A tree of light

The tree atop UCSF is controlled from a room just underneath.

The tree atop UCSF is controlled from a room just underneath.

FOR DECADES it has been a familiar sight during the holidays for drivers headed west on Pine Street: a 40-foot Christmas tree in the sky made of lights — 3,000 lights, on 60 strands, with 50 lights each.

The tradition started when Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. built its four-story black glass headquarters in the 1950s on the site of the old Laurel Hill Cemetery, after the bodies were dug up and moved to Colma. The tree has continued to rise every year since the University of California-San Francisco took over the building in 1985.

As the university prepares to move this neighborhood campus to Mission Bay and development plans for new housing on the site proceed, the fate of the tree is in doubt.

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Photographs © 2017 Jean Collier Hurley

Medical library is on the block

Architect Albert Pissis designed the library and the temple behind it.

Architect Albert Pissis designed the medical library and the temple behind it.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

The classical Health Sciences Library at 2395 Sacramento Street may soon find a new use. California Pacific Medical Center recently disposed of its collection and vacated the space, the library having gone entirely digital. The building, which was designated a San Francisco landmark in 1980, is currently for sale at an undisclosed price, marketed as a “one-of-a-kind development opportunity.”

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The wedding cake that wasn’t

A drawing of 2302 Steiner Street from 1896, when it was built.

A drawing of 2302 Steiner Street from 1896, when it was built. From the Chronicle.

LOCAL HISTORY | LIV JENKS

Sunnie Evers had been living at 2302 Steiner Street for nearly a decade. One day while she was standing in front of her house, a woman stopped to talk. She told Evers that Adolph Sutro — land magnate, capitalist, philanthropist and short-lived mayor of San Francisco — had built her house for his mistress. The woman, who Evers believes was Sutro’s granddaughter, pointed across the street to Alta Plaza Park and said Sutro designed the park to look like the wedding cake his mistress would never have.

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Sherith Israel completes retrofit

A crane hoists roofing material to the temple's historic dome.

A crane hoists roofing material to the temple’s historic dome.

ESPECIALLY SWEET MUSIC will rise up into the freshly repainted and retrofitted dome atop Congregation Sherith Israel’s historic home at California and Webster on June 9 at a special Shabbat service celebrating the end of a long-running renovation.

“We did it!” exclaimed David Newman, co-chair of the seismic retrofit campaign. “The Sherith Israel community has risen to the occasion.”

“We are in compliance with all of the city’s seismic requirements,” said former congregation board member Ellen Schumm, who has been involved with the project since its inception. “This building is so stable, it’s awesome.”

The $16 million project to strengthen the 1905 building — which survived the earthquake and fire the next year and served as a temporary courthouse during the rebuilding — was spurred by new standards established after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

The first phase of the project, completed in 2011, included an innovative engineering plan to reinforce the exterior walls of the sanctuary without affecting the elaborately painted interior walls. It also stripped away the salmon-colored paint that had been unwisely applied to the sandstone walls half a century earlier.

The second phase, just completed, involved reroofing, repainting and waterproofing the dome, removing the last vestiges of salmon paint and returning the dome to the color of the sandstone on the base. It also added solar panels on the roof and included work on nearly every other part of the building.

“Our beautiful sanctuary will be here — and be strong — for generations to come,” said senior rabbi Jessica Graf.

EARLIER: In a video from January 2011, the retrofit project was underway.

Fire at the Elite

Elite

IT WAS A sunny Friday morning, and it looked as if the historic neon sign fronting the Elite Cafe would at last be fully lit. Then suddenly a swarm of fire trucks was on the scene.

“We finally found the part to fix the sign to light both sides,” says owner Andy Chun, “and the sign guys somehow caught the thing on fire when they were installing it.”

Chun says the extent of the damage and how long repairs will take are both unknown at this point.

elite_fire

Hospital may sell its historic library

The hospital's Health Sciences Library was built in 1912.

The Health Sciences Library at Sacramento and Webster was built in 1912.

THE CLASSIC REVIVAL sandstone building at Sacramento and Webster that has housed the medical library for the nearby hospital since 1912 is headed for a new life in its second century.

Its collections have been dispersed and the library’s small staff is relocating by the end of March to the nearby Gerbode Research Building at Webster and Clay.

A hospital spokesman said the library has not been listed for sale. But library director Anne Shew confirmed the building was being vacated and said: “It will be put on the market soon — in the next couple of months.”

The library lost much of its patronage in 2014 when the University of the Pacific’s dental school left its longtime home across the street. The dental school had shared the library with the hospital.

Among those said to be interested in buying the landmark building: Trumark Urban, developer of The Pacific condominium complex at 2121 Webster, which replaced the dental school.

“I have no comment on that,” said Arden Hearing, managing director of Trumark.

Garages find a new use

The Patagonia store at 770 North Point was formerly a neighborhood garage.

The Patagonia store at 770 North Point was formerly a neighborhood garage.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

As the automobile increased in popularity and affordability in the 1920s, neighborhood parking garages and repair shops became the norm in San Francisco.

Because private homes were commonly constructed without garages, a new type of building evolved to serve residents with parking needs. Neighborhood garages were often one- or two-story concrete structures with industrial interiors. However, given their placement within the city’s established residential enclaves or along commercial corridors, they were often designed to fit into an existing architectural vocabulary. Many of these once indispensable buildings are still found across the city and in our neighborhood.

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Anne Bloomfield’s archives go to Heritage

Anne Bloomfield's research was the foundation of Gables & Fables.

Anne Bloomfield’s research was the foundation of Gables & Fables.

By BRIDGET MALEY

My predecessor in writing about neighborhood architecture for the New Fillmore, the respected architectural historian Anne Bloomfield, was an amazing researcher and a passionate advocate for maintaining the character of Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights. She died in December 1999, but her life’s work of helping preserve San Francisco’s past lives on.

Anne collected vital information on individual buildings, architects, and builders that led to the designation of many landmarks and historic districts. Her ground-breaking detective work on the building collaborative called The Real Estate Associates, who in 1875 claimed to have built more detached houses than any other company in the U.S., revealed a sophisticated San Francisco building practice.

Her research was the foundation for Gables & Fables: A Portrait of San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, the book her husband Arthur Bloomfield published after her death.

Recently I had the opportunity to review and organize Anne’s research files on Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights for inclusion into the collection of San Francisco Heritage at its headquarters in the Haas-Lilienthal House. The files will be invaluable to future researchers and aficionados of San Francisco’s early architecture.

A pair of important homes

The Vedanta Society's "new temple" at Fillmore and Vallejo.

The Vedanta Society’s “new temple” at Fillmore and Vallejo.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

The Vedanta Society of Northern California was founded in 1900 by visiting Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda, who earlier gained fame and admiration at the Chicago Parliament of World Religions in 1893. The society owns two neighborhood landmarks: the “old temple” at 2963 Webster at Filbert, completed in 1905, then further expanded in 1908; and the “new temple” at 2323 Vallejo at Fillmore, dedicated in 1959.

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A home for the telephone king

Both client and architect of this corner house shared a fascination with telephones.

Both the owner and architect of 1900 Pierce Street shared a fascination with telephones.

LANDMARKS | BRIDGET MALEY

The wonderfully designed corner house at 1900 Pierce Street was built in 1887 for John I. Sabin, an early investor and proponent of the telephone, under the direction of architect William F. Smith.

John I. Sabin

John I. Sabin, first owner of 1900 Pierce

Both architect and client appear to have shared a fascination with telephones. In 1877, Sabin founded the American District Telegraph Co., the first telephone company on the west coast. Later he became the president of the Pacific States Telephone Co. and acquired the nickname the “Telephone King.” In 1901, architect Smith filed for a patent for a “message transmitting and recording mechanism for telephone systems.” This device was capable of passing a message from one switching station to another and recording it on paper tape at the receiving end.

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