"It was really a wonderful home," says artist John Wullbrandt, as he sifts through boxes of archives from his life in the Fallon Building at 1800 Market Street where he lived with a family of gay men from 1978 to 1992.
In the front window of Wullbrandt's current art studio, located on the outskirts of Noe Valley, hangs an elegant painting he did of 1800 Market filled with the soft glow of diffuse sunlight. "I painted the Victorian so that you could see into it. I wanted it to look the way it would look if it were fully restored," he says.
Wullbrandt put together an extensive display for a fund-raiser held at the Haas-Lillienthal Mansion to raise money for restoration of the Fallon Building. The one hundred and four year-old Victorian was, until recently, threatened with demolition by the Gay and Lesbian Community Center Project. The fundraiser was held on April 18, the 92nd anniversary of the 1906 earthquake, a fitting date, since the Fallon was the only Victorian on Market Street to survive the 1906 earthquake.
To the relief of many, the Fallon Building is now safe from the wrecking ball. The Gay and Lesbian Board has entered into an agreement with Friends of 1800 Market Street and San Francisco Heritage Foundation to landmark the building by June 17.
"We were hoping we'd have landmarking by April 15," says Gary Goad from Friends of 1800 Market. "This agreement will take longer but actually gives us a better result. It speeds up the approval for the schematic design of the new building at the same time as landmarking for the Fallon Building. So in June, all the plans will be available for the public comment process."
Goad echoes the sentiments of many people in the gay community. He says, "People come to San Francisco from all over the world and they just don't understand this love of Victoriana. The Victorian renaissance movement which was the whole establishment of fixing up Victorians was begun in the 1970's by gay men in the Castro. These buildings are testimonies to the past. They're testimonies to gay history and they're testimonies to creating the Castro. They're all about that whole experience."
Wullbrandt feels equally passionate about Victorians. So much so that he's taken on the role of unofficial mediator between "Friends" and the G&L Board. He says "After I found out that saving 1800 Market was going to be a battle, I was really upset, so I joined forces with the "Friends" right away and was among the people who demonstrated. But then I realized that the community really needed to come together on this. That people needed to join forces to save the building, not fight each other.
A combination of Wullbrandt's mediation, and interest from the public has ultimately contributed to saving the building. The G&L Board recently authorized their architects Jane Cee and Peter Pfau to start on the plans for restoration and adaptive reuse of the Victorian as well as starting from scratch on the schematic design for the new 41,000 sq. ft. building. "We are moving forward with the Community Center Project in the spirit of cooperation and community," says Brenda Barnette, president of the G&L Board.
Historic preservationists are hopeful that the revamped schematic design for the new portion of the community center will have an architectural style complimentary to the Fallon Building, a Queen Anne Victorian built in 1894.
The G&L Board is also leaving their options open until June about the possibility of moving the community center project to the Life Center site, an empty lot at 16th and Market. But this move is unlikely.
"Our significant funder, Mayor Brown, is prepared to give us six million dollars, but definitely wants us to break ground on the community center by September of 1999," explains Dave Latina, chair of the CCP building committee. "If we changed sites, we wouldn't be able to break ground in time. So we are proceeding full steam ahead with the Environmental Impact Report on 1800 Market."
John Wullbrandt grew up in Carpinteira, California and moved to San Francisco in 1978. The Fallon Building was his dream rental, a sunny Victorian with bay windows overlooking the city. This smaller painting of the Fallon Building he's holding, picture to the right, was painted in addition to the giant mural of the Fallon Building that he displays at the front of his studio.
His aspiration from grade school onward was to become a famous artist. To that end he has been flown all over to the world, to paint spectacular murals from The Grande Hotel in Nebraska, to the Manele Bay Hotel in Hawaii, to the New Royal Palace in the Kingdom of Tonga.
Wullbrandt has for years been community art director for the island of Lanai, Hawaii. His art is well known outside of San Francisco. Walk into company boardrooms across the country and the walls are lined with elegant bookcases made of dark wood. Look closer, in all its illusion, all those shelves and hardbound classics are painted on the wall. It's a John Wullbrandt creation, trompe-l'oeil, French for "to fool the eye."
Wullbrandt's goal as an artist is to create a beautiful environment. With his extraordinary talent, he transforms a plain wall into a colorful mural where the viewer has the illusion of looking out a window into a paradise full of flowers, ferns, castles, mountains, birds, butterflies, exotic scenes of the far east and celestial beauty.
Wullbrandt's work can be seen at 222 Hyde in San Francisco, in Architectural Digest (8/88 and 6/94), Homes and Gardens (1/91), at Villa and Castro in Mountain View, among many other locations.