Low-income housing project moving forward at site of iconic “Defenestration” 

A decrepit building at Sixth and Howard streets has hosted the Defenestration art installation since 1997. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • A decrepit building at Sixth and Howard streets has hosted the Defenestration art installation since 1997.

Defenestration may at last return to earth.

The quirky art installation — couches, beds and at least one bathtub appearing to exit the windows of a long-empty hotel building at Sixth and Howard streets — would be removed under a city plan to redevelop the site into a $18.8 million affordable-housing project that is finally moving forward.

In January, The City signed a preliminary contract with Mercy Housing to build a nine-story, 67-unit affordable housing project on the site, according to records.

Installed by artist Brian Goggin in 1997, Defenestration was supposed to remain bolted onto the sides of the former Hugo Hotel for only a year. It has lasted nearly sixteen years, while the hotel’s former owners half-heartedly searched for a buyer, and then while The City, which acquired the 104-year-old, four-story building via eminent domain, searched for funding.

The Redevelopment Agency acquired the site via San Francisco’s first eminent domain lawsuit in 25 years, but any project was put on hold during that agency’s dissolution.

The art installation has been deemed not historic and therefore not eligible for protection from development.

If the Mercy Housing project is approved, city officials would work with Goggin to figure out how to best remove the furniture before demolition, according to Olson Lee, head of the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

Goggin is traveling in Europe and could not be reached for an interview. In a brief email, he said he hadn’t heard that the project to displace Defenestration was moving forward.  

The building’s demolition requires approval from The City’s Planning Commission, which will take up the issue in April. If approved, the new housing could be built by 2015, Lee said.

Families and youth transitioning out of the foster care system would be prioritized for subsidized apartments in the building. In a statement, Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the area, said it is “critical” that such housing be
adding to The City’s stock.

Precise financial details have yet to be hashed out, Lee said, but The City would continue to own the site where Mercy builds, in a situation similar to the public-private partnerships that have rebuilt public housing under the Hope SF program.

The building onto which the art is bolted and hangs as if suspended in mid-defenestration has been empty since before the Loma Prieta earthquake.

The City paid $4.6 million to the hotel’s former owners, the Patel family of Hillsborough, to acquire the hotel after winning an eminent domain lawsuit in 2009. The family was criticized for allowing the hotel to deteriorate and not pushing forward with a rehab scheme, something it was able to do thanks to the low property tax assessment rate.

The family bought the property in 1964 for $400,000, according to records.

Mercy Housing, one of The City’s most prominent affordable housing directors, has close ties to City Hall. Its director, Doug Shoemaker, served as housing chief for both Mayor Ed Lee and Mayor Gavin Newsom before joining the nonprofit in 2011.


About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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