SAN FRANCISCO — In a high-tech twist on historic preservation, 25 Bay Area historic sites just finished a seven-week battle for $1 million in restoration funding through an online contest that let visitors vote on favorite landmarks.
The cyber balloting, which ended Tuesday, specifically excluded exalted monuments such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Instead, the contest’s co-sponsors, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express, chose less obvious candidates, such as a 1920s-era public pool and a town hall on the Marin County coast.
“While there are some iconic sites on the list, we were also looking to raise awareness about some of the region’s hidden gems as well,” said David Brown, the trust’s chief operating officer.
Berkeley’s First Church of Christ, Scientist — an Arts and Crafts-style structure designed by Bernard Maybeck — emerged on top, with 18 percent of the vote. The immigration station at Angel Island, the west coast’s version of Ellis Island, came in second with 16 percent.
The shuttered Pigeon Point lighthouse, thought to be one of the tallest remaining lighthouses in the nation, placed third.
The three sites that finished last were a crumbling band shell in Golden Gate Park, a series of neon signs in San Francisco, and a former Opera House that serves as a community center in a predominantly black San Francisco neighborhood. All 25 sites already are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Organizers would not divulge how many ballots were cast. But Judy Porta, secretary of the group that raises money to keep the 96-year-old First Church of Christ in good repair, attributed the victory to postcards she sent encouraging 700 people to vote — registered voters could submit one ballot a day — and the power of the Internet.
“We do know that one woman went through her entire e-mail address book and clicked anyone she thought might be interested,” Porta said. “Those who have personally seen the church have a commitment that runs a little deeper.”
American Express put up $1 million in preservation funds for the contest, and each site had to submit an application outlining a project that could be completed by mid-2008. But while the top vote-getter was guaranteed part of the money, it does not automatically get the largest share.
Advisers will decide in mid-November how to award the money depending on relative historic significance, geographic diversity and a project’s potential to benefit the community. Second and third-place finishers could wind up empty-handed, while also-rans could have their entire budgets funded.
“How you really get people involved is you allow them to participate in the decision-making,” said Tim McClimon, vice president of philanthropy for American Express. “But we didn’t want it to be a strictly popularity contest.”
The contest will be repeated next year in a location still to be determined.
Sponsors picked the Bay Area for the first vote because of its beauty, variety of old buildings and a tourism campaign American Express plans.
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