The controversy over the fate of the Fallon Building, a 103 year-old Victorian structure at the corner of Octavia and Market streets, maybe close to resolution.
Jim Siegel, acting president of the preservation group, SF First, has offered to purchase the property for $500,000 and restore it.
For months, preservationists have been trying to save the building from demolition by the Community Center Project. Stiff community opposition has also grown against the CCP's plan to build a new Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on the site. "This seems to me to be a positive solution for every one involved," said Siegel. "The preservationists win because the building is saved. The gay community wins because they get their center, and I win because I get a beautiful building to restore. "I would put a coffee house on the ground floor and restore (the building) to its original storefront condition."
While not ruling out the sale, CCP spokeswoman Barbara French said the group's proposal to tear down the oldest building in the neighborhood is still the most viable plan.
"We are exploring while still keeping other options open," she said. "It seems a fair offer, we're just not sure yet how it will affect our mission: to build a center that is safe, accessible and meets our budget."
French said before responding formally to the offer, the CCP board needs to discuss details with the city and answer design contingencies involved in Siegel's proposal. French said the center must contain at least 41,000 square feet to adequately serve the public.
The CCP board, citing restoration cost estimates of between $1.6 and $2.6 million, as well as the space requirements for the center, originally declared it would be more economical to tear down the existing structure and build a new one, using funds largely supplied by the city.
Preservationists argue that the building's adjacent lot would provide enough space to build a suitable center. The office of Mayor Willie Brown has been moderating meetings between the CCP, Friends of 1800 Market Street and the Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage, and the parties were scheduled to meet again January 8.
Demolition permits for properties adjacent to the Fallon Building were placed on hold December 22 pending filing of plans and environmental review documents by the CCP. The city's Landmark Board is also considering a proposal to designate the building a local historic landmark. The mayor's office has put those considerations aside while negotiations continue.
'I'm very optimistic at this point," said Rob Bregoff, a member of Friends of 1800 Market. "I think (the CCP board) has learned that most of the community is for the preservation of this building. It can be preserved at a cost comparable to new construction."
Siegel maintained that his plan would open up the ground floor of the Fallon building to commercial space, enabling the center to raise funds through businesses there.
Mayor Willie Brown wants the community center to move forward and has pledged up to $6 million in economic support to the CCP board.
Tim Kelley, an architectural historian who has represented Friends of 1800 Market at meetings with the mayor's office, said the Fallon building is one of the most historically significant structures in the city.
"It's the last survivor of a type of building that used to line Market Street all the way to the water," Kelley said. "It really sits at the dead center of San Francisco history. It's the entranceway to the old (1906) pre-fire neighborhoods."
Siegel's plans include a restoration project costing about $250,000. Realtor Robert Speer said the CCP board has until January 31 to respond to the all-cash offer.
"I think it's market rate, and maybe a little above, considering all the renovation work that has to be done on it," said Speer.
In addition to helping the center remain financially viable, Siegel also believes his plan would head off what he sees as a potential practical problem for the center - parking.
"They could sell (the building) and use the money to put in more parking," said Siegel, who notes that the high volume projected for the center would necessitate more parking that is currently available at the site.
Siegel, who owns a Haight Street retain business, has been restoring buildings in the city for 22 years, and has worked on eight San Francisco Victorian-era structures.
Among these is the Old Russian Embassy at Fulton and Scott, a structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Siegel points out that his restoration expertise, if applied to the Fallon building, would return an architectural treasure to the city.
"I'm a total preservationist," he said. "I have a photograph of what [the Fallon building] looked like in 1906... I would put everything back, get rid of the billboards, give it a historical paint job. If I got the property, I would make it shine again."