THE INDEPENDENT - March 24, 1998


by Laura Peterson

The board of directors for a planned gay community center has bent to preservationists' wishes by deciding not to raze a Victorian on the center's future site -- though preservationists say they won't be satisfied until the building is declared a historical landmark.

Board members voted last Wednesday to rescind their earlier vote to tear down the Fallon Building, a Queen Anne Victorian located on the site at Market and Octavia streets purchased for the center in 1996. The board voted in September to tear down the building when architects estimated the cost of its renovation at $1.98 million, four times the original estimate.

But when the decision to demolish the structure prompted a wave of protest from preservationists and members of the gay community who called the building a cultural gem, the city ordered opponents and board members to participate in mediation sessions, which produced a study that reduced the cost of renovation by $400,000. However, preservationists have lobbied the city's Landmarks Board to declare the building a city landmark, a step board members fear would inflate costs once again by restricting the alterations architects could make to the building.

"We believe landmarking is going to make [renovation] a lot more costly," said board president Brenda Barnette. "Many of us live in these old buildings and love them, so it's totally a financial decision," she said.

Benefits of Landmark Status

Preservationists, however, worry that without landmark status the building would be modernized beyond recognition, and they claim landmark status could actually help decrease costs.

"[Landmarking] would allow architects to use the state historical building code, which gives breaks on disabled accessibility and safety codes, and could also be a great fund-raising tool," said David Bahlman of the Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage.

"I don't think [the board] fully understands the meaning or benefits of landmarking," said Gary Goad, spokesman for the ad hoc coalition, Friends of 1800 Market. "We want to make sure not only that the Fallon Building still stands but that its historic value is retained, because during this process we've learned just what a historic building it is," he said.

New Cost Assessment

The board is currently working on putting together another study on the costs of renovating the landmarked Fallon Building before the issue comes before the Landmarks Board April 15. Members of the Landmarks Board have already said they plan to approve the building's landmark status. If the cost of renovation is too high, Barnette said, the board may sell the building or select another site altogether.

The board of directors is scheduled to meet next on April 8.

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