Old conservatory to see light and life

The octagonal timber skeleton of a former conservatory in residential Sunnyside will once again be draped with glass and filled with plants, under a $4 million plan to restore the century-old building.

One of the two wings of the Sunnyside Conservatory, which is flanked west of the John F. Foran Freeway on Monterey Boulevard by towering palm trees, flowering plants and a shaded 36-step garden trail to Joost Avenue, was torn down by aprivate owner in 1978, before a demolition permit was revoked. The City bought the remains of the historic building and the surrounding gardens in 1979 and threw a 1988 ceremony to celebrate the conservatory’s restoration.

But the building wasn’t glassed in as part of that restoration, and the waist-high wooden panels that were added to the building weren’t part of the original design.

Those panels will be removed under a recently dusted-off six-year-old plan to again restore the building, and to enclose it with glass, which was unanimously approved last week by the Planning Commission.

Commissioners asked The City’s Recreation and Park Department to consider traditional wood shingles for the roof, instead of the composite fiberglass shingles installed during the previous restoration.

“When I see this picture of these composite shingles,” Commissioner Kathrin Moore said during the meeting, “I could scream.”

San Francisco Beautiful’s executive director said she “absolutely” supports plans to restore the botanical sanctuary. “It’s been really sad to see it just sitting there, so decomposed,” Dee Dee Workman said. “It’s a ghost of its former self.”

The head of the nonprofit group, which works to enhance The City’s parks and open spaces, said the building is unknown to most in San Francisco, and that it’s in an area with few other landmarks. “When you’re speeding by it on Monterey,” Workman said, “you catch a glimpse of it and say, ‘What was that?’”

Under The City’s plans, which aren’t yet finalized, a palm tree that nearly fills the gusty former conservatory would be replanted outside the building.

A partly missing floral ornament on the roof might be replaced, and the building’s window frames and wooden insides would likely be primed and painted.

Project manager Paulina Araica told planning commissioners that work on the building could begin as soon as spring 2008, and that it should be finished by early 2009.

With approval secured from the commission Thursday, the project is due to be reconsidered by the San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board.

jupton@examiner.com

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