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In Memoriam: Bruce Bonacker

Bruce Bonacker, San Francisco architect, community activist, historic preservation advocate, and stalwart Heritage board member, died peacefully on August 3, 2017, at age 69,  after a battle with a rare type of cancer.   

Bruce was born in Albany, New York and grew up in the suburb of Delmar. He received a degree in Architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. Bruce then joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a national service program designed to help alleviate poverty. He was assigned to western NY State where he worked on designing housing for migrant workers.  After his year in VISTA, he loaded his car with his architecture portfolio and a few belongings and headed for San Francisco in the late 1970s, never looking back. He worked at Bull, Volkmann, and Stockwell Architects before opening his own firm, Bonacker Associates.  

Bruce’s passion was historic preservation — in San Francisco and beyond. He was active in many community improvement organizations. He initially served on the San Francisco Heritage board from 1990 until 2007, including a stint as board president, and then rejoined the board in 2010. He remained fully engaged in the work of the organization until just a few weeks before his death. Bruce also served on the boards of the Glen Park Neighborhood Association (including past president) and Friends of the Geneva Car Barn, was a member of the San Francisco Historic Preservation Fund Committee, and contributed to innumerable other community-focused efforts. 

“Bruce was one of the most dedicated board members of Heritage that I have known,” remembers former board president David Wessel. “He was very direct, and never shy about communicating his views; in a good way.  As president of Heritage I had board members who had no problem criticizing, but did not want to jump in to help. In stark contrast, Bruce was always ready and willing to aid me in whatever I needed. I could always depend upon him to be there and many times I reached out to him for his counsel.  He had sound judgment and behind his somewhat abrupt character there was a very personal and sensitive individual.”  

In a recent profile in Glen Park News, Bruce reflected on his commitment to historic preservation and neighborhood “emancipation”: “I’d like to think I accomplished a great deal [on the board and as president of Heritage], but it’s reasonably well hidden. My interest in preservation came during college, but I have retained that interest as an architect, as well as advocacy for neighborhood ‘emancipation.’ “The concept of architectural preservation and the concept of neighborhood conservation — improvements can happen on both. Communities shouldn’t be stalled and maintained as they are forever. That’s not my view of preservation.” Please see the full  story  in the Glen Park News for more about Bruce. 

Bruce is survived by his sisters Jeanne Baum and Elizabeth Stevens, both in the Albany, New York area, as well as his four nephews and nieces and numerous grand-nephews and grand-nieces. His sisters were with him in San Francisco when he passed away. 

A memorial service is planned at the Haas-Lilienthal House on Saturday, October 14 from 2pm to 5pm. Please RSVP to San Francisco Heritage at Donations in his memory may be made to San Francisco Heritage, 2007 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA 94109. 


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