January 28, 2008

San Francisco's Defenestration Building: Old Photos and No Future

There are a lot of strange things in San Francisco, and one of the oddest of that odd lot is the Defenestration Building at Sixth and Howard Streets. A hotel in bygone days, the empty building was grabbed by a bunch of artists who turned it into a kind of surreal circus where murals tout imagined sideshow acts as furniture leaps from the windows. There probably isn't another place quite like it in America; it's the kind of pointed surrealism one is more likely to find in Prague or Berlin.

The area in which the Defenestration Building stands, however, is rather blighted. There are lots of residential hotels (a more politically correct term if there ever was one), prostitutes, drug dealers and boarded store fronts. There's been talk for years about redeveloping the area and those plans are finally going ahead. This is a good thing. The bad part, however, is that it looks like the Defenestration Building is going to be torn down to make way for low-priced, high-density housing. That's too bad; I wish the powers that be in San Francisco would consider fixing the old hotel up and turning it into a neighborhood landmark. Instead of the area turning into another bland magnet for those who need a shoebox-sized apartment, a refurbished Defenestration Building in a safe neighborhood could be a draw for tourists and so help business to flourish while preserving one of those homemade oddities that make San Francisco such a unique place.

According to C.W. Nevius in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle, though, the Defenestration Building is probably going to be rubble soon.

It looks like the old Hugo Hotel, that odd, decrepit landmark on Sixth Street at Howard Street, has finally reached the end of the line. Last week the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency announced it has begun the process of taking over the Hugo through the use of eminent domain. It will probably be demolished for space for affordable housing.

Locals will recognize the Hugo, which has been vacant for nearly 20 years, for the colorful murals on the downstairs walls and the weird pieces of furniture, including a couch and a large wooden dresser, poking out the windows. It is a quirky eyesore, both full of potential and run down...
I used to work within walking distance of the Defenestration Building and took a few photos of the place in April 2002:

It's probably even more run down now than it was when I took these photos almost six years ago. One more thing I won't recognize when I get back for a visit someday. A couple of years ago, it was the old Sniff Collective outdoor gallery in the Albany Bulb, now this. One wonders how clean and shiny a place really has to be before it's a good thing.

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