Ken Fulk’s love letter to San Francisco
Words by CATHERINE BIGELOW
Photography by DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY
As renowned songbird Rufus Wainwright pounded out his rousing version of “Hallelujah” on a baby grand piano, it proved an apt anthem on Thursday, October 26, as globe-trotting design impresario Ken Fulk celebrated the fifth anniversary of his Saint Joseph’s Arts Foundation.
The costume soirée, themed “A Love Letter to San Francisco,” paired musicians and creators with innovative chefs and winemakers amid the elegant environs of the historic Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church. Some 400 revelers helped raise more than $225,000 for the foundation.
Saint Joseph’s is one of the largest deaccessioned Catholic churches west of the Mississippi and number 120 on the official list of San Francisco landmarks. But this 1913 Neo-Romanesque beauty was badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Although its twin gold-leaf dome steeples still shimmered over SoMA, the formerly sacred space was essentially abandoned to rain, neglect, and pigeons — until 2015, when Fulk saved Saint Joseph’s from the wrecking ball and embarked on an immaculate (and extensive) restoration.
Resurrected as an arts club that hosts curated exhibitions, performances, and cultural events, Fulk reimagined the church’s glorious old bones — including Rose windows and a columned nave, altar, and wood-paneled confessionals — into Saint Joseph’s Arts Society, the membership of which supports his nonprofit foundation.
“Tonight is a reminder of just how damn special our City is! I love ballet, food, wine, art, and independent film. With Saint Joseph’s, I can explore how these worlds intersect and merge into a new religion,” enthused Fulk, a Virginia native who moved here in the mid-1990s with his husband, Kurt Wootton.
“Where else but San Francisco can you repurpose a derelict church?” Fulk asked. “And fill it with kindness, conversation, and connection that emphasizes the importance of art in everyday life?”
Guests turned out in pre-Halloween finery or clever homages to some of the City’s most iconic characters, including two sets of Brown Twins, the late, great swashbuckling Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, and dynamic jet-setter Denise Hale.
Food trucks and groaning tables brimmed with gourmet delights by such purveyors as A16, the Caviar Company, Three Sticks Wine, KIVA Confections, Beam Suntory, and Lallier Champagne. Among performers on the altar-turned-stage: the City’s storied Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Rob Garza, Lucius, Classical Revolution, Bay Area singer-songwriter Ouida, Heart of Gold DJs, and drag artist Juanita MORE!
Ken Fulk, Alexis Traina, Allison Speer, Gene Tartaglia, and Lindsay Bolton channel Denise Hale.
The eclectic scene was a joyful confab of uptown meets downtown; a veritable Venn diagram of the city’s vibrant social sets (blue bloods, leather daddies, straights, creators, and innovators) melding atop brocade settees.
“Eccentricity is relished in San Francisco, and I am so grateful I got to make a life and create here,” Fulk said. “But it’s not just a beautiful backdrop: San Francisco exerts a cosmic pull that serves as a flashpoint for so many important political and cultural movements that reverberate around the globe.”
Even during the darker days of pandemic shutdowns, Fulk and Wootton (who expanded their foundational support in Healdsburg at Little Saint and by establishing Provincetown Arts Society in Massachusetts) remained committed to providing space to underrepresented artists of all stripes.
“This is the essence of our foundation,” Fulk said. “That Catholicism could be transformed into a new church, where art is our highest calling.”
Ken Fulk and Kurt Wootton.
Gil Tatzu, Lisa Zabelle, Chuck James, and Allison Speer.
Audrey Gyr, Amelia Brown, and Jaser Faruq.
Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe of Lucius.
Trevor Baker and Danny Hieder.
Feature image: Kate Perry, Lizaveta Sergeev, and Tiffany Kramer.
October 28, 2023
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