When Vice President Al Gore and Governor Gray Davis stopped by San Francisco's City Hall last September, the stated purpose of the photo op with Mayor Willie Brown was to announce another photo op a month later: the groundbreaking of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center to be built at 1800 Market Street.
But Gore also presented Pat Martel, president of the Center's board, with a certificate designating the century-old Fallon Building - which preservationists had blocked the board from tearing down, instead forcing them to incorporate the existing building into the new center's design - as an official project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Save America's Treasures" program, which Hillary Rodham Clinton touts in her capacity as first lady.
At that event, Gore also suggested that Clinton's designation would make the project eligible for "historic tax credits" from the Internal Revenue Service.
"When the vice president was here, when we had that particular event," said Martel last week, "we were hoping that along with that designation we would be eligible for funding through the historic tax credit program."
But as it turned out, the certificate from Gore had little, if anything, to do with a recent aesthetic objection from the National Park Service - which much certify historic tax credits - that the design of the new 35,000 square foot building detracted from the existing 6,600 square foot Fallon Building.
As a result of the decision, the center will lose about $500,000 in funding.
According to center officials and architects, the design for the new glass and steel structure is too high for the NPS reviewers, and they also didn't like a sloping glass structure connecting the new and the old buildings, which center designers plan to light from behind with colored lights.
The decision surprised and disappointed center officials and supporters, in part because of the high profile Gore-Clinton designation, but also due to the endorsement from a number of historic preservationists and the city's landmark board for the hybrid center's design.
But the irony of the decision was that the historic tax credit funding was held forth as the big financial carrot to stop the center's board from tearing the Queen Anne Victorian down and instead building anew.
"We were a bit surprised that it was denied," said Dennis Richards, president of the Friends of 1800 Market Street, one of the leading groups that had blocked the demolition and advised on the center's design. "We have on our board five or six architects, and three or four of those are preservation architects, and we thought the new building complimented the old building well."
While Richards said that he hoped the center would appeal the ruling, Martel said that had now been ruled out.
"We are withdrawing our application. We investigated the possibility completely and the only way we could be eligible for the funding would be to completely redesign the project," said Martel, who last month was reelected along with the other officers of the center's board to another term.
Martel and others expressed resentment that they had spent substantial time and money making modifications to the center design in an effort to secure the funding.
"As part of the whole process to apply, we had extensive meetings with the State Historical Preservation office and the National Park Service," said Dana Van Gorder, vice president of the board. "We went over every detail."
Van Gorder said that it had been estimated that it would take between $500,000 and $600,000 to keep the Fallon Building and restore it, rather than tear it down as the board had originally preferred. The tax credits made the preservation route seem more acceptable.
Jane Cee of Cee/Phau Collaborative, managing architect for the center, said that the meetings with the NPS began about a year and a half ago, near the beginning of the design process.
"We were disappointed, obviously," said Cee. "We had thought that, although everything was not their ideal, the design was complimentary to the Queen Anne. We had done several things to modify the design to accommodate their concerns." For example, Cee noted, the new building's height had actually been lowered by about four feet, a modification she had thought was acceptable.
"We've spent between $100,000 and $200,000 already" modifying the plans in an effort to win the historic tax credits, Cee told the B.A.R.
Martel said that the higher-ups at the NPS told her that aspects of the new building's design simply ran contrary to the agency's standing guidelines for eligibility to the historic preservation tax credits.
But Cee said that was not true, saying the preservation guidelines were broadly written and "open to very subjective interpretation."
In fact, contrary to the notion that the new building will be too different from the old one, Cee said that according to the NPS guidelines, "they like it to be distinctly different."
Had the center decided to make the substantial modifications that the NPS reviewers had suggested in their alternative drawings, Cee estimated that there would be an additional cost of up to $500,000 and a delay in construction of six to eight months, very likely moving the grand opening back to sometime in 2002.
Though initially planned to open this winter, that date was later moved to June 2001; the board now projects an opening by July 2001.
In any case, money and pledges continue to come in to pay for the completion of the 40,670 square foot facility, budged at a total of $14.5 million, including fixtures and furnishings.
"We'll survive," Van Gorder said. "We're up to $12 million in pledges."