Historic Church Reborn

by Judy Ritcher

November 1, 1998

As San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens area assumes an ever more modem look, entertainment complexes, one staunchly traditional building remains: St. Patrick's Church.

The roots of this Roman Catholic church on Mission Street between Third and Fourth streets, go back to the Gold Rush. The present building, which church deacon Virgil Capetti describes as modified English Gothic, or Gothic Revival, goes back to 1914.

Similar to a project earlier this century, it undergoing a $4 million renovation meant to ensure its survival well into the next century.

Because the building is old and made of brick, The City required the church to reinforce it, even though it suffered only minor damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, said the associate pastor, the Rev. Henry Trainor. So the Archdiocese of San Francisco transferred Capetti from St. Joseph's Church to St. Patrick's to supervise the work. Capetti holds a California general contractor's license and was a licensed architect in his homeland, the Philippines.

The structural work began in May 1997 and is expected to be completed this fall. Meanwhile, the church has remained open.

"This is a rare church in that it's open 12 hours a day," 6 a.m. to 6p.m., Trainor said.

It's also the only local Catholic church that wasn't closed during seismic retrofitting. "They (parishioner) put up with an awful lot of noise and dirt," he said.

Although the interior appearance was not changed, some stained glass windows were boarded temporarily for protection, and others needed new frames because of dry rot.

A major part of the seismic work involved installing shear walls ofreinforced steel with a new footing across the front and back. The general contractor, Carlin Co. of South San Francisco, drilled through the bell tower to install the front of the wall, in effect converting the tower into a buttress for the building. Capetti said.

Workers removed three of the six exterior layers of bricks and drilled %-inch reinforcement bars through the remaining 13 inches of brick. The dowels were attached to an exterior curtain of reinforced steel, which then was coated with 9 inches of concrete.

One layer of original brick was returned to the wall, attached with stainless steel pins.

The reinforcement made the exterior walls about 4 inches thicker than before, but the average onlooker would not notice.

The roof was strengthened with a diaphragm, or steel framework, to collect seismic stress and transfer it to the walls, Capetti said. The slate shingles were removed during the work, then reinstalled.

Noticeable features

The two most noticeable exteriors additions are a flying buttress at the back and a formal entry on the east. The buttress, tinted to match other concrete features, braces the back end of the church, where stained glass windows form a back drop to the altar.

The entry, which will have access for the handicapped, faces a parking lot. Eventually that lot will become Jessie Square, a park with the church on the west, the planned Jewish

Museum in the old PG&E building on the north and the proposed Mexican Museum on the east.

In addition to the structural work, the church's plumbing and wiring were upgraded and a new heating system installed- "a clear departure from the dinosaur boiler we had," Capetti said.

The most challenging part of the restoration was "working out a scheme that would blend in well and not look like we had just put a lot of concrete into the building. We tried very hard to come up with solutions to solve problems while preserving the original appearance," said Loring Wyllie, senior principal for Degenkolb Engineers, the San Francisco firm that served as structural engineers for the project.

The plans had to be coordinated with the present and future neighbors as well as the Redevelopment Agency and the Landmarks Preservation Board, for St, Patrick's was named a San Francisco historic landmark, The City's fourth in 1986.

"We had some concerns about maintaining the historic fabric of the church, but its turned out quite well," said Mark Paez, a preservation planner in the Planning Department. "We're pleased with it."