Noe Valley Voice February 2001

Funeral Home on Dolores May Be Demolished and Rebuilt as Condos

By Pat Rose

A mortuary building in Upper Noe Valley, which has been a fixture at the corner of Dolores and 29th streets since 1925, may not be long for this world.

Under a proposal recently filed with the city, the classic Romanesque building housing the Reilly Co./Goodwin & Scannell funeral home at 1598 Dolores St. will be demolished and replaced with condominiums.

The project, which calls for construction of two four-story buildings, is being proposed by real estate developer Patrick McManus and Steven Welch, a member of the Duggan­Welch family, fifth-generation Mission District funeral directors and longtime Noe Valley residents.

According to Welch, when his family bought the building in 1997, the Reilly Co. was a firm in decline. "We had hoped we could make the business work at that location, but the recent yearlong closure of St. Paul's Church and other factors have severely impacted Reilly's business."

Welch also said that zoning laws had prohibited the owners from modernizing the mortuary and adding a parking lot. "We feel that housing is the best alternative use for the land, since Dolores Street is a residential street," he said.

If City Planning approves the project, the Reilly Co. operation will be moved to Duggan's Funeral Service at 3434 17th St., Welch said. Meanwhile, a tenant in the Reilly building -- the San Francisco College of Mortuary Science -- has already begun looking for a new site for its school. "They've known for some time that we're losing money on the property and may need to find another use for it," Welch said.

In January, both he and McManus stressed that their plans were still tentative. They also said they were willing to respond to the neighbors' concerns.

However, a group of nearby residents who met with the developers in December were not quite ready to lend their support. "The immediate neighbors are worried about the size, since the new building is going to be considerably larger than the building that's there now," said 29th Street resident Diane Grant, who attended the meeting. "They're concerned it will cut off light and air to their backyards."

The residents were also unhappy with the design of the building. "The plans call for an undistinguished, unattractive, flat-front building to replace a historic building that aesthetically fits in with the neighborhood," Grant said.

Vicki Rosen, president of the group Upper Noe Neighbors, agrees that the proposed complex seems out of character. "It's not like the pretty Victorians around it. It's ugly, in fact. It's like a South of Market loft in Noe Valley," she said.

In Rosen's view, the project would have a negative impact on parking as well. "The plans show numerous cuts in the sidewalk for the garages--there are four garage entrances on the Dolores Street side--and they're also taking out a mature tree on Dolores Street."

According to city planner Tina Tam, the two buildings, as currently designed, will house a total of 12 condominium units, each with one parking space in the ground-floor garage. Two of the units will be designated as "affordable," meaning they will be sold at below-market rate, based on a formula set by the city.

Tam said the project is still in the review stage, a process that could take a couple of months. An environmental review needs to be completed. And because the project requires a conditional use permit, the city will schedule public hearings.

"We do want to encourage new housing in the city, especially affordable housing, and so the intended residential use on this project is something that we don't have a problem with," Tam said. "But making sure the design is compatible with the neighborhood is going to be a challenge."

Developer McManus said that it would be at least six to nine months after city approval before construction would start.

In the meantime, Upper Noe Neighbors planned to discuss the project at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22, 7:30 p.m., at the Upper Noe Recreation Center on Day Street.