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Hibernia Bank rebuild looks to cash in on Mid-Market revitalization

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Vacancy: The Hibernia Bank Building, which survived the 1906 earthquake, has been empty since the SFPD moved its Tenderloin station out of the building. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Vacancy: The Hibernia Bank Building, which survived the 1906 earthquake, has been empty since the SFPD moved its Tenderloin station out of the building.

The history of the stately but dormant Hibernia Bank Building at Jones and Market streets reads like that of its once glorious but now blighted Mid-Market Street surroundings. But a renewed push to revive the building could be indicative of the neighborhood’s block’s next big shift.

Building owners want to attract a tenant to the increasingly tech-friendly district by sprucing up the structure — one of only a handful of downtown buildings that more-or-less survived the 1906 earthquake. The Hibernia headquarters was fixed up after the quake and fire, only to be acquired in the 1980s by a string of bigger institutions such as Bank of America.

By 1991, the building had become the San Francisco Police Department’s Tenderloin station, but officers moved out in 2000 and the building has since been shuttered and shabby — and such a magnet for vagrancy that metal gates were erected around its ornate entryway.

After a series of refurbishment false starts — the most recent of which appeared to result from the economic crash of 2008 — a development group is now seeking approvals from the Historic Preservation Commission to pour millions into the building. Although cost estimates were not available from 
1 Jones LLC attorney Alice Barkley, she said seismic upgrades alone could cost $6 million.

“I think The City would be very lucky to have this building brought back to life,” Barkley said.

Her clients won’t try to add extra floors to the building, Barkley said, something that previous developers unsuccessfully attempted to get approved by city decision-makers. But a long ground-floor counter once used by bank tellers — while clearly historic — needs to be removed to attract tenants, Barkley said. It remains to be seen if the commission will be amenable, she added.

“The owner is talking to Realtors about one of the major obstacles, which is how much of the counter is going to be allowed to remain,” Barkley said, adding that her clients would prefer to remove most of the piece and store the other parts separately.

Originally started by The City’s Irish community, the bank became notable for its then-pioneering use of female tellers. Those involved in the current rehab project include Tom Hunt, a local contractor with Irish roots who is interested in reviving a bit of history.

Developer 1 Jones LLC, which is connected to the Dolmen Property Group and its director Seamus Naughten, bought the building in 2008 for nearly $3.95 million after the price dropped by more than half. Barkley said the project has no set timeline, but swift city approvals could have some influence.

“If the committee is supportive, we will move forward very quickly,” Barkley said.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com