A North Beach Catholic Church Is Reborn as a Hacker Temple
Our Lady of Guadalupe adorns the facade of the church at 910 Broadway in North Beach, but there is a new god inside. Its name is innovation. The landmark church, rechristened by its new owners as the Hack Temple, was reopened a few months ago to TED Talks and tech-flavored events like an appearance in April by Kazakh prime minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, who stopped by to announce a collaboration between Silicon Valley and his country.
Hack Temple founder Pavel Cherkashin bought the church for $7 million last November despite its dilapidated condition after years of neglect. He has spent nearly every day since within, investing an additional $3 million to transform it into a shared space where artists and technologists collaborate and work. His efforts, he says, saved the church from being carved up into lofts, a plight he feels “would be killing this space.”
The 44-year-old Russian venture capitalist plans to leave intact the religious artwork left by the Mexican and Iberian parishioners who frequented the church for 80 years, until the Archdiocese of San Francisco shuttered it in 1992. During the Sagintayev event, however, many of the artworks were concealed: The angels, cherubs, and saints were cloaked in deep-blue neon light, and a Last Supper mural was partially covered by a projector screen.
In their place was a different kind of showstopper: a giant triptych by Ukrainian painter Evgeniy Lapchenko that modernizes Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights by grafting Steve Jobs, Morpheus from The Matrix, Tupac Shakur, the Dalai Lama, and other contemporary icons into the apocalyptic dreamscape. Behind the oversize fruits by the horizon, a wooden Burning Man sculpture is engulfed in flames.
Having intermittently added faces and objects to the painting over the past seven months, Lapchenko believes he may never stop tinkering. The painting serves both to illustrate how far civilization has progressed from the fire-and-brimstone age of Bosch and to canonize the people, characters, and techie festivals that make up today’s San Francisco, the holy city of technology. “In today’s world, everybody can be a new Jesus,” Lapchenko says through a translator.
At the April event, Cherkashin spoke last and announced that the church’s cherished 19th-century pipe organ—the oldest on the West Coast, he claims—was going to be played for an audience for the first time in two decades. As Cherkashin ambled off the stage, the massive instrument, which once upon a time played Latin hymns, bellowed out its tune. It was “The Imperial March” from Star Wars.
Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco