by Tim Kelley
I would like to bring Voice readers up to date on the controversy surrounding the Fallon Building, the 1894 Victorian at 1800 Market St. now owned by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center Project (CCP) and threatened wih demolition by its owners. Negotiations are currently taking place in the mayor's office between the CCP and groups who support construction of the new community center but oppose demolition of this important historical structure.
The CCP, a nonprofit corporation, acquired the property in December 1996 for $1.1 million, all of which was supplied by the Mayor's Office of Community Development out of public funds. The parcel includes the Fallon Building and adjacent property, most of which is vacant.
Although they first declared their intention to restore the Fallon Building as part of the new center, in September 1997 the CCP begain to back away from that commitment. They called for public input, and at the one meeting held for that purpose received overwhelming and passionate testimony in favor of saving the building. Speaker after speaker said that as gay people they were appalled that a gay organization would even think of destroying this building.
Despite that spontaneous outpouring, the CCP directors voted that same evening to "build an entirely new building"--that is, to tear down the Fallon Building and construct a modernist, glass and steel building on the site.
Since then, opposition has grown. Thousands of people have signed petitions calling for the building to be saved, and a proposal to designate the building a San Francisco landmark has been placed on the agenda of the Landmarks Advisory Board.
It has also come to light that in 1996 Caltrans did a historical survey of the area in confjunction with planning for the Central Freeway. The agency's historians found this building so significant as to be eligible for individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places, a rating with which the State Historic Preservation Office concurred in May 1997. Unfortunately, although the building is preapproved, it cannot be officially listed on the National Register without the agreement of the owners. Local landmarking, however, can take place -- although it too is difficult without the owners' consent.
The historic significance is based on several factors. The building is the only survivor of a type that used to line Market Street before the Earthquake and Fire of 19906, when everything east of it was destroyed. It is a three-story, mixed residential and commercial building, trapezoidal in shape in order to fit its oddly shaped lot, which is formed by the intersection of Market, Octavia, and Waller streets.
Thanks to years of "benign neglect," the building is still virtually intact. One storefront is absolutely unaltered since the time of construction, an extremely rare circumstance.
There is only one other such original storefront in all of San Francisco.
The building was constructed in 1894 by Carmel and Anita Fallon, mother and daughter descendants of the Castro family, wealthy landowners in Mexican California. The Castros were one of the few Mexican families who were able to hold on to their land after the American conquest. The Fallons lived there for over 30 years, until Carmel died in her 90s. It is one of the only buildings in the city connected with the original Californio families.
Public support is crucial--if a building this significant in San Francisco history can fall and be replaceld by a bland glass gox, then none of the Victorian neighborhoods, including Noe Valley, will be safe.
I would like to ask anyone who supports the construction of the new community center but who opposes demolition of the Fallon Building to call the hotline that has been established at (415) 643-1236, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Together we can save this historical treasure from the wrecking ball.
Tim Kelley is a neighborhood and architectural historian and frequent contributor to the Voice.