The windows at the Women’s Building have been in place since before women could vote — 108 years, to be exact. Maybe, says the occupants of the building, that means changing them is long overdue.
“Our windows are like inequality — out of date!” said Teresa Mejia, executive director of the Woman’s Building, a women-led community center and nonprofit that houses some ten organizations dedicated to various services such as legal, career and financial advice and assistance for community members.
The Women’s Building announced Monday that it’s competing for $150,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to replace 54 of its windows — originals from when the building was erected in 1910.
But the grant is far from a sure thing: 20 other sites across the country, celebrated for fostering diversity and equality are also vying for the preservation money. With enough votes, only about 10 will receive a full $150,000 grant from a pot of about $1.6 million. (Each of the sites received an initial $20,000 to launch their campaigns.)
That’s why Mejia and the others who operate in the building are asking community members to vote for the Women’s Building to get the money. The program is a partnership between the national preservation trust, American Express and Main Street America.
“We need to have the best building, with windows that close, and windows that are good insulators,” Mejia said.
Mejia said that, in general, raising money for preservation and maintenance projects can be difficult. “Most of our sources of revenue are more interested in giving to direct services,” she said. That’s why, she said, “this is such a great opportunity.”
She said the full project cost will be $200,000, and the Women’s Building will put up the rest of the money.
Facilities Director Noemi Zulberti said that the building was retrofitted in 2000, but the windows were left in place because replacing them was its own separate, and very expensive, project.
“It was not a possibility to touch the windows at that time, because it was super expensive,” she said. “We want to respect the tile, and how the windows are so beautiful.”
Now, she says, the single-pane windows leave the Women’s Building exposed to weather, and do not always open and close all the way, which presents a safety issue. “If an emergency happens, we’d have to break the glass, and they are not tight, so air and dust come through the windows,” she said. “They are old, cranky windows full of arthritis.”
The Women’s Building, located on 18th and Lapidge streets, was built originally as an exercise hall, then known as Turn Hall, and eventually became Dovre Hall, a meeting place for the Sons of Norway.
In 1979, a group of women who founded San Francisco Women’s Centers bought the building and transformed it into a community center and incubator for Bay Area women’s projects, which it remains today.
“San Francisco has to feel proud of having a building like this,” Mejia said. “Now a matter of making it better.”
Vote for the Women’s Building here. Voting closes Oct. 26 before midnight.