by Doug Comstock
The old Masonic Lodge at 403 First Ave. – long before it was renamed Arguello
Boulevard – approaches its 110th birthday, as the building undergoes a major
transformation from the Shan-Yee Poon School of Ballet to a Live Fit Gym.
The local gym, which also operates four other locations in the City, will
occupy the second and third floors of the building. A pizzeria covers much of the first
floor and a pilates studio is the current tenant at 9 Clement St.
The interior of the building has undergone extensive remodeling, estimated to
cost $250,000, with the main auditorium accommodating exercise machines and
a separate cardio room as well as space for classes, changing rooms, showers and a
massage room. Personal training, acupuncture and chiropractic services
round out the program offered by Live Fit.
The new owner of the historic site, Dr. Rennie O’Brien, hopes to keep much of the
historic feeling as well as many of the original fixtures and features as possible.
There is not much of the original exterior that survives from its glory days as a
Masonic Lodge, and nothing is known about the architect of the original structure.
Architect Bernard Joseph was granted a permit in October 1936, before current,
strict rules controlled historic buildings, to “remove wood corners and moldings,
build a scaffold, metal lath and cement plaster on both street fronts.” The handwriting is
sometimes indecipherable, but nothing indicates the total makeover that
reshaped the 1908 Neoclassic temple into the Art Deco facade that exists today.
A noted architect, Joseph’s ornate Art Nouveau Sunset Theater (1911), located on
Haight Street between Cole and Clayton streets, closed in 1924. Today, it is a vintage
clothing store called Wasteland. His best-known works, produced in partnership
with Gustave Lansburgh, include the Newman and Levinson Building (1909), on Stockton
Street; Hammersmith Building (1907), on Sutter Street (landmark #117);
Manx Hotel (1908), on Powell Street; and the second Emporium store at
835 Market St. He is also noted as the co-designer of the original Orpheum
Theater, which was located on O’Farrell Street.
The exterior of the Masonic Lodge building has suffered from years of neglect and the
repainting and resurfacing job was recently completed for the new gym’s grand
For more information about the Live Fit Gym, go to the website at http://www.livefitgym.
com or call (415) 525-4364.