Checkout time is near for San Francisco's Hugo Hotel 

The Hugo Hotel — and its trademark furniture art installation of furniture on the side of the building, “Defenestration” — is near the end of its quirky existence.

Mercy Housing, a nonprofit developer, has put forth initial plans to tear down the building at Sixth and Howard streets to make way for a new nine-story apartment building with 56 units. If all goes smoothly for Mercy Housing, construction — and destruction — could begin in spring 2013 and be finished two years later.

The plans need approval from The City’s Historic Preservation Commission because the building belongs to a group of residential hotels under consideration for a historic district that once housed early-20th-century port workers. The commission held an informational hearing on the issue Wednesday.

The building, currently held by The City’s Redevelopment Agency, has been vacant since a few of its rooms burned in 1987, and then it was badly damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Artist Brian Goggin came up with the idea in 1997 and partnered with 100 other artists to attach discarded furniture to the sides of the building, the unofficial gate to the blighted Sixth Street corridor.

Literally, “Defenestration” means the act of throwing something or someone out a window. The concept finds its origin in 15th-century Prague, where two imperial governors were tossed out of a castle, an event that sparked the Thirty Years War.

According to his website, Goggin sees the piece as a step toward South of Market’s revival, and a fundraising effort to fix up the installation took place in March 2010, partly by selling some of the furniture that had to be removed because of public-safety concerns.

A discussion about Mercy Housing’s plan at the SoMa Leadership Council meeting Wednesday night centered on the safety of families within the framework of crime-ridden Sixth Street.

“Sixth Street isn’t always an easy street, so we’re going to have to take a lot of care in entrances to the building and things like that,” said Mercy Housing’s real estate development director Barbara Gualco, who added that the entrance to the building is planned for the Howard Street side.

Jim Meko, chairman of the leadership council, said local artists should be involved in the new structure.
“There better be some furniture hanging off this thing,” he joked.

Mercy Housing officials at the meeting said they would reach out to the artists and attempt to pay respect to the Hugo Hotel’s weird legacy.

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Dan Schreiber

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