First St. John's United Methodist Church at Larkin and Clay (Image Source:
A bid by the city of San Francisco to designate the United Methodist Church at Larkin and Clay a landmark despite the Methodist Church’s desire to raze the building to make way for twenty-seven new condominiums has failed in the state Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeal, in a ruling issued in San Francisco Wednesday, said state law specifically exempts nonprofit religious groups from landmark proceedings concerning their property.

Church of The North Beach Pagoda Theater anyone?
Court rejects City efforts to designate church as landmark [Examiner]
North Beach Pagoda Theater Plans Approved By Planning, But… [SocketSite]

32 thoughts on “City Loses Landmark Appeal, Church Of The Pagoda Theater Anyone?”
  1. This eyesore, covered in urine and worse, is not far from our place.
    Local homeowners have been battling with the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association (aka The Disgruntled and Disingenuous Pro Renter’s Association) over this parcel for quite some time; it’s rewarding to see a rational decision was finally made.
    Now it should only take another 10 years to get it demo’ed, plans approved, and something of value built…

  2. Thank god.
    I never thought I’d see the day when I supported what is in essence a condos for christ development in SF, but that day has come.
    This church is ugly and poorly maintained. I’ve never understood the desire to keep it in perpetuity despite the fact that its owners have declared their intent to abandon it.
    Well done!

  3. I lived across the street from that dump for 4 years. Bums and addicts are atracted to it like moths to a flame. The case for preseriving it seems ludicrous. It should be redeveloped into something the community can actually use and something that doesn’t promote crime and attract the homeless. Perfect example of preservation gone wrong.

  4. Since the landmarks law doesn’t apply, can Grace Cathedral be redeveloped? Any condos there would put Millennium Tower to shame.

  5. So who paid for the City to defend this building in State Appeals court? Was it us…the taxpayers? Oh, what a convoluted web we weave. No matter what seems to happen with the landmarking process, the taxpayers get screwed. I guess that’s just one price (among so many) from living in this fine city…

  6. “So who paid for the City to defend this building in State Appeals court?”
    Yep, it was us, the taxpayers. This was a challenge to a resolution by the board of stupidvisors. So we got to pay to fight for their unlawful resolution in court. And I’m fairly certain that we now also have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees. That’s something you don’t hear about often when the stupes pass some symbolic, unconstitutional measure, it gets challenged, and the city loses. I think we had to pay about $400,000 to the NRA for the challenge to our gun law (Prop H) recently in addition to the city’s attorney fees in the first place, also around $400,000. Your tax dollars at work.
    (This particular challenge was made under state law, not the U.S. constitution, and I am not entirely sure the state law challenge provides for attorney’s fees for a successful challenge).

  7. I guess the only silver lining in our state and city being broke is that this sort of wasteful proceedings “MAY” be reduced.

  8. Does anyone know anything about Pacific Polk Properties? Are they also doing the developments at Pacific and Polk and on Polk and Van Ness? The name sounds familiar. Any info?

  9. Attorneys’ fees are generally awarded unless the other party – here, Daly & the Idiots – acts with “substantial justification.” It sounds like this was not a constitutional violation & I doubt that the church can prove bad faith, so the court probably won’t award fees in this case.

  10. This is no Grace Cathedral… (and there already are condos towers everywhere surrounding Grace Cathedral)

  11. Maybe the a private environmental group can swoop in, buy it up, tear it down and perserve “open space”.

  12. lack of upkeep and dereliction of maintenance are not reasons for tearing down a building. By that standard, almost every building of significance, from the Ferry Building to US Mint should have been allowed to be torn down. If property owners are neglecting the upkeep of their properties and they become an attractive nuisance to the neighborhood, that’s the property owners’ responsibility and there are plenty of laws to rectify that.
    Regardless of the fate of this property, the notion that it’s in bad shape because the owners refuse to keep it up and refuse to keep vagrants off the property does not in any way justify tearing down otherwise important or high quality buildings. (Particularly not for what undoutedly will be shlocky pseudo-stucco clad aluminim window condo boxes — I guarantee it).

  13. I don’t recall walking by it, though I probably have, but it doesn’t strike me as an ugly building. Don’t confuse the consequences of “preservation efforts” with those of intentional neglect on the part of a property owner with ulterior motives.
    Other cities with different views of what it means to be progressive strive to keep religious buildings and put them to other uses with a nod to our religious and architectural heritage. Saving SF’s churches, on the other hand, appears to be too “pro-Christian” to gain much traction.

  14. ‘Landmark’ preservation goes to far in the city, but so does a religious group blanket exemption from landmark laws. Why can’t we ever seem to find a rational middle ground?

  15. The trial court opinion has an interesting comment on rr’s point. Willie Brown, when he was in Sacramento, got the state law measure passed exempting churches from landmark status when the SF Catholic diocese was closing lots of churches and it wanted to be sure it could sell them off. Politics, more than religious considerations, are behind this one.

  16. I live a few blocks from this “church” and I am ecstatic over this ruling. This building is literally falling down, and is a magnet for homeless people. A few years ago, they used to run a day care center out of the basement, and there would be mothers bringing their kids in while homeless people shot up heroin 10 feet away. Needles were of course left on the ground – only in San Francisco.
    I really cant understand people who support landmarking this building. It’s like some kind of mental disorder… Look at the person who compared this building to Grace Cathedral!
    The church has not been open for the 10 years that ive lived near it. No one has stepped up to offer a viable alternative to redevelopment. WHY ON EARTH would we keep a derelict UNUSED building to satisfy some preservation fetishists (who probably doesnt even live near the building) idea of San Francisco history???
    The state should countersue Aaron Peskin and whatever preservation fetishists tried to landmark this building.

  17. “and something that doesn’t promote crime and attract the homeless.”
    Something other than a church then… ;^>
    Yeah, I guess churches (as in the organization) are just another money-making machine like any other mega-corporation. The bottom-line is whats important, forget about things like “sacred ground” or “traditions” or what the congregation thinks. I’m all for letting them do what they want, as long as my money isn’t funding it. It shows the difference in time-scale between the US and Europe though – in the US, an “old church” is about – what, 50 years? In Europe its more like 500 years…

  18. It’s a nicely built neighborhood church, as was the unusual Japanese wood Protestant church a couple blocks west that was slated for demolition and is probably gone now.
    There ought to be a way to save some of these smaller churches — find a storefront church somewhere, offer them to move in, and turn the storefront into an actual store. Although the economics don’t really work out without subsidies. Europeans are really good at church reuse, and we should learn from them.

  19. @citybuilding: +1.
    I lived in a church converted to flats in London and the original features (in my case 10 Commandments chisled in stone) were stunning and priceless. I would say that given how few nice churches there are aestetically in the USA, this one is pretty nice from afar and has a flare of arts & crafts.
    Another around the corner from me was a paint shop (Colour Centre).
    Here is a highly rare if not a unique example of art nouveau church architecture in London that fell into disrepair and looked as you see it here. I am unable to find a picture of it now, but it’s in much better shape.

  20. I think most are in agreement that retaining this building as it is would be the preferable option. The problem, and the source of all the litigation, is that it is seismically unsafe to occupy. SF is quite unlike London in terms of earthquake risk. This church is constructed of unreinforced masonry and needs significant seismic retrofitting.
    Through this characteristically foolish resolution, the supes tried to force the private owners to pay for this unfeasibly expensive retrofitting so that the public could continue to enjoy this building. The owners fought back this time. They win, the taxpayers pay, and the stupes get to crow about their valiant good works.

  21. Citybuilding may well be right. Careful what you wish for. You think the church is unsightly, wait until you see what replaces it. (I hope the architects who built those big buildings at that corner of Market and Van Ness are still available!)

  22. SS – what happened to that church turned mini-mansion that was for sale a while ago? With the awesome wood interior, and a stage? Anyone know if it sold? It was one of my dream houses. 😉

  23. When did Socketsite become a NIMBY haven?
    There are churches which should be saved. This is not one of them.
    I welcome more families to my neighborhood- and more taxes to SF’s bankroll.

  24. Trip, what really should happen is that the FEMA should pay for the retrofitting. I mean, think about it, everybody in America wants to live in places where man wasn’t meant to live (Florida – Hurricanes; Arizona – Desert; California – tremendous earthquakes and so forth. While people like me growing up in Michigan had to pay the bill with no anticipation of benefit).
    When disaster strikes taxpayers have to fund the clean up anyway, so why not just compel them via FEMA to fund it in advance of the next big one? After it’s not a question of whether for SF.
    What I don’t understand is why it is a problem for taxpayers to pay for litigation in this instance. Don’t they pay in all instances? Courts are tax money funded, right?

  25. The rest of the country pays to bail out Michigan auto companies and unions, to make up for the lack of natural disasters there 😉
    Aren’t there blizzards and/or floods in parts of Michigan occasionally that bring in some government dough?

  26. BTW, Daly’s Prop. M (making it illegal for landlords to communicate with tenants about buyouts, etc.) also lost in court. Yep, that cost taxpayers money to defend.
    Next time Daly’s half-wit propositions come up ie. Renter’s Stimulus Package in the city’s June election, vote NO and save your wallet some money. Those propositions will not hold up in court either.

  27. RiP, if there was a consensus that this building was worth preserving but it would be financially unreasonable for the owner to cover it, I’d be fine with FEMA paying for it.
    On your question about taxpayer funds, the point is that the costs here go way beyond just the costs of running the courts. The city also had to pay for the lawyers on the city’s side and will quite likely have to pay for the lawyers on the property owner’s side as well. Attorneys fees are far, far higher than the court expenses (as they should be!). Also, in California state court, the costs are funded primarily, or at least largely, by the litigants themselves. Every motion, trial, etc. has a pretty steep fee attached to it. As the losing party here, the city also has to reimburse the other side for those fees. I, for one, can envision far better uses for taxpayer dollars than silly grandstanding resolutions that were sure to spawn litigation.

  28. Trip to be clear, you will find my name on the attorney search at the website, as well as in New York and on the solicitor rolls in England & Wales. I was a litigator in California for a number of years.
    There is not a jurisdiction I know of where the litigation is funded by anyone other than the litigants themselves. (I like loser pays by the way like in the UK and basically everywhere but USA. Gets rid of a large part of the plaintiff’s bar.)
    As far as consensus which is your point I am most in disagreement with, since when has there ever been a consensus on these sorts of issues? I am not in agreement that Prop 187 should have been overturned. I am sure the city also pays for lawyers in civil rights cases as well. No consensus there either. Does it bother you so much when taxpayer money funds an issue you agree with?
    Look all I am saying is that there is no place in the western world where saving or converting something old like this isn’t fraught with issues.(This is one reason why I am interested in 50s places in Bernal…hardly any restrictions compared to pre 1940). I am fixing my 300 year old villa in Italy and I have to put solar panels on the roof. No grandfather clause here. In England to convert that church they had to deal with the Church of England who are very difficult….etc etc.
    I am sure I agree with you about the board of stupidvisors at the end of the day, but that is more to me a statement of the bureaucracy than it is what do to about this particular building.

  29. RIP,
    The current date for if a house is historic or not in SF is 1954, so don’t think 50’s place in Bernal doesn’t have the same restrictions as pre-40’s.

  30. RiP, I think we are largely in agreement and talking past each other a bit.
    As for this specific building, I’m neutral. I just don’t know enough about it to make any assessment about the costs and benefits. As an extreme position, if it would cost $50 billion to retrofit it, then that makes no sense. If it is considered by some body — whom it is generally agreed is objective and qualified — to be important or attractive and the retrofit costs are not extraordinary, then I have no problem with the public footing the bill.
    And I also have no problem as a general proposition with the government paying the winning side’s attorneys fees in certain litigation. My problem in SF is that the supervisors and voters quite often enact legislation that is almost certain to be struck down by the courts — with the city having to pay to fight it and pay the challenger’s fees after the inevitably successful litigation. The resolution as to this building is a case in point — the owners warned about it in trying to stop the resolution from being enacted.
    I actually agree, personally, with certain propositions that end up getting struck down, but I vote against them because I do not like to waste money on political grandstanding. So it has nothing to do with whether I agree with an issue or not.
    By the way, the UK “loser pays” rule is interesting and clearly stops much litigation in its tracks (including meritorious cases!). But I’ve found in my limited experience in the UK (we have an office there and I have assisted in a few matters) that once litigation is commenced, the rule makes it very difficult to settle a case. With the attorneys fees escalating and the winner-take-all rule, the incentives are just to keep fighting to the bitter end.

  31. What is so ugly about this building? I visited it with google street view and I find its architecture quite decent. It is the apartments building around it that are ugly.

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