by Tom Mayer

On Monday, September 28, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to designate the Carmel Fallon Building at 1800 market Street as San Francisco Landmark Number 223. The Fallon Building will be restored and integrated into the new LGBT Community Center being built by the nonprofit Community Center Project (CCP).

The local ad hoc preservation group Friends of 1800 Market and the Heritage Foundation encouraged the CCP to hire preservation architect Jay Turnbull of Page and Turnbull to develop new estimates of the cost of restoration. The CCP had originally budgeted $700,000 for restoration of the Fallon Building, and Turnbull's latest estimates show the restoration will require an additional $500,000 for a total restoration cost of $1.2 million. The total budget for the center is now $10.6 million, with $6 million being provided by the city.

The CCP, the Friends of 1800 Market, and the Heritage Foundation will receive an award for preservation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation at the NTHP's annual convention to be held October 20-25 in Savannah, Georgia.

The Carmel Fallon Building was constructed in 1894 for Carmel Fallon, who was a San Francisco hotel owner. She was the daughter of Simon Cota, a Spanish solider, and Martina Castro Cota, daughter of Joaquin Ysidro Castro, the last military governor of California under Mexican rule. Martina Castro was the first woman to receive a land grant, Rancho Soquel, in her own name.

Carmel Fallon was born in 1827 and raised on Rancho Soquel. In 1849, Carmel Castro Cota married Thomas Fallon, who had been a member of Colonel John Fremont's expedition into California in 1843-1844. Thomas Fallon also led a party to raise the American flag over San Jose in 1846 and was a member of Fremont's California Battalion.

With the Gold Rush in 1849, Thomas Fallon became a merchant who ran a hotel saddlery shop, and store on the Mission plaza in Santa Cruz. The Fallons sold their property and moved to Texas with their three children in 1852. Sadly, all three children died of illness, while the family was in Texas, the Carmel and Thomas returned to California in 1854. Thomas opened a saddle shop in San Jose and the Fallons built a large Italianate house in San Jose around 1856 (the house, now called the Fallon House, was restored and reopened in 1994 by the City of San Jose). Thomas Fallon served as major of San Jose in 1859 and later served as treasurer of the city. During this time , the Fallons prospered with real estate investments, and had six more children.

In 1876, Carmel Fallon found her husband in a compromising situation with the family maid, and attacked them both with a poker from the fireplace. Both Thomas and the maid survived the attack, and the maid later sued and received a $900 settlement. Carmel Fallon moved out the next day with her four unmarried children and later received a divorce with a large settlement, including property at Third and Minna Streets in San Francisco.

Not much is known about Carmel Fallon over the next 18 years, except that she she built a hotel called the Carmel Hotel on the property at Third and Minna. In 1894, she hired San Jose Architect Edward D. Goodrich to design a building for her property at Market, Octavia, and Waller. The design of the building including two residential flats above two large storefronts facing Market Street and some smaller retain and office spaces facing Waller Street.

The Carmel Fallon Building survived the 1906 earthquake and fire, and legend has it that Carmel herself was present when the fire was pushed to the other side of Market Street just before it reached the Fallon Building. Carmel lived in the building from 1894 until her death in 1923. Four of her adult children were still living with her in the building as late as the 1910 census.

After Carmel died in 1923 at the age of 96, her family settled her estate, which included the Carmel Hotel at Third and Minna and the Fallon Hotel at Market and Valencia (which still exists today as the Allen Hotel at 1693 Market). The trustees of her estate sold the Carmel Fallon Building in 1933, partly to satisfy a pledge made the War Memorial Building Fund in the early 1920's. Thanks to her contribution, a plaque bearing her name is in the San Francisco Opera House (part of the War Memorial Complex).

To this day, the Carmel Fallon Building is a rare example of a Queen Anne Victorian on Market Street which has not been substantially altered from its original 1894 design.

copyright 1998

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