, family restaurants and fast-food outlets dot the streets near the Cow Palace, but no supermarket. "We don't have anything here," Guzman said.
But Alan J. Smith, a homecare provider who grew up near the Cow Palace, says the venue, besides providing jobs for working-class people, hosts a number of children-friendly events.
"I've been coming to the Cow Palace since way back watching the original Globetrotters; I took my little stepkids to the Globetrotters last month," said Smith, 50, standing near the corner of Geneva and Santos Streets as he, too, waited for a Muni bus.
"It's a landmark," he said. "They have the rodeo, the flower show, the antique show - there are so many good things going on in there."
Martel and the Daly City Council, which lobbied Yee to author his measure, say the Cow Palace hosts too many gun shows, erotic balls and rap concerts, which, said Martel, "contribute nothing to our community and create more problems in terms of public safety issues."
But Mark El-Miaari, who has run a convenience store across the street from the Cow Palace for 17 years, said crime from events is negligible, and that groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses also hold annual events at the Cow Palace, which bring in thousands of people who spend money in the neighborhood.
The debate over the Cow Palace's merits would never have reached the Legislature if the Cow Palace and Daly City had completed their negotiations over the property.
For more than two years, the two sides discussed having Daly City lease the upper parking lot, which totals 13 acres and connects with land that Daly City is already developing for housing. Martel says the Cow Palace Board of Directors, a state-appointed body, demanded income from Daly City's new housing properties as part of any deal - which is when Daly City ended negotiations and approached Yee.
The senator, whose district includes Daly City, said he was already looking at ways to improve the area around the Cow Palace when Daly City asked him to consider a bill that would let it buy the whole 68-acre property, not just the 13 acres of the upper parking lot.
The Cow Palace hosts about 60 events a year, and generates, according to Martel, "a minimal amount" of revenue from parking, ticket and concession sales that's divided among Daly City, San Mateo County and the state. Yee said the Cow Palace, when it balances revenues against the costs to running the facility, loses money every year, and needs millions of dollars in earthquake retrofitting that the cash-strapped state can't afford to fund.
If the Cow Palace is torn down, Yee said, he will help ensure that annual events ordinarily held there will find a home elsewhere in the Bay Area.
That's not good enough for the Dickens Fair's Patterson, Cow Palace Chief Executive Officer Walter Haub or other fans of the facility, who say it should be preserved at the same time that Daly City gets part of the property on which to build a grocery store, bank and other neighborhood amenities. Showing visitors around the Cow Palace on Wednesday, Haub pointed to a wall in the box office where such stars as Elvis Presley, Tom Jones and Burt Bacharach had signed their names after concerts. In the Cow Palace's corridors, blown-up photographs spotlight the singers, sports teams, evangelists, politicians and rodeo stars who've performed or spoken to adoring crowds. Outside, along Geneva Avenue, an electric sign advertised the facility's upcoming performances, which include a garden show, train show and circus.
"We're not saying we're the Taj Mahal," Haub said, "but we also believe that we still have a role to play in the community."
Public forums on Sen. Leland Yee's Cow Palace bill
Tonight, 7 o'clock: Bayshore Community Center, 450 Martin St., Daly City
March 8, 10 a.m.: Visitacion Valley Community Center, 66 Raymond Ave., San Francisco
March 8, 11 a.m.: Bayshore Community Center, 450 Martin St., Daly City
March 25, 7 p.m.: Saddleback Homeowners Clubhouse, 1800 Saddleback Drive, Daly City
Cow Palace history
The Cow Palace has hosted some of the country's biggest names and events in its 67-year history:
1941: Using money from the government's Works Projects Administration, the Cow Palace is built on Daly City land that adjoins San Francisco.
1946: The Grand National Rodeo begins its uninterrupted string of yearly shows.
1956: The Republican National Convention is held, with Dwight D. Eisenhower accepting the party's nomination for a second term as president.
1958: Billy Graham brings his evangelical message to tens of thousands who crowd into the Cow Palace over the course of two months.
1960: In a speech during his presidential campaign, Sen. John F. Kennedy tells an audience of 20,000 that the United States should establish a Peace Corps.
1962: The San Francisco Warriors, the NBA team formerly based in Philadelphia, choose the Cow Palace as its new arena.
1964: The Republican National Convention returns, nominating Barry Goldwater for president.
1964, 1965: The Beatles give concerts before thousands of adoring fans.
1970: Stuntman Evel Knievel does one of his motorcycle jumps that has him go up a ramp and soar over parked cars and trucks.
Autographs from celebrities, including Elvis Presley and Gene Kelly, decorate the walls of the Cow Palace box office. Chronicle photo by Paul Chinn
1976: Elvis Presley performs.
1991: The San Jose Sharks open play at the Cow Palace while they await the building of an arena in San Jose.
2004: The heavy-metal band Metallica performs.
2007: Oracle hosts a corporate bash, bringing in Billy Joel to perform for its employees. At Oracle's Cow Palace event in 2006, Elton John was the star attraction.
Source: Chronicle research.
Posted: 2nd. March 2008