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June 26, 2004
San Francisco's Jackson Square Historic District Association To Hold Rally on June 30th In Effort To Save Landmark Belli Building


The Jackson Square Historic District Association announced today that they will be holding a rally and press conference Wednesday, June 30, 2004 at the historic Belli buildings at 722 and 728 Montgomery Street in an effort to influence the authorities of San Francisco to take immediate action to prevent the loss of one of San Francisco's most important historic landmarks.

The Belli buildings, most recently the offices of renowned San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli, known as "The King of Torts," were built in 1851 and 1853 and originally housed the Langerman's tobacco warehouse and the original meeting house of the Masonic Lodge. The buildings are two of only ten from that era.

"It's great to see what a galvanized community effort can do for a good cause," said Real Estate Developer & Strategic Consultant, C. Howard Korrell of K2K Development, who helped organize the rally.

The buildings survived several fires during the late 1800's and the 1906 earthquake. However, after sustaining some damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and following the death of Melvin Belli in 1996 at the age of 88, the buildings' current owner Nancy Ho Belli, Belli's sixth wife of fourteen weeks, has been able to do what 150 years and the forces of nature could not do, bring the buildings to the brink of destruction.

Melvin.Belli.jpgBelli died bankrupt after representing some of the most high profile celebrities and criminals including Errol Flynn, Lenny Bruce, Mae West, Muhammad Ali, Lana Turner, the Rolling Stones, Sirhan Sirhan, and Jack Ruby among others.

Since 1989 the buildings have not been properly maintained, and due to actions taken to remove the roofs of the buildings, the winters and rains over the years have eroded the mortar between the bricks, causing the walls to be in imminent danger of falling.

In February 1997, the San Francisco Bankruptcy Court accepted an offer of $915,00 from Belli's widow, who made a commitment to turn the Melli Building into a museum commemorating her husband's life. Her plan was to restore his office to it original grandeur, the way it looked when the he was alive. The museum was to be filled with memorabilia from his famous cases, photographs of his clients, books and tokens from his travels around the world.

"Despite years of litigation by the city and the unfaltering efforts of supervisor Aaron Peskin, neighborhood activists, and preservation groups, Ms. Belli, ironically a former Landmarks Board Commissioner, has been able to wield her power and her former husband's influence and political connections to thwart the city's efforts," said The Jackson Square Historical Association.
The pattern of the behavior, as evidenced by the long and detailed history of complaints and violations followed by complete inaction, has brought the situation to a crisis point.

In fact, one week ago another violation was issued by the Department of Building Inspection stating that the buildings were in such disrepair that they were in immediate danger of falling and injuring passers by.

The Jackson Square Historic District Association, the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Association, the San Francisco Architectural Heritage Association and the community call on the City of San Francisco to utilize its powers to take over this property and cause repairs to be completed, at the expense of Ms. Belli, to stop the deterioration of the buildings and save these San Francisco landmarks.

Belli.Building.Jackson.Square.jpg Jackson Square's Historic Belli Building

If you are interested in supporting the association's efforts, their rally is scheduled for Wednesday, June 30th between 10am-11am in front of the Belli Building.

The Belli Building is located at 722 and 728 Montgomery Street in the heart of Jackson Square.

Inspire & Be Inspired.

~Jennifer King

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Posted by jck at June 26, 2004 9:20 PM

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Does anyone know the final resting place of Melvin Belli? Any replies would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Dwight

Posted by: Dwight Corum at August 4, 2004 4:21 PM

Hurray for the hoopla surrounding the disgraceful neglect of the buildings at 722 and 728 Montgomery Street described so dramatically in the July 1st SF Chronicle Bay Area section. I am sure that Melvin Belli is turning in his grave as are author Bret Harte, sculptor Jack Stackpole and painters Jules Tavernier, Arthur F Mathews, Maynard Dixon, and Gottardo Piazzoni--they all rented space at these locations. Though the Belli connection is certainly newsworthy and is a good handle for bringing this issue to public attention, the buildings' notable history should not be set aside. My long-term interest in 728 Montgomery is because I am the process of researching and writing a monograph on one of the long term residents of the building--Gottardo Piazzoni who maintained his studio on the third floor of 728 from 1908 until his death in 1945. As a matter of fact, Piazzoni painted his Old Main Public Library murals of THE LAND and THE SEA that were themselves the center of controversy when the Asian Art Museum proposed--and eventually accomplished--their removal before converting the venerable library edifice into exhibition facilities for the AAM. I would appreciate being kept abreast of events taking place. I am also interested in joining my voice with those of the two associations in the discussions about the fate of 722 and 728 Montgomery Street (just as I raised my and the Museo ItaloAmericano's concerns regarding the Piazzoni murals removal four and five years ago --after their removal I organized the Museo ItaloAmericano's Piazzoni retrospective exhibition in 2000). The art and architecture community should not allow the destruction of the two buildings--without the public being made aware, they might go the way the of old Montgomery Block building that was demolished in 1959 to create a parking lot (and then to become the site of the Transamerica Building). Good luck!
Robert A. Whyte
66 Cleary Court, no. 506
S.F. 94109 Tel. (415) 563-7450

Posted by: Robert A. Whyte at July 3, 2004 8:27 PM

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