Pier chapel’s bells to peal again 

At noon today, bells will ring at Fisherman’s Wharf — part of a poignant reminder of and city tribute to those lost at sea.

Originally built in 1981, the Fishermen’s and Seamen’s Memorial Chapel at Pier 45 was meant to honor more than 200 men and women who have died at sea in San Francisco. The quaint, 30-foot building was the brainchild of Alessandro Baccari Jr., a third-generation San Franciscan and Italian-American who sought community support to build the chapel. Since it was built, the 25-person-capacity chapel has been used for weddings, funerals and baptisms — but Baccari stresses that it is nondenominational and its use is not exclusive to fishermen of any particular religion or race.

With the structure damaged by dry rot, Baccari sought help from the Port of San Francisco to make $480,000 in upgrades to the building, including a new deck, new paint, cement reinforcements and a 30-foot-high campanile bell tower that can play up to 1,200 songs.

The Port of San Francisco delivered and helped contribute $300,000 to the project — which will be revealed today in a celebration with Mayor Gavin Newsom, a display of historical fishing boats and plenty of entertainment.

Renee Dunn, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Port Authority, said the refurbishing project has been in the works since October 2005 and was done by union port workers.

Inside the chapel, plaques dating back to the 1920s with names of those lost at sea tell a human story of San Francisco’s once-1,800-strong fishing industry, the largest on the West Coast. Two crab boxes, originally used to collect recently harvested crab, serve as makeshift altars. It is the symbolism of the makeshift altars, even though they have been replaced by a new one, that makes Baccari emotional about the community he has loved since he was a child.

"I told everyone I know, move those boxes and I’ll hunt you down — even when I’m gone. This is about the community’s commitment to the fishing industry," Baccari said.

Angela Cincotta, whose family owns the Lazio-Alioto Fish Company, helped raise $29,000 for the chapel repairs during a benefit dinner. The subject is near to Cincotta’s heart because she says many San Franciscans can trace their lineage to fishermen and seamen.

"If you’re someone whose family comes from the sea and spent generations living from the sea, you realize every time someone goes out on a boat we don’t know whether or not they are coming back," Cincotta said.

The campanile’s bell, which is from the 1880s, is powered by a remote control that Baccari carries in his pocket. From now on, the bell will ring three times a day — and he hopes it will be a reminder of a community that has its roots deep in San Francisco history.

"This means so much, this [chapel] is the heartbeat of the wharf. And you don’t know how much this means to people until you are seated inside and see the rough, calloused hands of those in the industry wiping tears from their eyes," Baccari said.


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