Hype, smarts, and solutions



Owner Ira Sandler balances community and customer relations at San Francisco's resilient Ten 15.

By Daphne Carr

In 1986, Ira Sandler read in the paper that a club at 1015 Folsom was going Chapter Eleven. Within a week he was handed the keys and began restructuring its three warehouse buildings into what was first to be known as Das Klub and now, Ten 15. With little over three years in underground promotion, Sandler still had a lot to learn. Now, Sandler has 16 years experience in the clubbing industry, and Ten 15 is recognized as one of the foremost nightlife destinations in the world.

The club’s neighborhood, the South of Market district in San Francisco, has flourished with Ten 15 as leader, and for the last decade Sandler has navigated the sometimes-difficult snares laid by police and community leaders in order to keep Ten 15 open. With several million dollars in interior and exterior sound reinforcements, the club is poised to both ease authorities’ minds and excite the audiences within.

This interview took place both over his newly developed web-board and in an old-fashioned breakfast setting in downtown Manhattan. The Ten 15 crew was in town to meet with Danny Tenaglia to discuss the installation of a new, super-improved DJ booth for his New Years’ Eve bash at the club.  

How do you think the Internet is changing the clubbing community, and how has the board changed the way you view the club?

More people are now deciding where to go at night from the Internet than from fliers and handouts. Patrons are using our chat rooms to create virtual communities to keep themselves more informed, consequently bonding closer to the club. People come to 1015.com, our website, to find out the particulars of the DJs, such as who is playing, their bios, their website, their time slot. They also come to see each week’s new digital photos, to buy tickets, and to talk about last weekend’s event. My approach to the message board has been the same as how I run the club: transparent and non-hierarchical. The things I enjoy most about the board is sharing experiences, learning from each other, and making everyone feel that by participating there will be a positive change.  

Everything about the club stresses your willingness to work with the crowd, the neighborhood, the police. How did this help you when the club was facing problems from the city?

The “willingness” you speak of allowed me to buy time till I could finally solve two very difficult problems: noise and drugs. 1015’s first eight years was in a raw, industrial landscape while the last eight has seen us completely surrounded by residential housing. The answer to the noise issue was a five-inch concrete skin with steel reinforcements to allow us to “bunker” down and boom the bass inside. After we solved the noise problem the police decided that clubs should no longer maintain a permissive drug atmosphere. Compromises were drawn and adhered to in an effective way.

Do you think the backlash had momentum in the general upswing in anti-nightlife policies in the neighborhood, or the greater trend of such in big cities? Was there any sense that Ten 15 was being made an example of because of its largeness and international reputation?

I believe that the increasing level of scrutiny under which we had to operate was directly proportional to our neighborhood changing from industrial to residential. Second, because there was a massive anti drug paranoia that swept through SF in the late ’90s, we may have been “made an example of” because we were a large club that had a kind of music the police felt encouraged drug use. But the underlying story was my inability to communicate with the police; being unable to make them trust me. Had it not been for my security manager, who knew what they wanted and how to communicate with them, I might have always been guilty of something, no matter what I did.

While people of course champion the improvements and neighbors are thrilled about the soundproofing, people still have issues with security. Knowing this is something you have to take very seriously, how do you put people’s minds at ease about security, and more generally, how have you brought people back to feeling comfortable in the club after its problems?

My GM Clay [Wilson] took it upon himself to “soften” the image of the club at the front door by personally greeting everyone on Friday and Saturday nights, dramatically changing the vibe to one that is friendly and relaxed. Before we open every night our security manager has a “service industry” training meeting with his staff. And for my part, I constantly respond to1015’s message board to make it clear how much the owner cares about his customers good will and his employee’s actions.  

Can you tell me about how the club is set up internally? How have things have changed in the way the club has been run since your time began there?

When I began 16 years ago, I was the sole promoter four nights a week and managed everything but the bar. Now I delegate authority to people who have a passion and knowledge for what they are doing. Spundae on Fridays books our world-class DJ talent, and Release does the same when it promotes our Saturdays. We have in house sound, light, R&D techs, and operators with enormous talent to maintain and fabricate our always-evolving sound and light show. I guess you might say things have become more technically complicated, having to now maintain a 100,000-watt sound system and a Formula One light show.  

How has coming from a promoter’s standpoint influenced your decisions? 

When it comes to spending money on a theatrical look, I think like a promoter, not a businessman. The bottom line never enters my mind. I just say to myself,  “I can’t wait to see or hear that effect!”  

What makes a club great? Where does Ten 15 fit into the future of clubbing?

A great club delivers world-class talent week after week, spoiling its audience with an abundance of riches. The graphics, the promoter/booking/flier people, the staff, the management, and the technical crew need to seamlessly exude a winning team concept. But the bottom-less line is for me: the pursuit of technical excellence is the key to any long-term world-class success.

Copyright 2002 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2002 TESTA Communications