Owner Ira Sandler balances
community and customer relations at San Francisco's resilient
By Daphne Carr
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
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.