The ramshackle Victorian on the site of the future gay community center cleared its biggest hurdle on the path to renewal this week by obtaining the blessing of the city's historical-preservation board.
The Landmarks Board voted unanimously Wednesday to grant the Fallon Building, at Market and Octavia streets, permanent protection from demolition by declaring it a city landmark. A report compiled by local historian Ann Bloomfield gave the 1894 building high marks for surviving the quakes of 1908 and 1989, bordering the Hayes Valley Historical District, and being owned by Carmel Fallon, granddaughter of Joaquin Ysidro Castro, the Castro District's namesake.
"We honestly are very pleased we came a long way in a relatively short time," said Gary Goad of Friends of 1800 Market. "It shows preservation does matter in this town and you can't just bulldoze a building because it doesn't work with your plan," he said.
The decision is part of a deal brokered between the board of directors for the center and Friends of 1800 Market, an ad-hoc coalition of preservationists who rallied around the building after the board announced its plans to tear it down in favor of a modern structure. Board members feared that the $1.9 million cost of rehabilitating the building would climb even higher if architects had to contend with strict controls on landmark alterations, though preservationists convinced them that the price could be reduced by the exemptions in compliance with disability and safety codes that would accompany landmark status.
Board member Margaret Stone told the Landmarks board she hoped the project would move along quickly to put an end to the practice of "squatters" repeatedly breaking into the building and vandalizing the architecturally significant features of the interior, such as the winding staircase that spirals to the second floor. She said the board spent around $40,000 last year on security guards, fences, and repairing damage caused by trespassers."
"We're at our wits' end," said Stone. "We're investing a lot of money into this instead of in the center itself."
Preliminary designs for the refurbished building call for retaining the original facade, though the south-facing Market Street side has suffered major damage from sun and wind and will require more new materials, according to architect Jane Cee. Board members conceded to preservationists' desire to keep the original ground-level storefronts and the arched doorway that marked the building's main entrance, though the community building's entrance will be located in the new building.
Once the landmark status is approved by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, architects can move forward with designing the new building. The space-age design that featured a backlit, beveled-glass "flame" on the Market Street facade, a detail that won Cee and her partner Peter Pfau the job in a national competition, was tossed out when the board decided to keep the Fallon Building.
The design for the new structure will incorporate community input gathered in numerous focus groups, says Cee. Though the community center's board has not yet decided which programs will be located in the Fallon Building, Cee says there is already a waiting list of nonprofit organizations that want to install offices in the center.
The Planning Commission is expected to approve the landmark nomination later this month. Architects hope to begin construction by fall 1999.