Dominating the corner of 6th and Howard streets, the overbearing presence of the derelict Hugo Hotel hangs heavily over a long neglected neighborhood, while across it’s crumbling facade chairs crawl like spiders and coffee tables gallop like wild horses over the hill. The clocks, couches, and writhing lamps that leap from the Hugo’s windows have for many years stood frozen mid-stride, captured in time forever. But Spring has come once more to this blighted little block, and as we usher in this treacherous season of urban renewal, the ice is thinning beneath the furniture’s feet, giving a new sense of urgency to the rhythm of their inanimate gait.
The rotting hulk of the The Hugo sat vacant for 22 years after a fire in 1988 gutted what was once the oldest hotel on 6th st. It was years later, in 1997, that artist Brian Goggin, funded by a grant from the NEA, and assited by a small army of volunteers, coaxed out of the Hugo’s ashes the beloved Phoenix known as Defenestration House, a site specific installation that would soon become a San Francisco icon.
Image courtesy of Laughing Squid
The property, until recently, was owned by a family by the name of the Patels who refused to renovate (citing unfair height restrictions) or sell the building for less than their 5.6 million $ asking price. But after last year’s decision by the city to grant the Redevelopment Agency the power of eminent domain over the the area around Sixth Street between Market and Harrison streets, the Patels were ultimately forced to sell the old Hugo and were paid a tidy sum of 4 million dollars for their trouble.
Although granted a stay of execution, Goggin’s Defenestration is not guaranteed permanence in anything but our memory, and though it may be cherished by many sentimental San Franciscans, the wrecking ball is not burdened by a sentimental heart.
What will be built in it’s place? How will it affect those residing in the surrounding area, and how long until they can be officially considered ”blight” along the up-and-coming streets known once as “6th and Mayhem”, known once as Skid Row?
“Tic toc,” says the grandfather clock, “borrowed time is running short.”