Episode Descriptions

san francisco

Season 19: San Francisco, CA
This project premiered on PBS
February 7th, 1998
6 half-hour episodes; program #1720-1726

Program #1720
This Old House's team goes to San Francisco to take on a unique project: the conversion of a 1906 church (lately a synagogue) into a home for Mark Dvorak, a store designer, and his fiancee Laurie Ann Bishop. A tour of the building reveals cavernous spaces, an institutional feel, dated systems, but a fantastic view of the Bay. The homeowners invite our host to their current apartment, full of striking furnishings they plan to set off against a minimalist palette of finishes in the new building. Architect Barbara Chambers is the ideal professional to help on the project, living and working in a similarly minimalist home of her own design. At the church, she the homeowners through a model of the proposed conversion, complete with a two-car garage in the basement, preserved chapel space, and kitchen, baths, and three bedrooms in the rear, two-story addition, formerly the synagogue offices. General contractor Dan Plummer check out the basement area, with its inadequate seismic engineering, and the roof, which looks fine.

Program #1721
The crew start the workday at the Powell Street cable car turntable, where cars are spun around by hand for the return trip over to Fisherman's Wharf. On site, general contractor Dan Plummer has three weeks of work to show: the woodwork in the chapel has been sanded, the baptismal fount has been filled with concrete for the new fireplace's foundation, and the entire rear addition has been gutted to the walls. The reason: termites. We meet exterminator Bill Pierce as he sprays down the plywood for the new subfloor with a borate solution; the new floor joists are of a pressure-treated Douglas fir that contains no arsenic or chromium, unlike conventional PT lumber. Richard sees a blown-in cellulose insulation treatment of the floor joist bays, while our host visits a Gap store that homeowner Mark Dvorak helped to design--the simple, monochromatic finishes are meant to push the clothes forward visually, and Mark and Laurie Ann plan a similar scheme for the church to highlight their furniture and art collection. Back at the site, Richard sees some of the differences in San Francisco's plumbing code—galvanized pipe for gas, copper waste—and meets radiant-heat specialist Mike Luttrell to discuss how to heat the vast chapel space. In the basement, our master carpenter learns about seismic upgrades from framing contractor Jay Gregg, and a civil engineer does a hydraulic pull test on some of the building's epoxied sill bolts. Finally, our host catches up with architect Barbara Chambers and city engineer Kris Kilgore as they work out a street-grading solution for the building's new garage entrance.

Program #1722
The show opens at a spectacular spot: the top of the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, 48 stories above the Bay. At the site, Richard Trethewey shows the recycling Dumpster—almost everything coming out of the job is reclaimed at a facility across the Bay. In the basement, Richard gets the underfloor heating story from Larry Luttrell, who is using aluminum plates to direct the heat up through the chapel's old wood floor. Our host meets mason Jim Dayton, who explains theworkings of a modern Rumford fireplace, while the master carpenter sees the framing work of Jim Pitcher and crew up on the second floor. Jim shows a rigid 3-4-5 framing square he's using, then we catch up with the window manufacturer's rep Glenn Eige to see the features of the new windows, including sound-deadening and infrared blocking. Richard visits a Berkeley salvage yard where Mark and Laurie Ann have picked out some vintage fixtures, including two stunning lavatories. Back on the site, general contractor Dan Plummer tests out the water-diverting qualities of the newly regraded street, cut to accommodate the new garage, and framer J Gregg and crew hoist a glulam beam into place to strengthen the second floor deck.

Program #1723
The show opens with a walk through the magnificent Muir Woods, home of the coast redwood, the world's tallest tree. At the house, where general contractor Dan Plummer is dealing with yet another day of heavy rain, we see the lightweight concrete mixed and poured over the kitchen's radiant floor tubing. Our host gets the rundown on the building's sprinkler system from installed Fred Benn, including a dramatic demonstration. We visit the workshop of Peter Good in Oakland to see him building new exterior doors for the church—a matched pair for the front and a Dutch door for the side entrance. At the house, Jay Fenton shows the stainless steel flue he's installing above the new Rumford fireplace, while Dan Plummer and the team review the new stairs and the old-growth Douglas fir joists he's recycling into treads and risers.

Program #1724
The crew visits Coloma, California, where the Gold Rush began in 1848, to see Sutter's Mill and try their hands at panning for pay dirt. At the house, a break in the rainy weather means the crew can put up the new redwood siding, while inside Richard Trethewey helps plumber Jeff Deehan retrofit a vintage lavatory with a modern mixing faucet. Homeowner Laurie Ann Bishop shows us the transforming effect of the new windows in the chapel, and an energy consultant demonstrates their heat-retaining capabilities with a thermographic camera. In the basement, Richard discusses the new heating plant (a combination boiler and hot water tank) and the manifold system that will control the building's radiant floor heat. Our host accepts delivery of the church's custom exterior doors, and a cleverly disguised garage door is installed.

Program #1725
Our host visits Alcatraz before heading off to the jobsite, where our master carpenter is hard at work installing the new front doors. First step: trimming them to fit the out-of-plumb opening. Progress in the chapel continues, with industrial halogen light fixtures being hung from the ceiling, white paint going over the dark wainscoting, and a cleft-slate surround gracing the Rumford firebox. Upstairs, the drywall has been treated with a bonding agent so that a two-coat finish plaster can be applied, the result of a last-minute decision by the homeowners. A zero-clearance fireplace centers the master bedroom, and plumber Jeff Deehan wrestles with an old wall-mount sink, retrofitting it with a foot-pedal-controlled faucet. Our master carpenter continues on his doors, using a mortice jig to position and install the hinges. Homeowner Mark Dvorak accepts delivery of the kitchen cabinets he designed—built in a computer-controlled manufacturing facility run by Paul La Bruna. Finally, at nightfall of his second day on the project, our master carpenter finishes the front doors off with a pair of brushed-chrome handles.

Program #1726
The final episode on the San Francisco project begins with a visit to the Marin County Civic Center, Frank Lloyd Wright's only government building. At the site, Richard joins our master carpenter to do a little gardening in the ten square feet of soil in front of the church, then Richard gets the rundown on homeowner Mark Dvorak's new front-loading washing machine, which saves 60% of the electricity and 40% of the water used by conventional top-loaders. Our master carpenter trims out a window using a wood fiber and resin composite material, while our host checks out the last-minute work in the chapel, including bottom-up privacy shades, a clean up with a backpack vacuum, and the staining of the floor with a very dark stain. The next day starts off with homeowner Laurie Ann Bishop having her fingerprints read into the new security system. We catch up with general contractor Dan Plummer as he puts together his second-floor punchlist, Mark shows Richard the finished kitchen, and lighting designer Sean O'Connor gives a tour of the lighting and controls. Mark shows off his new three-speaker sound system, Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" fills the chapel, and the wrap party is on.