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Supervisors may save part of St. Brigid Church

St. Brigid Church.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Emmett Berg, Bay City News Service

October 3, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - San Francisco supervisors decide today how far to extend landmark preservation status to St. Brigid's Church, a fixture on Van Ness Avenue since 1864 that the Academy of Art University bought in 2005.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier's proposed ordinance before the Board of Supervisors would establish landmark status for the exterior of the building and its stained glass windows.

Yet the city's expected approval of the ordinance also effectively rejects preservation status for the interior of St. Brigid's, a Catholic parish that grew from its original two-room wooden structure to become a noted example of Richardson Romanesque architecture.

"The Planning Commission recommends that the Board of Supervisors protect by legislation or ordinance the following interior features to the full extent of the law," according to an October, 2005 recommendation by the San Francisco Planning Commission.

The document went on to list more than 20 interior features the commission deemed worthy of preservation, and included reference to stained glass windows created in Dublin, Ireland at the Harry Clarke Studios. Only the stained glass windows-visible from the exterior-made the cut for preservation status.

Interior features that were recommended for preservation-but left off the Board of Supervisors list--included the pulpit, carved oak pews, confessional booths and the church bell, and architectural features such as lincrusta wainscoting and marble sculptures representing the Stations of the Cross.

St. Brigid's stone facade contains curbstones leftover from the wreckage of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and several noted artists and craft workers contributed sculpture and detail to the interior.

The Catholic archdiocese closed the church in 1995 over the objections of some parishioners. Some of them formed a group, the Committee to Save St. Brigid Church, which staged demonstrations to head off demolition of the church in 1995.

Since the Academy of Art University assumed ownership, it has petitioned two agencies for the church to be removed from any landmark preservation status.

The church reopened for a single day earlier this year for a funeral mass marking the passing of Joe Dignan, a writer and activist who was an early and vocal opponent of demolition.

Joe Dignan, fellow journalist and preservationist, R.I.P.

San Francisco attorney Robert Bryant gave the eulogy at the mass for Dignan, and is the chairman emeritus of the Committee to Save St. Brigid Church.

"Joe Dignan was as aggressively in support of protecting the interior of St. Brigid's as he was the exterior," Bryant said. "Still, I think it's clear that protecting the exterior comes first, and the interior second. But it would be wrong not to protect the integrity of the interior."

No one from the Academy of Art University was immediately available to comment on today's pending board action.

Bryant said the university has "done a good job maintaining it as it is. We just want to keep it that way."

A representative of Alioto-Pier's office said the city has final say in determining landmarks within its boundaries.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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