Privacy Please: Covering a SOMA Hotel to Keep Seniors Happy

The Planning Commission is not sexy. Phonebook-sized case summaries before the Planning Commission are not sexy. But a line unearthed from one 425-page case summary does hold within it at least a kernel of sexy.

With regards to a proposed 11-story hotel at 250 Fourth St., neighborhood groups insisted upon "the addition of privacy louvers" for some of the hotel-to-be's floor-to-ceiling windows. Louvers — blinds, essentially — are not exactly a cutting-edge feature for a modern hotel. But in this neighborhood, the combination of floor-to-ceiling windows and an unimpeded view of all going on behind them for gawpers in Yerba Buena Square has likely led many to wish for some judiciously placed screening.

Readers of Kemble Scott's 2007 bestseller SoMa may recall a female character being lured to the Argent Hotel and debauched, not knowing she was participating in a spectator event. That book's author insists that this is not a mere literary creation: Around 2002, he says, people who enjoyed being watched would put on a show at the Argent (which is now the Westin). "This was a thing," insists Scott James, the nom de real life of Kemble Scott. "This was the exhibitionists' hotel of choice."

This, however, was not the inspiration for mandatory louvers. Some of the proposed new hotel's rooms will be situated just 40 feet across an alley from a high-rise senior center. John Elberling is the CEO of TodCo, which runs eight affordable residential facilities in SOMA — and he's less concerned about his residents viewing lusty guests out their windows than guests of any sort peering in the windows of the elderly residents. "Rather than have seniors need to have their blinds closed all day, if the hotel is going to have floor-to-ceiling windows, they should install these louvers," he says. Informed of the reputation of the Westin around the corner, he laughs. "Sunbathers? Flashers? I can tell you that did not come up."

Alas, no voyeur-friendly scenes appeared during a recent nocturnal voyage to Yerba Buena Square. Human figures are clearly visible in the Westin's wide windows, but discerning what's going on would require binoculars. A pair of Yerba Buena janitors affirmed that large groups of binocular-toting men do not congregate in the area; the closest thing to quirkiness in the park was a fire-dancer. In the heady days of the early 21st century, folks may have braved the cold to catch a glimpse of distant couples slamming away, many floors above. In 2013, however, there's likely an app for that.

 
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