Defenestration, the bizarre South of Market building turned artwork with furniture affixed to its exterior, has a new lease on life.
Plans had been made to tear down the structure and construct a low-income apartment complex in its place, but the statewide elimination of redevelopment agencies has left the site’s housing developers without a funding source to raze the structure.
As a result, Defenestration — a 1908 building that once served as the Hugo Hotel — could stay up for years longer.
“More housing would make a huge difference for that neighborhood,” said Barbara Gualco, the real estate development director for Mercy Housing. “But the building will not be demolished unless we secure the financing.”
While that’s bad news for affordable housing advocates, fans of the landmark can enjoy its quirkiness for a little longer. Brian Goggin, who created the piece with the help of other local artists in 1997, said as long as the site development is delayed for new housing, he’s happy to see Defenestration survive.
“The piece has a life of its own, and I have tried to be a good parent to it over the years,” Goggin said. “If affordable housing isn’t going into this site, it makes sense to leave it up for as long as possible.”
Goggin said he most fondly remembers how neighborhood artists came together to make challenging aspects of the piece possible. From the corner of Sixth and Howard streets, it appears as if furniture is crawling out of the old hotel’s windows. Goggin is reluctant to reveal what’s holding it there.
“If you were told how the lady floats, would you go see the magician?” he asked.
Jim Meko, a South of Market community activist and chairman of the SoMa Leadership Council, said the neighborhood sorely needs affordable housing, but he wasn’t too impressed with the new apartment building plans anyway.
“Maybe they’ll come to their senses and come up with a better project,” Meko said, adding that Defenestration fits in nicely with the neighborhood. “It does represent Sixth Street. Most people look at it and they smile. There’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as it doesn’t fall down and hurt somebody.”
Goggin said he’s confident the furniture is firmly secured to the building and will remain intact well into the future. Defenestration was restored recently thanks to fundraisers in 2009 and 2010.
“The artwork can last easily for another decade without a problem,” Goggin said.
Meko said until something better can replace the building, it will remain a notable local fixture.
“South of Market is gritty, but there’s nothing wrong with gritty,” Meko said. “It’s not the nicest part, but that’s the way we like it. I don’t want to scrub away all of that.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly placed the building at the corner of 6th and Harrison streets.