St. Brigid survived the 1906 earthquake – can’t we save it now?

St. Brigid's Church, at the left, looking down Van Ness, 1936

St. Brigid’s Church, at the left, looking down Van Ness, 1936

By Joe Dignan

In Memoriam, 6/19/1957 – 6/29/2006 ~ St. Brigid’s Committee

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: The face of San Francisco is changing. Landmarks are falling to development and parts of the city’s history – irreplaceable parts – are vanishing before our eyes. But after 106 years as a spiritual refuge in our community, St. Brigid Church deserves better than to be carved up into another condominium project.

That could easily happen.

For a year and a half St. Brigid’s committee has been working to get both the interior and exterior of the church declared an official city landmark to help protect it from demolition.

The outside walls of St. Brigid are beautiful and historic. They’re made of recycled San Francisco granite curbstones collected by St. Brigid’s thrifty first pastor. But it is the inside which contains a century’s worth of statuary, stained glass and artwork. The inside of St. Brigid is where San Franciscans took refuge after the 1906 earthquake. San Francisco’s Irish community came of age inside St. Brigid. And it is inside St. Brigid that the important milestones of 100 years of San Franciscans were mourned and celebrated.

So city planners carefully drafted a proposed landmark ordinance for both the inside and outside of St. Brigid. It was unanimously approved by the Landmarks Board a year ago. The Planning Commission said yes, also unanimously, in October.

The Altar at St. Brigid's
The Altar at St. Brigid

But as of this moment, nothing protects St. Brigid from demolition.

Why? You may remember that as former-Archbishop William Levada was leaving for Rome, he closed a deal to sell St. Brigid to Elisa Stephens of the Academy of Art University.

At the time, Stephens said her interest in the church was historic preservation, that she wished to use the church only as an auditorium and would leave the inside as it is and has been for 100 years.

So far, so good, right?

Maybe not. The reason this is taking so long is that now Stephens is opposing the landmark ordinance which would preserve St. Brigid. She has a strong motivation: Stephens paid the cash-strapped Archdiocese only $3.7 million for the church, which was looking for a quick source of cash to pay off child-abuse lawsuits. But a year ago last January the Archdiocese had an offer of $8 million for the lot under St. Brigid – if only they could get permission to demolish the church.

Stained Glass from Harry Clarke Studios

Stained Glass from Harry Clarke Studios

Stephens has been very effective; and our district supervisor, Michela Alioto-Pier, has deleted everything but the exterior four walls of the building from the ordinance. Alioto-Pier now wants to move forward with protecting only the facade. So we’re seeing visions of St. Brigid carved up into condominiums.

To be fair, Stephens has done nothing that we know of to destroy the church. In fact we understand she has painted and done some other cosmetic improvements.

But for the long term, we’re not going to be fooled by a proposal that would protect only the four walls, when the treasures inside could be gutted out at any time. We hope you won’t either.

Supervisor Alioto-Pier told the Times that the supervisors could landmark the interior of the building with the snap of a finger.

It’s time to snap.

For information about who to contact, please go to

Harry Clarke’s Stained Glass Windows at St. Brigid’s

For information about the Harry Clarke Studios, creators of the stained glass windows at St. Brigid’s, please see, Neil Ralley’s blog on Squidoo.

I had actually known about St. Brigid’s plight, but seeing Neil’s blog spurred me into action.

From his blog on Squidoo, Neil Ralley writes: “This is what Art Historian Shelley Esaak wrote about me on “Not all preservation movements have public funding or corporate underwriting. Neil Ralley is one person who is single-handedly bringing awareness to an often-neglected art form: stained glass. He travels, at his own expense and on his own time, to photograph windows that have historic and artistic value – and then makes these beautiful images available for all to see at his website.” You can read the whole of Shelley’s article here at

Mystery Victorian of the week!

Mystery Victorian, Monte Sereno, CA

Building Hugger T-shirt

Building Hugger T-shirt

Ok gang. Here you go! See if you can identify this spectacular Victorian, located in Monte Sereno, CA. That’s the only clue! Meanwhile, I am writing an article about it, and by the time we have a winner, I should be ready to publish!

The winner receives this fabulous “BUILDING HUGGER” T-shirt (take a look at your selection here).

Palo Alto Obon Festival A Smashing Success

Obon Festival Program, 2006

Obon Festival Program, 2006

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA: Well, another super weekend has passed us by, complete with spontaneous events. After finding out about the Japanese Obon Festival in Palo Alto, I rounded up my friends Yan-Ting and Natalie, and we met at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple.

Festivals are those rare times when you’re allowed to eat a little junk food, so that’s where we started. After a brief repast of soba noodles, kappa maki, and teriyaki beef, we headed to the Koto Performance (Japanese Harps). It was eerily beautiful, and definitely set the mood. Outside, there was a wonderful bonsai table, where people were fashioning bonsais while you watched. We also found some gorgeous bamboo, but it wasn’t for sale, unfortunately!

Girls in traditional kimonos at the Obon Festival, Palo Alto, CA

Girls in traditional kimonos

There were spectacular flower arrangements inside the temple, as well as artwork. Probably the most fun was people watching. Apparently everyone broke out their Japanese T-shirts for the event, because we saw plenty!

At 5:30 The San Jose Taiko Group performed (Japanese Drums) on the central stage, outside. What a bunch of energy! If you ever get the chance, see this group. They are superb. Later, everyone snuck off and donned their kimonos, then returned to do a group dance finale. I have never seen such a great concentration of color in one small area. The kids were the best part of the festival. They were having a blast in their traditional garb, and not only did they look adorable, they were quite adept at following all the dance moves.

We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day.

Real Estate Investors – where is the GO Zone?

I do have my finger in quite a few pies, as you will see, and today I thought it would great to enlighten folks on some tax laws that have come out to help the Gulf Coast areas that were hit by the hurricanes. They also apply to investors, who would like to invest in the new construction in these areas (or do renovations on the historic properties). The “GO Zone” is the Gulf Opportunity Zone and it applies to properties purchased after August 27, 2005 and before January 1, 2008.

Go Zone cartoon

Go Zone

According to the IRS, the highlight of these new laws include:

  • Expensing for Small Businesses Increased. Certain small businesses affected by Hurricane Katrina can annually deduct up to $200,000 in qualifying property expenditures made in the disaster area.
  • Special Bonus Depreciation to Help Businesses Rebuild. Businesses of all sizes affected by Hurricane Katrina can take a special first year depreciation deduction for qualified property placed in service after August 27, 2005, and before January 1, 2008. The special deduction is equal to 50 percent of the property’s depreciable basis.
  • Deduction for Demolition and Clean-up Costs. Taxpayers may choose to take a deduction for 50 percent of any qualified GO Zone clean-up costs that would otherwise be included in the basis of property.
  • Net Operating Loss Carryback Extended. The carryback period is extended from two to five years for net operating losses attributable to Hurricane Katrina. This provision will allow some businesses affected by the hurricane to obtain a refund of taxes paid in earlier tax years.
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit for Hurricane Katrina Employees. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit provides businesses with an incentive to hire individuals from groups that have a particularly high unemployment rate or other special employment needs.
  • Income Exclusion and Employer Credit for Housing Employees In the Region Affected by Hurricane Katrina. Up to $600 per month is excluded from an employee’s income for employer-provided housing in the region affected by Hurricane Katrina. Employers are also entitled to a significant tax credit for providing such housing.

    Mr. Housing Bubble

    The Housing Bubble

  • Read about all this in greater detail on the IRS Website.

    Think about the implications of this. If you have a huge tax bill this year, OR if you had one for the past 5 years, you can use the 50% depreciation credit to offset it! Amazing! The kicker is, when you sell the property you’ll have to pay it back to the government, but if you hold it for 7 years, you won’t.

    As everyone knows, Biloxi, MS was pretty much decimated, at least at the coast. There are tons of new buildings going up, even as we speak, and they don’t have the levee problems that New Orleans has.

    Be careful out there…..