Press Release

Press Release: Cliff House to Close


NPS Forces the Cliff House to Close Its Doors Permanently

180 Employees Lose Their Jobs

It is with deep regret and heartbreak that we must inform you that The Cliff House will close permanently on Dec. 31, 2020.

Our 20-year concession contract expired on June 30, 2018; by that time, the National Park Service (NPS) should have selected an operator on a long-term basis to ensure the continued operation of this national treasure. Since then, the NPS has issued us one six-month and then two consecutive one-year concession contract extensions rather than proceed in a timely fashion with their responsibility to execute a new long-term contract or lease.

The first step in this process was to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) which they did not do until Aug. 13, 2019 􏰀 more than a year and half after this process should have begun. Since 2018, we have negotiated in good faith with the NPS to continue our long stewardship of this iconic San Francisco landmark including our teaming with another operator which submitted a response to the requested RFQ. Our last extension was executed on Jan. 1, 2020 and expires on Dec. 31, 2020.

As we all know, the unprecedented situation brought on by the COVID-19 Pandemic has decimated the restaurant industry. We have continued to uphold our responsibility throughout 2020 even though we have been unable to operate since March 17. We did attempt to institute takeout service in early June, but after 10 weeks could not continue to sustain the unbearable losses associated with takeout.

It costs tens of thousands of dollars every month to maintain and guard the massive Cliff House building. There really is no excuse to be in this situation. There was no COVID-19 in 2018; one or more upper-echelon leaders within the NPS obviously did not do their jobs, resulting in this sad situation.

The NPS offered us a fourth one-year extension to continue guarding and maintaining their building with all costs to be paid for by us without any compensation whatsoever from the NPS. Unlike the government which is not held accountable for profits and losses, we could not accept the additional extension as there is no possibility of doing a sustainable level of business for the foreseeable future.

We attempted to work with them to find a way to move forward given the challenges everyone continues to face during the pandemic. We waited patiently for a response from the NPS to our inquiries regarding the fate of The Cliff House. We finally received an answer at the late date of Dec. 7, 2020. The decision they provided is as follows:

The first RFQ has expired and will need to be completely redone causing a further delay of what could be years. Given how that went in more normal times we do not expect this to be done in a timely manner.
There will not be an interim successor/partner so the building will be left unoccupied and watched over b􏰂 the NPS at tax􏰃pa􏰂ers’􏰄 e􏰃xpense. 

We must remove all personal property in the building including all memorabilia as opposed to being paid for our property by the ultimate successor operator as provided in our contract. There will be no effort to speed up the process for successorship.

We have been the proprietors of the Cliff House for 47 1/2 years and are probably the longest-tenured in the 157- year history. We were in fact operating the Cliff House for four years before it became part of the National Park System. We leased the Cliff House from George Whitney, Jr. in 1973 and the NPS did not purchase it until 1977.

This is certainly not the way to thank us, a local small business owned and operated by native San Franciscans, for taking care of this San Francisco treasure this past year at a significant financial loss. Again, this all could have been prevented by the award of a long-term contract two and half years ago.

It is obvious that the NPS has failed in its stated mission to safeguard natural and cultural resources:

As a result, The Cliff House will be boarded up and fenced in for several years as they once again try to implement their own processes.

Realistically we are looking at two to three years of a closed facility. And if there is insufficient maintenance done to keep it up, re-opening costs will be tremendous. How will The Cliff House look/feel when it eventually re-opens? Will there be some element of local ownership? Will it even be 􏰅The Cliff House?􏰆

All of us here at The Cliff House are outraged at the failure of the NPS to select a new long-term operator in 2018, thereby avoiding all this unnecessary hardship and heartache. In the meantime, a lot of priceless memorabilia will be auctioned off and be gone with the wind. Lost forever and with it an important part of San Francisco history.

We are seeking help in holding the NPS publicly responsible for their failures resulting in the loss of the livelihood of 180 employ􏰂ees and their families, as well as the loss of one of San Francisco’􏰄s treasured landmarks and the financial loss suffered by those of us local folks who did our best to stay true to this legacy.

To show your support you can email the NPS directly at: Laura Joss

Thank You,

Dan and Mary Hountalas, Proprietors since 1973

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