BAY AREA REPORTER - December 25, 1997

Fallon Building Not Affected

by Cynthia Laird

The Community Center Project (CCP) has submitted two demolition permits for the site of the proposed gay community center, but neither permit is for the historic Fallon Building, which is the subject of meetings to work out a compromise between the CCP board and preservationists.

City Planning Department staff have confirmed that a hold has been placed on both permits, pending the filing of plans and environmental review documents by the CCP. The demolition permits were taken out just two days after a meeting called by Mayor Willie Brown to get both groups talking about possible solutions involving the fate of the Victorian building. The permits involve the 1808 and 1810 Market Street addresses; they are immediately adjacent to the Fallon Building and currently contain a single-story structure and a shed.

A planning department staff person said the two permits were submitted Friday, December 19; she was at a loss to explain why there were taken out when plans have yet to be submitted for a replacement structure, as in the city's policy. She also confirmed that the permits are being held and said that all of the lots must be looked at together for the project.

Environmental review requirements will depend on plans for the Fallon Building. A full environmental impact report (EIR) would be required if the building is to be torn down; the EIR would not be needed if the Victorian is kept with integrity, the level of which would have to be determined.

Scott Shafer, CCP board member, told the B.A.R. that the demolition permits were routine and filed to keep the project on track.

Both sides now meeting

CCP board members and Friends of 1800 Market Street representatives met for about 90 minutes on December 17; Brown had hastily set up the session when it became clear the controversy would not go away. Tensions have risen steadily since September, when CCP board members voted unanimously to demolish the Victorian for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, saying renovation costs would be exorbitant. Since then, preservationists have rallied around the 103-year-old Fallon Building, which escaped the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed the opposite side of Market Street. The two groups plan to meet again January 8, Shafer said.

Both groups said they felt the meeting went well. "We're happy, but concerned," Friends of 1800 Market Street member Tom Mayer told the B.A.R. "We feel it's strange, their [CCP board] objection to landmark [status]."

Jim Siegel, who helped spearhead the drive to save the Fallon Building, has made a formal offer to buy the building. He said the CCP board has until early February to consider selling it to him for $500,000. The purchase would not include the other lots, which could be used for a more vertical community center, or the board could sell them and relocate the project altogether.

At last week's meeting, David Bahlman, executive director of the Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage, and his team of preservationist architects and engineers presented their estimates for renovating the Victorian. They are much less than CCP's figures, which are between $1.6 and $2.6 million. Bahlman said the building could be renovated for approximately $1.3 million.

"Their figures are based on creating a new building," said Bahlman. "They have this wonderful old building, and they are not willing to treat it as a wonderful old building. They want to make a new building out of it." He added the CCP's expensive estimates are a result of a combination of charges, including foundation work, a rooftop deck, relocating the interior staircase, an air conditioning system, exterior siding and thermal-paned windows, and a kitchen.

Barbara French, with the CCP board, said they didn't get into specifics at last week's meeting, but each side got a feel for the other's position. "I feel good about the meeting, and am hopeful we can work together. We made it clear they'll have to compromise, and we'll have to compromise," French told the B.A.R.

The amount of compromising has yet to be determined.

"They need to cut back on their expectations and be content with the rehabilitation of the Victorian structure," Bahlman said of the CCP.

To Bahlman, who said the CCP board approached his organization about three years ago to discuss the Victorian, the present controversy and the rationales being used are somewhat surprising. "One of the reasons for the rooftop deck is that they are afraid that during celebration days, people would jump from the roof the new building onto the old building, so they want this elaborate roof deck," he said.

"They wanted the building [community center] to function as a town square, and for that reason they want to rehab the Victorian into a modern structure," Bahlman told the B.A.R. "It may be, ideally, an important philosophy, but when the philosophy dictates demolition of a historic building, it must be modified somewhat."

copyright 1998

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