Jack Gold: Preserving the past with an eye on the future

Most people concerned with architectural preservation become so later in life, when they begin wanting to protect personal memories as much as bay windows or cornices, Jack Gold suspects.

But Gold, who was named president of San Francisco Architectural Heritage in December, sought a degree in preservation planning in graduate school. He said he believes urging younger people to get involved is key to the field of architecture conservation.

“I’ve always had a passion for historic buildings,” Gold said. “Our neighborhoods and houses are really a reflection of how we live and what we value.”

Gold grew up in New Hampshire in a house that dated to 1780. He said the floor boards in his room were so slanted he used to set his toy trucks down and watch them roll.

Architectural Heritage was founded in response to city programs for demolishing and rebuilding areas of the Western Addition in the 1970s and ’80s. One of its chief activities is obtaining preservation easements, or property rights extensions giving a third party like Architectural Heritage review power over the use of structures.

The organization is headquartered in the Haas-Lilienthal House, an 1880’s Victorian with soaring gables at 2007 Franklin St., among the first structures preserved by the group in 1972.

Gold’s top responsibilities will be marshalling advocacy efforts and preservation projects, and of course raising funds.

Gold, a former publicist for architect Cesar Pelli and the head of the New Haven, Conn., planning department, was previously director of the Providence Preservation Society in Rhode Island. There, Gold headed a multimillion-dollar capital improvement project and paid down the society’s debts.

Gold noticed the Architectural Heritage job listing while in San Francisco visiting his sister, who runs the central YMCA. Though born and educated on the East Coast, Gold said San Francisco had long been one of his favorite places and he leaped at thechance.

“San Francisco is almost a national city, making preservation a much different issue,” Gold said. “Public health and safety for example are of much greater urgency. But we have to find a place, like in quality of life, where preservation fits in.”

Gold said the greatest challenge in housing now is preserving architecture while still accommodating density.

In San Francisco — where environmentalism is cardinal — Gold said another challenge is battling developers who insist greener modern designs yield a smaller environmental footprint.

For example, old windows are poor insulators that waste heat. But Gold advised resisting the use of fabricated vinyl in replacement window sashes, citing their short lifespans.

“There can’t be anything more green than preserving historic buildings,” Gold insisted.

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