It was a jewel of the fundraising campaign for the city's future gay community center: a $1,000 a plate gala uniting the gay community with the politicians and corporate donors who had supported the long-awaited project.
But while more than 900 guests circulated with cocktails at the Hyatt Regency hotel Friday night, approximately 40 men and women gathered outside the reception room's glass walls, where they shouted "Save the Fallon Building!" and waved signs that read "Real San Franciscans don't tear down Victorians."
The center of this controversy is the Fallon Building, a shuttered Victorian at the community center's future site, at Market and Octavia streets. The decision by the center's board of director sin September to eliminate the building from the center's design has provoked vehement protest both from preservationists, who claim the building is socially and architecturally significant, and members of the gay community, who say the board is neglecting their wishes.
"The gay community has always been pioneers in preservation, and the board isn't respecting that history," said Rob Bregoff, a member of Friends of 1800 Market, a coalition that formed to save the building. "It's ironic that the board is calling it a community center without considering the desires of the community," he said.
On the other side of the glass, however, donors and politicians footing the bill for the center said their only goal was to see the center built. Guests included Mayor Willie Brown, who pledged $6 million in city funds toward the center's $9.5 million cost.
"There are people among us who want no change at all, regardless of the consequences," Brown told the crowd. "The fact that [the board] could walk through the process and come to the conclusion that [the building] does not fulfill its function shows a marvelous step forward for this city," he said.
The Fallon Building was originally included in the ultramodern design that emerged from an architectural competition last April. But the board voted to rule it out when a feasibility study by the project's architects estimated the cost of renovating the building at $2.6 million, four times the amount projected when the site was purchased last fall. Architects also said keeping the Victorian would reduce space for the 41,000 square foot center by 25 percent and compromise the center's seismic stability.
Members of Friends of 1800 Market, which formed after the vote, say the building should be saved for its unusual Queen Anne period features and to herald the transition from the high-rises of Market to the Victorian facades of the Castro District. Members also say the board's estimate of $250 per square foot to restore the building is grossly exaggerated, and they have asked local artisans to offer their restoration skills to the project free of charge. Though board members have offered to sell the building for $1 to anyone who would move the structure to a location where it could be restored, Friends member tom Mayer says the building's site is integral to its significance, as it is located on the fire line of the 1906 fire.
The fight for the building has taken on a militant flavor, thanks in part to Jim Siegel, a Haight Street businessman who led the protest at the fund-raiser. Last month, Siegel launched a coalition called San Francisco First, which aims to preserve neighborhood character by employing the tactics of radical groups such as Earth First. Siegel says he intends to lead civil disobedience actions, including lying down in front of the bulldozers, if the Fallon Building is set for demolition.
"It's a quality of life issue. Some may say it's extreme, but I call it passionate," Siegel said at a Tuesday news conference. Though he said the gay community should be united, not split, on the issue, Siegel said he was "ashamed of people from the gay community who are putting money into this."
"Not one dollar of gay money should go into this high-rise if we can help it," he said.
Both Friends of 1800 Market and the center's board have accepted an offer by Supervisor Tom Ammiano and BART Board member Tom Radulovich to serve as mediators between the parties. Mayer said mediation sessions would probably begin early next month. In the meantime, the Landmarks Board will hold a hearing on the Fallon Building on Wednesday.