Lefty O’Doul’s has been a Union Square staple for decades. (Gabrielle Lurie/2015 Special to S.F. Examiner)

Lefty O’Doul’s has been a Union Square staple for decades. (Gabrielle Lurie/2015 Special to S.F. Examiner)

Lefty O’Doul’s property owners win restraining order in fight over historic restaurant memorabilia

A judge has issued a temporary restraining order barring the family running San Francisco’s Union Square mainstay Lefty O’Doul’s from removing memorabilia and other property from the restaurant prior to a hearing next month to determine ownership.

The order was issued Friday in a lawsuit filed by the Handlery family, which owns the 333 Geary St. property where the hofbrau has operated since 1958, against JGX Inc., the Bovis family firm that has run the restaurant since the 1990s.

The two families are battling for ownership of Lefty O’Doul’s, with each asserting they own the rights to both the name and the baseball memorabilia and property that lines its walls.

The dispute became public when Bovis announced earlier this month that he would be moving the restaurant to a new location after he was unable to reach a new lease agreement with the Handlerys.

The property owners, in turn, said they owned the restaurant and all of its contents and planned to reopen at the same location, with the same name, after renovations.

The Handlery family filed suit in San Francisco Superior Court on Jan. 17 after learning that the Bovis family was removing memorabilia from the restaurant’s walls in preparation for the planned move.

The lawsuit describes the items as “iconic and unique,” and mostly more than 60 years old.

“Moreoever, the Lefty’s fixtures and Lefty’s memorabilia are a critical component of the distinctive atmosphere and sentimental charm of Lefty O’Doul’s that is so beloved by its loyal customers throughout the world,” the complaint states. “Monetary damages are inadequate, because the Lefty’s fixtures and Lefty’s memorabilia are unique to the bar and restaurant and cannot be replaced or replicated.”

The lawsuit claims that the Handlery family has documents showing ownership of the memorabilia predating the Bovis family’s tenure, and that the Bovis family disowned ownership of the memorabilia in 2001 for tax purposes.

The Bovis family, in turn, filed a lawsuit in federal court last Thursday claiming ownership to trademarks for the Lefty O’Doul’s name. That trademark violation lawsuit names Jon Handlery and Handlery Hotels and also public affairs spokesman Sam Singer, who is representing the Handlery family.

Attorney Joe Cotchett, who is acting as a spokesman for Bovis in the legal case, dismissed the restraining order as “standard procedure” prior to a Feb. 15 hearing. He said the court will likely have to hash out who owns which items of memorabilia, some of which the Bovis family has said were given directly to them.

“The big issue is over in federal court, and who owns the name Lefty O’Doul’s,” Cotchett said.

No court dates have been set yet in the trademark lawsuit.

Lefty O’Doul’s, which takes its name from the famous San Francisco baseball player and team manager, is set to close Feb. 3. The restaurant is offering free meals for all children 13 years old and under during its last week of operations.

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