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Belvedere church campaigns to save building amid housing pressure

Belvedere Christian Science Church President Joan Hess hosts a building tour July 29 with her brother-in-law, Alan Hess, an architect and historian who sits on the State Historical Resources Commission and who worked on the auxiliary building. (Kevin Hessel / The Ark)

In what’s being described as an effort to generate awareness of a local architectural masterpiece, leaders of Belvedere’s Christian Science Church have launched a community-outreach campaign to ensure the iconic mid-century modern building isn’t someday demolished and used for housing.

The effort, which began last week with an appeal to historic-preservation groups, includes an open house from noon to 3 p.m. Aug. 6, while officials say each member of the City Council has been invited to a tour. It also adds a new challenge to the city’s work to prove it can accommodate at least 160 new housing units in the next eight years. The California Department of Housing and Community Development requires jurisdictions assess owner interest and realistic likelihood of development to include a site on the list.

Belvedere’s 107-year-old First Church of Christ, Scientist, announced July 12 it has merged with its counterpart in San Rafael. It will sell the land and building, a ship-like design of redwood, Douglas fir, concrete and stained glass built in 1952 by Tiburon architect Warren Callister. He designed several Belvedere homes and is recognized as a significant architect in the Cultural, Archaeological and Historic Resource Preservation element of the city’s general plan.

However, the City Council has included the property at 501 San Rafael Ave. across from City Hall as a seven-unit opportunity site in Belvedere’s yet-to-be certified housing element — under the constraint that the church would need to be demolished.

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