Supervisors may save part of St. Brigid Church
St. Brigid Church.
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 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.
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