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Work Finally Begins on Abandoned Landmark SOMA Church

Developer says: Take me to church

The prayers of SOMA developers have finally been answered, as construction has reportedly begun on the translation (we are reluctant to say "conversion") of the historic, long abandoned church at 10th and Howard into cosmopolitan office space.

The soaring Romanesque Revival-style Saint Joseph’s Church is a registered landmark, and has been sitting empty ever since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake knocked it for a loop. The owners couldn’t afford repairs, and it’s been a vacant, looming presence in the neighborhood ever since.

The present owner scooped it up in 2008, and in 2012 the city approved an ambitious plan to preserve its hallowed and holy architecture while turning the interior into office space.

While little about Saint Joseph’s has changed in 27 years (reportedly, the old parish’s furniture is still in there), the neighborhood has become a hot commodity; the church sits less than 1,300 feet from Twitter headquarters.

This whole thing was supposed to have been done by now, but in 2013 the block was caught up in a zoning change, and Brian Spiers Development had to go and get entitled all over again. The plan calls for 22,000-square-feet of office and retail space, including a new mezzanine. Forum Design are responsible for the new look, the same firm who did downtown San Francisco's Westfield Centre.

Since the building is a landmark, preservationists are watching like hawks to make sure nobody dings the arches. Old churches are beautiful architectural treasures, but a notorious pain to repurpose. Writing about Saint Joseph’s, the American Institute of Architects noted that 100 year old masonry is not exactly the stuff dreams are made of for modern architects.

The first Saint Joseph’s Church was built on Howard Street in 1861, but this one is actually the third on the site, designed in 1913 by architect John Foley (who also did San Jose’s Church of Five Wounds and Oakland’s St. Elizabeth’s Church). The previous church had, of course, been destroyed in 1906.

Originally Irish-Catholic, it was last home to a mostly Filipino parish, and an icon of the Philippines’ patron saint was added in the ‘70s.